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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on James 2:14-26

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 11, 2017

To help provide context this post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief summary analysis of James chapter 2, followed by his commentary on verses 14-26. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the scripture.

14 What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?

But of what avail will it be for a man, my brethren to have faith, and to place reliance on his faith, if he have not works corresponding with it? Will his faith, without works, be sufficient for salvation? By no means.

The Apostle now enters on one of the principal subjects of this Epistle, viz., the refutation of the errors of the followers of Simon Magus, regarding the sufficiency of faith alone for justification. As this erroneous doctrine, so ably and clearly refuted here by St. James, is one of the fundamental errors revived by modern Reformers, it may not be amiss to explain, in a few words, the doctrine of the Catholic Church on this subject; this doctrine has been so clearly laid down by the Council of Trent (SS. vi., de justificatione).

Every Catholic admits the absolute, indispensable necessity of faith for justification. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews, 11); without it, no man was ever justified, sine qua (fide) nulli unquam contigit justificatio (Council of Trent, SS. vi., 7). Although, not absolutely the first grace (the proposition, fides est prima gratia, put forward in the Schismatical Council of Pistoia, was condemned in the Bull, Auctorem fidei); still, it is the first grace in the order of justification, of which it is “the root and foundation,” in the language of the Council of Trent (SS. vi., 8). But every Catholic denies the sufficiency of this faith, for justification or salvation. It is necessary, not sufficient. Besides faith, Catholics require other dispositions, viz., hope, fear, penance, initial charity. All these are required, as previous dispositions, before God infuses the grace of justification. These may all exist in the soul; but they do not, by any means, constitute this grace, nor do they establish any claim to it, that either on the grounds of justice or fidelity, God might not refuse. It is quite certain, however, that whenever they exist in the soul, God will, of his own goodness, gratuitously infuse the grace of justification, which is a grace inhering in the soul—this is a point of faith—and it is theologically certain, that it inheres, permanently, by way of habit. It cleanses the soul from the stains of sin whereby it is defiled, in a manner analogous to the defilement caused the body by leprosy; and according as this grace is increased, the soul becomes brighter and fairer in the sight of God; in the language of the Psalmist, “whiter than snow.” This grace of justification is accompanied with the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the several gilts of the Holy Ghost. The same good works, the same acts, which, performed under the influence of divine grace and faith by a sinner before he is justified, serve only as dispositions for justification, will, when performed by the same man, after he is justified, and in a state of sanctifying grace, give him a claim, and a strict right, grounded on God’s gratuituous and liberal promise, to an increase of sanctifying grace, to eternal life, and its attainment, if he die in grace, and to an increase of glory. This is what Catholics call merit, grounded, however, on God’s grace, and his gratuitous promise, through the merits of Christ (Council of Trent, SS., ver.; Can. xxxii.)

Modern sectaries, on the other hand, maintain, that in order to be justified and saved, faith alone is sufficient; this justifying faith, according to them, consists in a firm and undoubted confidence, which each one has, that, although in sin, God does not impute to him his sins, in consideration of the merits of Christ. As for good works, they deny them a share in justifying man, they require them merely as the fruits of faith, signs of its presence; since without them, true faith, according to their notions, cannot exist.

Now, that their idea of justifying faith is wholly erroneous, will appear quite evident to any person who reads the 11th chapter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, wherein he describes this justifying faith to be the “evidence of things that appear not,” and in applying it to the several examples, he always supposes it to consist in a firm belief in the truth of God’s revelation.

Again, that, besides faith, good works are required for justification and salvation, is so evident from the following part of this chapter, that it only requires to be read over attentively, to be convinced of it. In truth, the words bear no other meaning, and on this account it was, that some of the early Reformers rejected the Epistle altogether. Finally, that true faith may exist without good works or charity, is clear from several passages of Sacred Scripture. St. John says (chap. 12:42), “many of the chief men believed in him, … but did not confess him, for they loved the glory of man more than of God,” The word, “believe” here has reference to real, true faith, as is evident from the use of the word, in the entire chapter. St. Paul tells us, that “if he had faith strong enough to remove mountains, &c.,” and had not charity, it would profit him nothing (1 Cor. 13), and that this faith can be separated from charity, is clear from chapter 7 of St. Matthew, wherein, we are told, that many will say, “Lord have we not performed many wonders in thy name,” and shall receive tor answer—“I never knew you.”

Objection.—St. James does not deny the sufficiency of real faith, because he is referring to mere putative faith, “if a man say, he has faith.”

Answer.—He speaks of real faith; for, he adds, “shall faith be able to save him?” He therefore, supposes the person in question to have real, genuine faith.

15 And if a brother or sister be naked and want daily food:

Suppose a Christian of either sex to be naked or hungry, and in want of the common necessaries of life,

The Apostle illustrates the inutility of faith and the knowledge it gives us, unless accompanied with good works, by an example of the inutility, to a distressed neighbour, of our knowledge of his wants, and of our sterile sympathy, unless it be accompanied by acts of benevolence administering to his wants. “If a brother or sister,” i.e., a Christian of either sex, “be naked,” &c., i.e., in want of the common necessaries of life.

16 And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?

And that any of you, aware of this want, dismiss them with the cold expression of your sympathy and good wishes for their relief, without, at the same time administering to their wants, of what avail will your knowledge of their wants be to them?

“And one of you,” without relieving them, merely wishes them well, “be you warmed,” &c., “what will it profit?” which is equivalent to saying—it shall be of no profit whatever to them.

17 So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.

As, then, fine professions of regard will nowise profit the distressed, with whose wants we are acquainted, unless we administer relief; so neither will the knowledge we have from faith avail us without works, without complying with what it points out. Unaccompanied with works, it is dead in itself; for, it is destitute of the vivifying principle of sanctifying grace, whereby, we are perfectly connected with the head of which we are members, and his grace and mercy communicated to us.

“So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.” In the Greek, καθʼ ἑαυτην, by itself. This is the application of the foregoing example. As kind words, and the professions of regard, even accompanied by good wishes, will prove of no avail to the distressed; so, neither will faith profit the believer; “it is dead in itself;” because, the person who only has faith, although he be a member, is still but a dead member of the body of Christ; his faith is altogether dead, as to justification. The Apostle explains this more fully in verse 26, “as the body without the spirit is dead,” &c.

From this, it by no means follows, that faith without good works is not real faith. St. James looks upon faith in this verse, as destitute of the vivifying principle of charity, or good works, by which it is enlivened or roused to action (Gal. 5:6); he compares it to a human body, destitute of the soul that animates it, which, although dead, is still a real body. So, charity is the soul or form of faith, which, although proceeding from the principle of divine grace, is, still, dead as to justification without charity, which alone perfectly unites us with Christ, our head. “Faith,” says the Council of Trent (SS. vi. c. 7), “unless hope and charity be added to it, does not perfectly unite one with Christ, nor render him a living member of his body.” Faith, even without charity, really subsists in its subject, viz., the soul of man; in its object, God and eternal glory; in its motive, revelation; but, it is dead as to justification. From this very example, it is clear, that faith can be without good works; because, as we can have a knowledge of our neighbour’s wants without actually relieving them; so, also, can we have the knowledge imparted by faith, without acting up to it by good works.

18 But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works. Shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith.

(Another argument of the inutility of faith without works, grounded on the impossibility of externally professing our faith otherwise than by good works). Suppose two Christians, one having works and faith, the other having no works; and that the former calls upon the latter to profess his faith, can he do this? By no means. Since it is by works alone it can be manifested; whereas, the other can, from his works, give a proof of his faith, from which his works have emanated.

This is a new argument of the inutility of faith alone, without good works.—Faith cannot be manifested without them; now, this external profession is obligatory on all, both for the sake of example, and for holding that communion of saints, in which we all believe.

Query.—How can a man show his faith from his works, since an unbeliever can perform many good works?

Answer.—St. James, in the present instance, supposes both the persons in question to have faith, and that the man having works, recurs to them as a proof and manifestation of his faith. Hence, he does not infer faith from works; for, he supposes faith to have existed previously. Moreover, from works we can infer the existence of faith; because, there are certain good works, or a continued performance of them, which only a person having faith could accomplish. For, although an unbeliever may, aided by actual divine grace, perform certain good works; still, he could not persevere in performing a continued series of good works, without sin; and there are certain heroic deeds of virtue, which he could not perform at all.

19 Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble.

You may say that you have other means of manifesting your faith besides works, viz., the symbols and external profession of faith, the first article of which is the faith in one God, in which, you say, you believe; no doubt, in doing so, you act well, but, of what avail will this be to you? Do not the devils, forced by the conviction of evidence, assent to the same truths, and express this belief by trembling; and still, this faith is of no avail to them.

These may be the words of the Christian having faith and works, in continuation of his appeal to the other, whom he is supposed to be addressing in the preceding verse; you may, possibly, say; you have the symbols of faith, as a means of externally professing your faith, the first article of which is to believe “that there is one God,” which is also a distinguishing point of true faith from the false belief of Paganism; or, they may be the words of St. James, adducing a new argument of the inutility of faith unaccompanied by good works, since it resembles the faith of demons, who, compelled by evidence in favour of our creed, viz., miracles, prophecies, &c., are constrained to believe the same things which we believe, and by their “trembling,” externally profess this interior conviction, without any advantage. “Thou believest there is one God.” This article being the first and most important distinguishing feature of true faith, is probably put for all the points of faith. “Thou dost well;” this act of faith is a good act, but it does not, alone, suffice as a disposition for justification, or for obtaining salvation. “The devils also believe and tremble.” The word, “tremble” is used metaphorically to express the dread, horror, and despair, with which the devils are inspired, in considering their eternal punishment and the just judgment of God.

Objection.—From this verse is it not evident that St. James looks upon faith without works, or as Catholics term it, fides informis, as no faith at all; since he compares it with the faith of demons, who surely cannot elicit an act of the theological virtue of faith; for, they are not susceptible of grace, without which faith cannot exist?

Answer.—St. James, by no means, intends to compare the faith of devils, and that of wicked Christians, in every respect. He only compares them as to the utter inutility of both for salvation; his object in introducing the comparison does not warrant us in urging it further; and the only criterion by which we are to be guided, in judging of the extent to which a comparison can be urged, is, the scope and object of him who introduces it. There is another point, in which the faith of both is compared; viz., in their objects. The same thing is believed by the demons involuntarily, and forced by the conviction of evidence, which the sinner believes voluntarily, and freely, aided by divine grace. So tar the comparison is made, and no further; no comparison can be urged, as they say, ad vivum.

20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

But, O vain man, who dost foolishly glory in thy faith without works, dost thou wish for a convincing argument to see that faith, without works is dead and useless for justification?

St. James now introduces a new argument, and undertakes to prove, from the example of Abraham, whose justification is the model of ours, the necessity of good works for justification. This argument is the more convincing, and better suited for the refutation of the error he is combating, as it was on the very same example, urged at full length by the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Romans, (chap. 4), and erroneously interpreted, the Simonians grounded their doctrine of the sufficiency of faith alone for justification. “O vain man!” i.e., foolish man, who art blind in a matter of such evidence.

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar?

Was it not by works that Abraham our father, and the father of all the faithful, whose justification is the model of ours (Rom. 4:23), was justified, having in heart and will offered up his son Isaac, in sacrifice, from the consummation of which, he was arrested by the hand of the Angel?

“Offering up.” In Greek, ανενεγκας, having offered. The determined resolution to offer up Isaac, from the execution of which the voice of the angel from heaven prevented him, was accepted by God as a perfect offering.

22 Seest thou that faith did cooperate with his works and by works faith was made perfect?

You see, then, that faith is co-operated with the works of Abraham, it being the principle from which they emanated, and by which they were directed and regulated; while, on the other hand, his works perfected his faith, by bringing it to its destined end of justification, and by animating and increasing it in the soul

“Faith did co-operate with his works.” This shows that the faith of Abraham was not an idle, inoperative faith, a mere act of belief, unaccompanied by works; that it was an active, operative faith; it was the principle of the works which Abraham performed, and it was it that regulated, how they were to be performed: and hence, in saying that Abraham was justified by works, St. James refers to works grounded on, and accompanied by faith. The words, “and by works faith was made perfect,” show that it was works which brought faith to its destined end of justification. Both one and the other mutually concurred in Abraham’s justification.

23 And the scripture was fulfilled, saying: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him to justice, and he was called the friend of God.

And the words of Scripture, Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice (Gen. 15:6), and he was called the friend of God, were fully completed, in the full enumeration of all the causes of justification.

And he was called the friend of God.” These words are not found in Genesis (15:6), from which the preceding words of Scripture are quoted. They are the words of St. James himself.

Query.—How can St. James say, “the Scripture was fulfilled, saying. Abraham believed,” &c. (Genesis, 15:6), since we find no prophecy contained in these words to be afterwards fulfilled? All that is recorded of Moses in this passage is simply historical. Again, had not these words, “Abraham believed, &c.,” reference to his believing in God’s promise regarding his son Isaac (Genesis, 15); which was prior to his sacrifice, (Genesis, 22), the matter in question here? How then say, a Scripture was now “fulfilled,” which was long before accomplished?

Answer.—The Scripture is said, by St. James, to be fulfilled in this sense, that when Moses (Genesis, 15:6), said,Abraham believed, and it was reputed to him unto justice,” he omitted all mention of another ingredient and disposition for justification, viz., works. These are referred to here by St. James; all the disposition for justification are therefore enumerated, and the cause of the justification referred to (Genesis, 15), fully expressed; and so, the Scripture account of the causes of justification is “fulfilled” or complete—which is more clearly expressed in the Vulgate version, “Et scriptura suppleta est,” scilicet, quoad enumerationem dispositionum justificationis. Secondly, Although the words of Genesis, “Abraham believed,” &c., were referred by Moses to an occasion prior to that of which St. James now speaks; still, we may apply them to every subsequent act by which Abraham afterwards was justified; and hence, they were verified in the present instance also.

24 Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?

From this you see that faith is not the only ingredient in man’s justificatication, that he is justified no less by works than by faith.

Can there be a clearer refutation of the doctrine of modern innovators on the subject of justification by faith only? St. James expressly states, that faith is not the only disposition or cause of justification; that in whatever way faith produces or concurs in justification, works concur in the same way, “a man is justified by works and not by faith only.” The word, by—(εξ)—shows that faith and works concur in the same way.

Objection.—Does not St. Paul (Rom. 3, 4), say, that works have no share in justification? How, then are the two Apostles reconciled?

Answer.—There is no contradiction whatever between them; there is question of different works in both cases. What description of works does St. Paul exclude from a share in justification? The works performed by the sole aid of our natural faculties, or of the law of Moses, without grace or faith. These, alone, are the works which the scope of the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Romans, required of him to exclude. These, alone, are the works on which the Jews and Gentile converts respectively grounded their claims to the gospel, viz., the works they performed, before they received the gospel, or embraced the faith.

Does St. James here assert the necessity of the same works? By no means. He speaks of works performed, after they received the gospel, under the influence of grace and faith. For, he addresses men who had embraced the faith, but denied the necessity of works performed in this state. And it was to refute their error that St. James, as well as St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude, wrote their Catholic Epistles, as we are assured by St. Augustine (Libro de Fide et Operibus, c. 14) If the doctrine of St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, be joined to that delivered by St. James in this, we have a full and perfect account of all the causes and dispositions of justification, viz., faith and works conjointly. No other interpretation, save that warranted by Catholic doctrine, can reconcile the apparent discrepancy that exists between both Apostles. In the Catholic interpretation, there is no difficulty whatever; although the same example of Abraham would seem to be employed for opposite conclusions. The matter is thus explained. Abraham was justified even before, Moses said of him, that “he believed,” &c. (Genesis, 15:6), as is clear from chapter 11 verse 8, of Epistle to the Hebrews, where it is stated, that he was justified by faith going forth from his native country—an event which took place long before the promise of a son was made to him. The words, therefore, “it was reputed to him unto justice,” must be understood of second justification, or increase of justice; and St. Paul (Rom. 4), adduces the mode in which Abraham’s second justification, or increase in justice took place, viz., by faith, as an argument a fortiori to prove, that to faith, independently of the works which he performed without the influence of grace or faith, his first justification, or, his translation from a state of sin to that of grace was owing (vide Rom. 4); whereas St. James employs the same example to prove the necessity of good works done in faith, for preserving, and progressing in the justification once acquired; and, of course, it is implied that they are still more necessary for acquiring first justification. Were St. Paul, in the passage referred to, to insist on the necessity of good works also, and describe all the concurring dispositions for justification, it would only embarass him, and more or less obscure his arguments against the Romans, and render them less forcible; for they might imagine, that he coincided with them in their error, respecting the efficacy of works performed before faith, for obtaining justification. St. James supplies what St. Paul, for good reasons, omitted, and removes any misconception to which the words of the latter might have given occasion. There is no other mode of reconciling the two Apostles, save that furnished by the Catholic doctrine, as above.

25 And in like manner also Rahab the harlot, was not she justified by works, receiving the messengers and sending them out another way?

In like manner, was it not by works that Rahab the harlot, was justified, by the exercise of humanity in saving the messengers sent by Josue to explore the land of Chanaan and city of Jericho?—(Josue, 2).

“In like manner also,” i.e., by faith, which works consummated, and by works, which co-operated with faith, as in the case of Abraham. “Rahab, the harlot;” her history is given (Josue, 2) Some persons understand this to refer to second justification. They suppose that Rahab had, already, before the arrival of the spies, conceived divine faith, and having believed in the God of the Hebrews (of whose power she already had heard, Josue, 2:11), had been justified; and that, by the act of humanity in concealing the spies, she obtained second, that is to say, merited an increase of justification. Others maintain, that although Rahab may have had faith before the arrival of the spies—in which they had, probably, more fully instructed her—still, she had been in sin; for, she is called “a harlot,” and that this act of humanity only disposed her for first justification. It might be said in reply to this reason, that Rahab was called “a harlot,” even after she ceased to commit acts of sin; because she had been previously such, and that her former appellation had been retained; just as Simon is called “the leper,” and Matthew “the publican.” To this it might also be added, that the Hebrew word for “harlot” also signifies a hostess. The former signification is, however, the more probable meaning. In this latter interpretation, we will have the necessity of works both in first and second justification; in the one case, as dispositions; in the other, as concurring and meritorious causes. It is worthy of remark, that all through, St. James supposes that, without works, no man can be justified; for, in all the examples adduced, he leaves us to infer, that if the just man did not perform good works, he would lose justice, and the sinner could not otherwise acquire it.

26 For even as the body without the spirit is dead: so also faith without works is dead.

For, as the body without the soul to animate it is dead and devoid of all motion, incapable of any action good or evil; so, faith also, unaccompanied by good works, is dead.

Objection.—Does not this verse show that dead faith, or, as Catholics term it, fides informis, is no faith at all, as a dead man, properly speaking, is no man?

Answer.—Faith is compared not with a dead man, but with a dead body, which, although dead, and not animated by the soul, is still a real body. Hence, dead faith is real, genuine faith, in the sense already given in this chapter.

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on James 2:1-9

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 11, 2017

This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of James, chapter 2, followed by his comments on verses 1-9. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.

St. James commences this chapter, by exhorting the Christian converts to avoid the crime ofrespect of persons,” of which he adduces an example (1, 2). The example in question, although, apparently at first sight, not quite in point, however, as explained in the Commentary, will be seen to be perfectly so (3, 4). As it had reference to the undue preference shown the rich before the poor, St. James points out how unbecoming such conduct is, being opposed to the economy of God, in reference to the poor (5), and unmerited on the part of the rich, whose vices he enumerates (6, 7). This, however, should not interfere with the respect, which the order of charity inculcates in regard to the rich, and those to whom respect and honour are due, (8). But this honour should not be carried to the extent ofrespect of persons,” which the law of God condemns (9), and which, like every grievous violation of any other single precept, involves us, to a certain extent, in the guilt of violating the entire Law (10, 11).

As a remedy against all sin, he proposes the constant consideration of future judgment (12). He inculcates the necessity of showing mercy to all those, who may be involved in miseries of any kind (13).

In the next place, he treats of the principal subject of the Epistle, viz., the necessity of good works, for justification and salvation (14), and the inutility of faith alone, which he shows—firstly, by the example of the inutility of a mere speculative knowledge of our neighbour’s want, without actually relieving it (15–17); secondly, by showing the necessity of good works, for the discharge of the duty of externally professing and manifesting our faith (18); thirdly, by comparing dead faith, in a certain sense, with the faith of demons (19); fourthly, by the example of Abraham, justified through works (20–24); fifthly, by the example of Rahab (25); finally, he compares dead faith to a dead body (26).

1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory, with respect of persons.

My brethren, do not, while professing the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of glory, be guilty of the crime of exception of persons; that is to say, do not attempt to unite two things which are incompatible, and which mutually exclude each other, viz., the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and the crime of exception of persons.

“Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory.” The word “glory” is, by some Commentators, connected with “faith,” i.e., the glorious faith of our Lord, &c. the connexion in the Paraphrase joining it with “our Lord,” is the more probable. Our Lord Jesus Christ is called “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2). “With respect of persons,” i.e., do not attempt to unite two things so incompatible. “Respect, or exception, of persons” takes place, whenever an unjust preference is shown to one party beyond another; (v.g.) a judge would incur the guilt of “respect of persons,” by pronouncing sentence, on account of the appearance and external circumstances of a person, without any regard to the merits of the case. Others, among whom is A’Lapide, interpret the words thus: do not believe that the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ consists in an exception of persons, so that he is honoured when to your Agapes and meetings you admit the rich only and the noble, to the exclusion and contempt of the poor and squalid, as if the glory of Christianity consisted in external pomp and show.

2 For if there shall come into your assembly a man having a golden ring, in fine apparel; and there shall come in also a poor man in mean attire:

In illustration of the crime to which I refer; suppose two men come into your place of public worship, one of them a rich man, in showy apparel, and wearing on his finger a gold ring; the other, a poor man, in mean and squalid dress,

He illustrates by an example, what this “respect of persons” is, against which he has been cautioning them. Suppose “there shall come into your assembly,” in Greek, συναγωγην, synagogue, which, most probably, refers to their place of public assemblage for religious worship, like the Jewish synagogue; or, perhaps, to one of the old synagogues, converted into a place of worship tor the converted Jews; “a man having a gold ring,” which, as appears from the Greek, χρυσοδακτυλιος, was worn on his finger, a thing generally done by the rich; “in fine apparel;” in Greek, εσθητι λαμπρα, shining apparel. “Your assembly” is understood by some to refer to judicial assemblies, such having been, as they say, according to Jewish custom, held in places of worship.

3 And you have respect to him that is clothed with the fine apparel and shall say to him: Sit thou here well: but say to the poor man: Stand thou there, or: Sit under my footstool:

And that you assign to the rich man some commodious honourable seat, while the poor man is contemptuously made either to stand up, or sit down in some lowly place.

And you assign an honourable commodious seat to the rich man, on account of his riches, while the poor man, because he is poor, is treated contemptuously, and made either to stand up or sit down in some humble, lowly place.

4 Do you not judge within yourselves, and are become judges of unjust thoughts?

Do you not, by treatment so different in both cases, come to a very unfair and partial decision, and do you not found your judgment, on false estimates and erroneous reasonings.

“Do not judge within yourselves.” In Greek, διεκριθητε εν εαυτοις, are you not judged within yourselves, your conscience reproaching you, and stinging you with remorse for your unjust conduct. The Vulgate reading is the more probable, as appears from the following words, “and are become judges,” &c., which are explanatory of the former. In some Greek copies, και is prefixed to this verse, “and, do you not judge,” &c., but it is omitted in the chief MSS. “And are become judges of unjust thoughts.” In the Greek, διαλογισμων, reasonings, i.e., unjustly reasoning, and concluding from false estimates, that the rich man, as such, is to be preferred before the poor. It is not easy to see what St. James means by this example. Hence it is, that Commentators are perplexed about the meaning of the passage. They cannot discover anything like great guilt, in the preference shown to the rich man in the case alluded to, nor do they see any reason for ranking it with the crime of “respect to persons,” which (verse 6) is called, “dishonouring the poor;” since, there is no great dishonour shown a poor man in having a rich man accommodated with a seat in any assembly, whether sacred or profane, before him: or of classing it (verse 11) with adultery or murder. It is on account of this difficulty, that St. Augustine and others assign to the example in question an enigmatical meaning; and say, that, it is not so much the giving of a place of honour to the rich man and refusing it to the poor, St. James here condemns, as the crime signified by this preference, viz., the preference given to the rich on account of their worldly connexions in ecclesiastical dignities and offices, before the poor, who may be better qualified for such dignities. “Quis cnim ferat eligi, divitem ad sedem honoris Ecclesiæ, contempto paupere instructiore ac sanctiore?”—St. Augustine (Ep. 29), referring to this passage. The same interpretation is adopted by Mauduit. Hence, according to them, St. James is treating of the odious crime of simony. This interpretation derives probability from verse, 5, where the Apostle would appear to allude to the selection, which God made of poor fishermen, preferably to the great ones of the earth, for exercising the exalted and sublime functions of the Apostleship. Others understand the example of the preference shown to the rich before the poor in courts of justice, which unjust sentence is signified by the preference in seats alluded to. Others understand it to refer to the crime denounced by St. Paul in the first Epistle to Cor., chap. 11, viz., the contempt shown to the poor in the Agapes or love feasts, which in the infancy of the Church were celebrated immediately before receiving the Holy Eucharist (vide 1 Cor. 11). The neglect shown the poor, on such occasions, was highly scandalous and injurious to religion, on which account, St. Paul denounces it in the strongest language. This opinion has this advantage, that it solves the difficulty without departing from the literal meaning of the text. If we understand the passage to refer to the ordinary meetings in the church, we must suppose the neglect, referred to by St. James, to be greatly aggravated by the contempt with which the poor must have been treated. This, in the infancy of the Church, must have proved very detrimental to religion.

5 Hearken, my dearest brethren: Hath not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him?

See, my dearest brethren, how different from your conduct is the example set us by Almighty God in his treatment of the poor. Has he not given them a preference and selected them before the rich and powerful according to the world, to enrich them with the gift of faith and other spiritual blessings, and make them heirs of his heavenly kingdom, which he has promised to such as love him, and evince this love by their actions.

He shows how opposed their conduct is to the example set us by God himself in the work of man’s redemption; “the poor in this world,” whether we regard the preachers of the Gospel, or those to whom it was first preached (vide 1 Cor. 1:26); “rich in faith,” i.e., to be rich in faith, this being the end for which he had chosen them; for, before their call, they were not rich in faith; “and heirs,” to inherit his heavenly kingdom. “That love him,” shows, that an idle, merely speculative faith, is of no avail.

6 But you have dishonoured the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you by might? And do not they draw you before the judgment seats?

And those very persons, whom God himself has thus honoured and preferred, you dishonour. Moreover, do not the rich, by committing crimes against you never perpetrated by the poor, forfeit all claim to peculiar respect? Do they not violently oppress you and drag you before the tribunals of unbelieving judges?

You have dishonoured the poor, to whom God has shown such preference. From this verse, it is clear, that the example adduced cannot be understood of a mere preference in seats in any assembly, since a poor man could not look upon himself as dishonoured by such a preference, unless there were great contempt accompanying it. The example may, besides the meaning already assigned (4), be understood of a preference shown the rich before the poor in the administration of the sacraments of the Church, the souls of the poor being as valuable in the sight of their common Father, as those of the rich and powerful. “Do they not draw you before the judgment seats” of infidels?—a vice denounced in the strongest language by St. Paul (1 Cor. 6).

7 Do not they blaspheme the good name that is invoked upon you?

Do they not, by their wicked conduct and perverse morals, bring odium on, and cause to be blasphemed, the sacred name of Christ, from which you are termed Christians?

“Do they not blaspheme?” or cause to be blasphemed by the infidels (for they are themselves supposed to be Christians), the sacred name of Christ, which you bear, from him being called Christians.

8 If then you fulfil the royal law, according to the scriptures: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; you do well.

If, however, in the preference shown to the rich and powerful before the poor and humble man, you follow and depart not from the order prescribed by that most excellent of precepts, in which is summed up all the rest, laid down in the sacred Scriptures, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;” you do well.

Lest it might be inferred, from the charges which are alleged by St. James, against the rich, that he was encouraging the poor to entertain positive hatred for them, he, with a view of removing any such misconception, inculcates the virtue of fraternal charity towards all; and says, that if their preference for the rich man does not exceed the limits which the precept of fraternal charity sanctions, they sin not. In other words, if their respect for the rich be only such as they would reasonably expect to be paid themselves in like circumstances, giving honour to whom honour is due, and paying that respect which the order of charity marks out, as due to each one, according to his rank and station, they commit no sin—they act well. By others, the connexion of this verse with the preceding is made thus:—If in the distribution of ecclesiastical places of dignity and importance, you select a man who has equal qualifications and merit with a poor man, you in such a case commit no sin in preferring him.

9 But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, being reproved by the law as transgressors.

But if this preference be of such a nature as to constitute the crime of exception of persons; then, you commit sin, being reproved as transgressors, by the law, which, in a general way, prohibits every act of injustice.

But, if their preference be so unjust and unfair, as to constitute the crime of “respect of persons,” that is, treating the rich man with marked distinction and preference where he has no right, and treating others with contempt and injustice; then, they “commit sin,” and are “reproved by the law,” the law of God in general, or the law of charity, to which belongs the precept just referred to. If, in the preceding, St. James were referring to the exception of persons in courts of justice, then, “the law” would refer to special prohibition contained in Leviticus (19:15), and Deuteronomy (10:17), “respect not the person of the poor, nor honour the countenance of the mighty, but judge thy neighbour according to justice.”

 

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on James 5:13-20

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 14, 2016

This post opens with a brief analysis of all of chapter 5, followed by the commentary on today’s reading. Text in purple indicates Fr. MacEvilly’s paraphrase of the scripture he is commenting on. Text in red, if any, are my additions.

ANALYSIS OF JAMES CHAPTER 5

In this chapter, St. James denounces against the hard-hearted rich, the heaviest punishments in the life to come, on account of their crimes and cruelties towards the poor (1). These cruelties he enumerates. First—Their hard-heartedness was such, as to suffer their wealth to rot, sooner than give it to the poor (2), and their money to rust, sooner than dispense it: the consequence of which is, that they will suffer the severest punishments (3). The next crime he charges them with is, defrauding the labouring poor of their hire, one of the most iniquitous means of amassing riches (4). He then charges them with leading luxurious and debauched lives, pampering themselves in delicacies, like cattle destined for slaughter (5). And finally, he charges them until committing the most heinous crime, of persecuting unto death, innocent just men; and, as an aggravating circumstance of their injustice, he states, that these were unable to make resistance (6).

Turning to the poor and persecuted, he exhorts them to patience by several considerations such as the near approach of the Lord—the example of the husbandman, who patiently endures hardships in hopes of the distant harvest (7–8). He cautions them against murmurings (9), and consoles them by the examples of the prophets of old, and especially by the example of Job. He prohibits rash swearing.

He promulgates the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (14, 15). He exhorts them to the confession of their sins, and to prayer for one another, and he adduces the example of Elias, as an instance of efficacious prayer (16–19). Finally, he points out the great merit of converting sinners from their evil ways.

Jas 5:13 Is any among you suffering? let him pray. Is any cheerful? let him sing praise.

Should any one among you be in a sad mood, owing to his afflictions and adversity, let him seek consolation from God in prayer. Should he be in a joyous mood, let him nourish this feeling by singing spiritual songs, and by offering to God in thanksgiving, a sacrifice of praise.

St. James here prescribes a rule for the guidance of such as are in sadness; he had prohibited them already from uttering complaints against one another (9). He now tells them to have recourse to God for consolation and to commune with him in prayer. “Is he cheerful,” i.e., in a happy and joyous mood of mind, “let him sing,” i.e., sing spiritual canticles, a befitting way of nourishing this happy mood of mind, and of rendering God thanks—See Epistle to the Ephesians, 5:19.

Jas 5:14 Is any among you sick? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

Is any one among you labouring under grievous and dangerous bodily infirmity? Let him send for, and have called in, some one of the priests ordained and consecrated to minister in the church, and let the priest pray over him, anointing him, at the same time, with oil, in the name and person, or by the authority and command of the Lord.

“Is any man sick among you?” By “sick,” is meant, as appears from the Greek, ασθενει, labouring under grievous bodily infirmity, or in danger of death from sickness. “Let him bring in (in Greek, προσκαλεσασθω call in,) the priests of the Church,” i.e., “either bishops or priests duly ordained by them by the imposition of hands.”—(Council of Trent. xiv. c. 3)—to officiate in the Church. “And let him pray over him;” the words “over him” show there was a ceremony or rite to be observed in this prayer. “Anointing him with oil.” Of course the oil of olives, which, properly speaking, is alone to be termed, “oil.” “In the name of the Lord,” i.e., in the person of the Lord, or by his commission and authority. The words, “in the name of the Lord,” most probably affect the entire action of praying over the sick man, and anointing him with oil.

Jas 5:15 and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him.

And the form of prayer which is based upon the faith of the Church, and which the Church has marked out, will effect the salvation of the sick man, both in this life (if it be expedient), and in the life to come; and the Lord will assuage his bodily pains, and lighten his mental anxiety, and remove his spiritual torpor. And should there remain any sins not yet remitted, they will be forgiven him.

“And the prayer of faith,” i.e., the form of prayer which the priest will pronounce over him, called “of faith,” because proceeding from faith and grounded on the faith of the Church, which prescribes one particular form, “will save the sick man.” “Save,” i.e., restore him to health, should it be expedient for his salvation, or save his soul in the life to come, should he die. “And the Lord shall raise him up,” i.e., shall alleviate his bodily pains, and fortify him against the terrors of death, and remove all the langour, and anxiety, and sadness with which the dying are afflicted, and which prevent the application of their minds to God. “And if he be in sins,” most likely, includes all kinds of sin, mortal or venial; for, owing to some cause, his mortal sins may not have been remitted by penance, and the sacrament may have been invalidly administered: in that case, this prayer of faith, joined to the anointing with oil, will remit them, “they shall be forgiven him.”

Proof of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.—From this passage is derived a most satisfactory proof, in favour of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. We have all the conditions necessary to constitute a Sacrament of the New Law, viz., a sensible external rite—“anointing with oil,”—coupled with the prayer of faith, pronounced over the sick man. A permanent rite—St. James places no limitation as to time, nor are we to affix any limitation to the continuance of the precept, given here by the Apostle, any more than to the other precepts, laid down by him in this Epistle. Besides, the rite has been permanently continued in the Church. A rite, collative of sanctifying grace, as appears from the words, “if he be in sins, they will be forgiven,” which can be done only by the infusion of sanctifying grace. The same follows from the words, “the prayer of faith will save the sick man,” which most probably, mean—saving him in the life to come, wherein is implied the conferring of sanctifying grace or its increase. A rite also, instituted by Christ; since St. James could not have instituted a means of grace; he only promulgated this sacred rite instituted by his Divine Master, “in nomine Domini.” The rite, therefore, here promulgated by St. James, and to which he makes it imperative on Christians to resort, in dangerous illness, has all the conditions requisite to constitute a Sacrament of the New Law.

The Council of Trent treating on this subject (SS. xiv. c. 1, &c.) teaches—“that the Sacrament of Extreme Unction has been insinuated by Mark, and promulgated by James, the Apostle. From the words of this verse, ‘is any man sick,’ &c., as handed down to us, and interpreted from apostolical tradition, the Church teaches us the matter, form, minister, effect of this sacrament. The matter is oil, consecrated by the bishop; … the form is the words, ‘per istam unctionem,’ &c.; ‘the prayer of faith;’ the effect is conveyed in the words, ‘the prayer of faith will save the sick man; the Lord shall raise him up, and his sins shall be forgiven,’ which means, that the grace and unction of the Holy Ghost wipes away his sins (or faults), if there be any remaining to be expiated, and also the relics of sin; and alleviates and strengthens the soul of the sick man, by exciting in him a great confidence in God’s mercy, owing to which he bears more patiently the inconveniences and labours of his sickness, and resists more easily the temptations of the devil, ‘and sometimes obtains health of body, when it will be expedient for the salvation of his soul.’ ”—(SS. xiv. c. 2).

The ministers are either bishops or priests, duly ordained by the imposition of hands. “Let him call in the priests of the Church.” That by the word “priests,” are meant those who have received holy orders in the Church—“Priests ordained by the bishop”—and not the elders of the people, is clear from the fact, that in the New Testament the word, presbyter, is employed to designate an office of some kind; and when there is question of Ecclesiastical functions, it refers to those who are ordained, as is seen in the Acts, Epistles of St. Paul. 1 Epistle of St. Peter, chap. 3, and St. John, Epistles 2 and 3; and here, they are called, Presbyteri Ecclesiæ. The tradition of the Church has placed beyond all doubt the interpretation given of “presbyter,” which the Council of Trent (ibidem, canon iv.) has defined, as a matter of faith, to be the true meaning. St. James says, “Let him call in the priests,” i.e., some one of the priests. This change of number is often to be met with in SS. Scripture. Thus, it is said (Mark. chap. 15:32). “They that were crucified with him reviled him,” although only one of them did so, Thus, Hebrews, 11, it is said, “they closed the mouths of lions,” although we read only of one, viz., Daniel, having done so; also, “they were cut asunder,” although, it happened only to Isaias.

The objections raised by heretics against the Catholic doctrine and interpretation of this passage, hardly deserve refutation. The false interpretation of those who say that St. James prescribes anointing with the generous oil of Palestine, as a means of natural cure, cannot stand for a moment; for, in that case, why call in the “priests of the Church?” Would not physicians or nurses answer better? Moreover, why prescribe the anointing with oil in every case? In some cases of disease, the use of oil is decidedly noxious and injurious. Again, St. James is not merely addressing the Jews of Palestine, but “the twelve tribes” scattered all over the earth, even in cold regions, where such oil could not be had.

The false interpretation of Calvin, who understands the passage to refer to the grace of healing miraculously, accorded in the infant Church, and which has long since ceased, is equally unfounded; for, the grace of healing, and, in general, the grace of miracles, only extended to corporal and not to spiritual effects. Moreover, in the distribution of these gratiæ gratis datæ, which continued only for a time in the Church, St. Paul tells us, that the Spirit distributed them to each one at will.—1 Cor. 12 Hence, most likely, priests were not the only persons endowed with the gift of healing, nor was it probably conferred on all priests. Why, then, should St. James tell them, “call in the priests?” He should rather have told them, call in such as had the gift of healing miraculously. Again, we do not find those who were endowed with the gift of healing, commanded or advised to make use of it for all the sick, nor were the sick ordered to seek for a cure from those who had this gift. Thus, St. Paul, who had this gift, did not cure Timothy (1 Tim. 5:23), nor Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20), nor Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:27); whereas, here is issued a general precept, to all the sick, when dangerously ill, “to bring in the priests of the Church.” Again, Christ promised his disciples, after his resurrection, that by imposing hands on the sick, they would cure them (St. Mark, last chapter). And in the different cures performed by Christ’s disciples, in virtue of this promise after his resurrection, we find no instance of the application of oil. Why, then, should St. James restrict the exercise of this power to the ceremony of anointing with oil? It is, therefore, clear that St. James does not here refer to the exercise of any such power; but that he promulgates one of the sacraments of the New Law, instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ as a means of grace, of strengthening the dying Christian against the horrors of despair, and the violence of the approaching combat, when the enemy of his salvation shall strain every nerve to effect his destruction.

From this, we see the great and tremendous responsibility of those who are charged with the care of the dying sick to have the Sacrament of Extreme Unction administered—a sacrament which saves the patient, at least in the life to come, and in this life too, if administered in time, should it be expedient for his salvation; alleviates and strengthens the soul of the sick man, by assuaging his pains, invigorating his spirit, pouring into his soul the balm of consolation and hope, and enabling him to direct his mind to God; finally, “remits his sins, if there be any to be remitted.” How many are the souls saved by this sacrament, which deprived of it, would be damned? Surely those who are negligent to have the priests called in, will render “soul for soul, blood for blood.” The different questions raised about the mode in which this sacrament operates the remission of sins, and the quality of the sins which it remits, &c., more properly belong to Treatises of Theology, where these and other such questions are fully and professedly explained.

Jas 5:16 Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.

Confess, then, your faults to one another, both for the purposes of mutual counsel, and the assistance of your prayers; or, confess your sins to such as are empowered to absolve from them, that is, the priests of the Church, and pray for each other, particularly the just for sinners, that freed from their sins, they may come to God and be saved; for, the fervent and earnest prayer of the just man has great efficacy with God.

“Confess, therefore, your sins one to another.” “Therefore,” is omitted in some Greek readings. It is found in the Vatican MS. The words may mean, acknowledge your offences against one another, and mutually beg pardon of each other. Similar is the precept in the Gospel (Matt. 5), “if your brother shall sin against thee,” &c. Others understand the words to have reference to the confession of our faults to our brethren, for the purpose of seeking counsel, or of obtaining the assistance of their prayers; and this latter reason is suggested by St. James, “pray one for another,” &c. This practice or acknowledging their faults within due limits is observed in religious communities, with great spiritual advantage. The practice of mutually confessing their sins is followed by the priest and the people at the beginning of Mass. “Confitcor Deo … et tibi, pater … et vobis fratres.” By others, the passage is understood of the confession of sins to a priest, in the sacrament of penance; and then, “one to another” is to be understood (as the Greek corresponding word, αλληλοις, frequently is), in accommodation to the subject matter of the precept, of such as are empowered to hear confession and bestow absolution. These are alone the priests and bishops, “whose sins you shall forgive, shall be forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain,” &c. “One to another,” has the restricted meaning assigned to it here in several passages of Scripture, thus: (Romans, 15:7), “receive one another,” though it only refers to the strong supporting the weak; (1 Thes. 5:11), “comfort one another”; (Ephes. 5), “be subject to one another.” And St. James says, “confess to one another.” in order to remove the shame of confessing our sins, by showing that it is not to angels or beings of a higher nature we are confessing; but to weak mortal men like ourselves, and perhaps also to show that the priests too are bound by this precept. At all events, whether this latter interpretation be the true one or not matters but very little, as far as the warrant for absolving from sins, on the part of the priests is concerned. It is from the words of Christ to his Apostles, “receive you the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive,” &c., and from the constant tradition of the Church, that the existence of this power is clearly demonstrated. “And pray one for another.” This is specially to be understood of the just praying for sinners. “That you may be saved,” i.e. obtain conversion to God, and the great gift of final perseverance. “For the continual prayer of the just,” &c. The Greek word for “continual,” ενεργουμενη, means, fervent, earnest. “Availeth much” with God; because, he is his favourite and friend.

Jas 5:17 Elijah was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months.

Of the truth of this latter assertion, we have a striking proof in the case of the Prophet Elias who, though a mortal man, subject to the same passions of soul, and bodily wants with ourselves, still obtained by fervent prayer, that rain would not descend on the earth, for three years and six months.

He shows, by the example of Elias, the truth of the assertion, that the fervent prayer of the just man avails much. “He was a passible man, like unto us,” subject to the same passions of soul—but of course kept under control—and wants of body; hence, he was hungry, thirsty, subject to the other common wants and miseries of this mortal life. “And with prayer he prayed,” a Hebrew form for, he fervently prayed, “that it might not rain,” &c. (3 Kings, chap. 17). There is a slight difference in the Greek, from our Vulgate. In the Greek, the words “upon the earth” are joined to the latter part of the verse, thus: “And it rained not upon the earth, for three years and six months.” The sense is the same in both.

Jas 5:18 And he prayed again; and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

And having again fervently prayed for rain, the heaven gave its rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

“And he prayed again.” After Achab and his people did penance, “Elias prayed fervently for rain; casting himself upon the earth, he placed his face between his knees.”—(1 Kings, 18:42). From the efficacious and fervent prayers of Elias, for the opening and shutting of the heavens, St. James wishes us to infer, that we should employ more earnestness, to obtain by our joint prayers, a matter of far greater consequence—viz., the salvation of our brethren.

Jas 5:19 My brethren, if any among you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

My brethren, should any among you stray from the path of truth, either in the order of faith or morality; and if any one convert him to the right path from his evil ways,

But prayer is not the only means to be employed for their conversion. “Err from the truth,” whether practical or speculative—as regards faith or morals.

Jas 5:20 let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins.

Let him know, that whosover shall effect the conversion of a sinner, from the error of his way, will save his soul from spiritual death here, and eternal death hereafter, and shall cover—by being the instrument in effecting their total remission before God—the multitude of his transgressions.

“Shall save his soul from death,” i.e., spiritual death here, and eternal death and torments hereafter. In most Greek copies, “his,” is wanting; shall save a soul, which is more valuable than all material creation put together. It is found in the Vatican MS. αὑτοῦ. In the Greek copies in which it is used, “his” may also mean according to the breathing, whether smooth or rough, placed over it, his own. It is better, however, understand it of the soul of our neighbour, which is supposed to have been in danger. And the same is conformable to the words, “if your brother shall hear you … you shall have gained your brother,” (Matthew, 18). “And shall cover a multitude of sins,” by being instrumental in their remission; for, the covering of sins with God supposes their total remission (vide Ep. ad Rom. ch. 4). It is disputed whose sins are referred to here, whether those of the man who is converted, or of the person who converts him. It more likely refers to the former; the idea is the same as that conveyed (1 Peter, 4:8), “charity covereth a multitude of sins,” i.e., of our neighbour’s defects. And there as well as here, allusion is made to (Proverbs. 10:2), “hatred begets disputes—charity covers all faults.” Hence, the meaning of the passage is, that the man who is instrumental in the conversion of a sinner, performs the meritorious work of saving a soul, and covering the multitude of the sins of the person thus converted. No doubt, indirectly reference is made to the sins of the man who exercises the good work of converting his neighbour; for by this act of charity, he will obtain from God the remission of his own sins, or an increase of grace to persevere in justice, and the remission of the temporal penalties, due to his sins already remitted.

From this passage we can see the great merit of labouring for the salvation of souls. By the Prophet Abdais (verse 21), such persons are called “saviours”; and justly, for, they are continuing the great work in which our Redeemer and Saviour had been engaged during his mortal life, and in which he shed the last drop of his most precious blood. They are “the coadjutors of God” (1 Cor. 3:8). They resemble the angels, whose ministry is employed about such, as are to be saved—(Hebrews, 1:14). The merit of this sublime occupation can be estimated from the priceless value of immortal souls, one of which is prized more highly in the sight of God than all the riches of creation put together. It is the most sublime exercise of charity, and one of the surest proofs we can give that we sincerely love God, who is so deserving of the love of our entire hearts.—“Si amas me, pasce oves meas.” To this faithful discharge of this exalted function of saving souls is attached a special crown, a bright aureola in heaven. “Qui erudierint multos ad justitiam, fulgebunt quasi stellæ in perpetuas eternitates”—Daniel. “Qui fecerit et docuerit, hic magnus vocabitur in regno cœlorum.”—St. Matthew, 5

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Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on James 5:9-12

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2014

To see the bishop’s brief summary analysis of James chapter 5 see the post on 5:1-6. Text in red, if any, are my additions.

9 Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the judge standeth before the door.

Do not fretfully indulge in murmurings and rash judgments against one another, lest you should be, in turn, condemned. For, the judge is near at hand, to pass sentence of condemnation upon you. Text in purple indicates the bishop’s paraphrase of the scripture he is commenting on.

“Grudge not, brethren, one against another.” St. James cautions them, while under afflictions and persecution, against murmuring in regard to one another, of fretfully misjudging, or envying one another, a state of feeling apt to spring from the pressure of persecution and misery. As a motive for avoiding this, and for practising the opposite virtue of patience, he proposes the fear of being condemned by God. “Behold the judge standeth before the door,” a form of expression frequently employed in Sacred Scripture, to intimate the near approach, or immediate presence of a person. Here, it is used with a view of cautioning them against incurring judgment and condemnation, on account of their murmurings and impatience; for, the judge is near to condemn them; or, perhaps, by it is meant to encourage them to overcome impatience, at the prospect of the rewards which the Judge, who is near, will render them. The phrase has the same meaning as the words in verse, 8, “for the coming of the Lord is nigh.” Some understand the words, of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem and the total dispersion of the Jews by the Romans. The former interpretation, which extends to all times, appears, however, far the more probable.

10 Take, my brethren, for example of suffering evil, of labour and patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Take, my brethren, for examples to stimulate you to the patient and persevering suffering of evils and afflictions, the prophets, who have gone before you into bliss, who have not been freed from suffering, notwithstanding their high commission, of reclaiming sinners in the name and authority of the Lord, or of predicting future events.

St. James stimulates them to the patient endurance of evil by the example of the prophets, who preceded them; they could not reach heaven, without first passing through the ordeal of suffering, notwithstanding the high and exalted commission they received from God. “An example of suffering evil, of labour, and patience.” In the Greek there are only two primary words, της κακοπαθειας και της μακροθυμιας (tes kakopathias kai tes makrothymias) of suffering evil and patience, or, rather, long suffering. Hence, the word, “labour,” must have been inserted by some scribe, who, perhaps, finding in some copies, the Greek word translated, labour, in others, evil suffering, united both. This does not much affect the meaning of the passage. By “the prophets,” are meant the prophets of old, of whose sufferings mention is made in the Old Testament, and (Ep. ad Hebrews 11). “Who spoke in the name of the Lord,” which may either mean, that they spoke to reclaim sinners, or, to predict future events; “in the name of the Lord,” i.e., by divine commission and authority, Hence, as the prophets, whose lot they envy, did not reach heaven, except in passing through the ordeal of suffering, they are not to expect happiness on easier terms.

11 Behold, we account them blessed who have endured. You have heard of the patience of Job and you have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is merciful and compassionate.

 Behold, we account those blessed, we have regarded their lot as happy, who have suffered for the cause of righteousness. You have all been acquainted with the patience of Job; and you have seen the happy end, to which the Lord brought his sufferings, rewarding him, even in this life, an hundred fold. The Lord will bring your sufferings also, to a happy issue; for, of his own nature, he is full of the tenderest compassion, and inclined to exercise acts of mercy, at all times.

He proposes the example of Job, as a memorable instance of patience for the instruction of all ages. “The end of the Lord,” which is understood by some to refer to the death and sufferings of our Saviour—the most perfect pattern of patience. The same example is proposed by St. Paul (Hebrews, 12), after having counted up the heroic exploits of the saints of old (chap. 11). It is more likely that the words refer to the end to which the Lord happily brought the sufferings of Job, rewarding him an hundred-fold even in this life; and this interpretation is rendered probable by the following words: “that the Lord is merciful and compassionate,” as if he said, you have seen the happy end to which the Lord has brought the sufferings of Job, which is an effect of his merciful disposition to exercise acts of mercy at all times, and the same mercy, you have good grounds to hope, will one day be extended to you also. The word “merciful,” in Greek, πολυσπλαγχνος (polysplanchnos), means, full of interior, visceral mercy, and refers to the divine nature, of itself merciful. The other word “compassionate,” in Greek, οικτειρμων (oiktirmon), refers to acts of this mercy.

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath. But let your speech be: Yea, Yea: No, No: that you fall not under judgment.

But above all vices of the tongue, you should avoid, with special care, the common vice of swearing, or invoking either the name of God, or heaven, earth or any other creatures, or employing any other form of oath, without sufficient cause, and without due conditions in swearing. All your assertions should be simple asseverations of truth, or “yes,” and all your denials, simple and bare negations, or “no,” without the interposition of an oath, lest, otherwise, you may incur condemnation on account of your profane irreverence towards God’s holy and adorable name.

St. James here proceeds to caution the converted Jews against a vice resulting from impatience, which vice being prevalent among the Jews of old, was, most likely, not wholly eradicated after their conversion; this was the abusive practice of indiscriminate swearing in common conversation. It appears from the Gospel, that there were erroneous doctrines taught by the Jewish doctors, and consequent abuses on two points, connected with the taking of an oath. The first was, that no matter how trivial or unnecessary the occasion of an oath might be, it was not sinful to invoke the name of God, provided it was done in truth; and hence, in the prohibition (Exodus, 20:7), “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” they understood the words “in vain,” to mean, falsely, or in a lie—a signification which the original Hebrew word bears, but not exclusively, as they interpret it. Secondly, they held, that an oath by creatures, except in the cases favourable to their own avarice, “by the gold of the temple” (Matthew 23:17), was not binding. These erroneous and abusive teachings our divine Redeemer corrects in his Gospel (Matt. 5:34), and tells men “not to swear at all,” i.e., indiscriminately and in common conversation—even though their assertions should be true, in the sense, in which swearing was permitted by the Jewish teachers; and he also declares that swearing by heaven, or earth, was equally binding with the direct invocation of the name of God, since his attributes were reflected both in one and the other. Now, as St. James, the disciple, is to be supposed to have in view the same prohibition, which he heard from the lips of his Divine Master, his words; in this passage, are to be understood in the same meaning.

St. James, any more than our divine Redeemer, does not prohibit our resorting to an oath, when accompanied with the necessary dispositions of “judgment, justice, and truth” (Jeremias, 4:2); for, then, it is an act of homage in recognition of the supreme veracity of God, who knows all truth, and is incapable of sanctioning falsehood of any kind. But to be invoking God’s name on every occasion, is only insulting him, and profanely irreverencing his holy name. That it is sometimes lawful for Christians to swear, is a point of faith defined against the Anabaptists and Wicliffe, and clearly proved, from the example of God himself, “juravit Dominus et non pœnitebit eum,” from the examples of Moses, Abraham, St. Paul, &c. “Nor by any other oath,” i.e., by any other mode of invoking God’s veracity, as witness of truth. “But let your speech be, yea, yea; no, no;” in Greek, the word “speech” is not found, it is, ἤτω δε ὑμων το ναι, ναι, και το οὒ, οὔ; (eto de hymon to nai, nai, kai to ou, ou) but let your yea be yea; and your no be no; the word, “speech” was, most likely, introduced here from (Matthew, 5:37), as both passages referred, in the mind of the interpreter, to the same thing. “That you fall not under judgment.” In some Greek readings it is, that you fall not into hypocrisy. The reading adopted in our Vulgate is, however, the most probable. They would fall under judgment or condemnation, by swearing in violation of God’s law and prohibition.

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Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on James 4:13-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2014

For the Bishop’s brief analysis of James chapter 4 see the post on 4:1-10.

13 But who art thou that judgest thy neighbour? Behold, now you that say: To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and there we will spend a year and will traffic and make our gain. Some translations place the question that opens this verse at the end of the preceding verse.

 But who art thou, what right, or authority or control hast thou over any other, thus to presume to sit in judgment on him? Come on, now, and see how foolish and irreligious is your conduct, in another matter, viz., when relying on your own strength, and without a proper acknowledgment of your dependence on God’s holy will and Providence, you say: to-day or to-morrow we shall go into such a city, and remain there, for a year, in traffic and in pursuit of gain. Text in purple indicates the bishop’s paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.

“But who art thou?” &c. “But,” is not in some Greek copies. It is found in the Vatican MS. “Thy neighbour;” in some Greek copies, another: πλησιον (plesion), neighbour, is the reading of the Vatican and Alexandrian MSS. As if he said, wretched worm of the earth, who art thyself one day to be judged, what right or control hast thou over thy fellow-creatures?—who is it authorized thee, thus to sit in judgment on him? “For his own master will he stand or fall.”—Rom. 16:14.

“Behold now you that say,” &c. For “behold” it is the Greek, αγε (age), go to, or come on, as in chap. 5 verse 1. It is merely a form soliciting attention. Some Commentators endeavour to trace a connexion between these words and the foregoing, thus:—Who art thou to judge thy neighbour? you who are so foolish, in the ordinary language of life, as altogether to renounce practically your dependence on divine providence, although your weakness and frail dependence be such as not to be able to promise yourselves a moment’s continuance in existence. This connexion is warranted, in a certain sense, by the division of the verses in the Vulgate. The more probable opinion, however, appears to be (as in Paraphrase), that St. James is censuring another vice of the tongue, then so common among worldly-minded persons, who relied too confidently on their own strength, in the execution of their designs and purposes, and seemed altogether to forget their dependence on God’s adorable providence. Such persons propose to themselves to traffic for years, and to execute other purposes at some future time with a degree of certainty and security, that would imply their independence of God’s providence. It is the irreligious sentiments expressed by such language that St. James here condemns, as appears from verse 1, their “rejoicing in their arrogancies.” In some Greek copies, instead of “we will go, will spend,” &c., it is, let us go, let us spend, &c. But the Vulgate translator has better expressed the sense of St. James, by employing the future Indicative, which more clearly conveys their foolish resolves in regard to the future. Moreover, the future is the reading of the Codex Vaticanus.

14 Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow.

 (Although you are wholly ignorant of what may happen on the morrow.)

Such foolish men may experience the fate of the rich glutton in the Gospel, who gave up his soul, in the very execution of his projects of self-aggrandizement.—(Luke, 12:20).

15 For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while and afterwards shall vanish away. For that you should say: If the Lord will, and, If we shall live, we will do this or that.

For what is human life on which you thus confidently calculate? (What is it but a thin vapour, which appears for a short time, and afterwards is dissipated and vanishes from our sight)? Instead of such irreligious conduct and language, you should always express, or, at least, imply the following conditions before proposing to yourselves the execution of any purpose: “if the Lord will,” and, “if we shall live.”

The words of the preceding verse (14) and of this, as far as “For that you should say,” are to be read parenthetically. “What is your life?” “It is a vapour,” &c. The Greek has, “γαρ,” (gar) for, it is a vapour, &c. It is like the morning dew, which ascends in thin vapour, and immediately after disappears altogether from our eyes. We frequently meet in sacred Scripture with beautiful comparisons of the same kind “Remember,” (says Job. 7:7), “that my life is but wind … as a cloud is consumed and passeth away,” &c. (Psalm, 143). The conclusion is, that as human life is thus fleeting, precarious, and uncertain, it is the excess of folly, and the height of presumption in them, thus to calculate for certain, on the success and enjoyment of their future projects. “For that you should say.” These words are to be immediately connected with the words, verse 13: “You say, to-day or to-morrow, we shall go into such a city,” &c. “For that you should say,” i.e., instead of which mode of speaking, you should say, “if the Lord wills,” and “if we shall live.” These two conditions should be always expressed, or at least implied, whenever we propose to ourselves the accomplishment of any future project. The example of St. Paul alone shows us how much these forms of expression, recommended by St. James, were at the time in use.—Acts, 18; 1 Cor. 4 and 16; Hebrews, 6; Rom. 1; Philipp. 2 Even among the Pagans, viz., Socrates, Cicero, Cato, &c., such forms were in use.

16 But now you rejoice in your arrogancies. All such rejoicing is wicked.

But now, while employing the language I have censured, you boast and glory in the expression of your arrogant and proud rejection of God’s adorable Providence; all boasting of this sort is wicked and sinful.

In this verse, the Apostle shows that he is condemning dispositions of mind, the opposite of the Christian and religious forms of speech, which he is recommending. He is censuring such persons as attributed the merit of their success to themselves, without a due regard to God’s Providence and assistance. Such conduct on their part is “arrogance,” or pride, since, of themselves, they can do nothing. “All such rejoicing is wicked,” such haughty, presumptuous reliance on our powers is, in every case, evil, because it is a practical lie, and a lie, too, injurious to God’s supreme dominion over his creatures. St. James by no means condemns a prudent provision for futurity, dependent on God’s will and Providence.

17 To him therefore who knoweth to do good and doth it not, to him it is sin.

Of course, as Christians, you must be fully aware of your dependence on God’s Providence; this knowledge, however, only serves to aggravate the sinfulness of your conduct; since the man who knows good and does it not, or acts against it, sins the more, by reason of his knowledge.

The connexion adopted in Paraphrase is: You know, as Christians, all that I am saying: you know your dependence on Providence and the uncertainty of life; now, this knowledge will only aggravate the sinfulness of your impious and unchristian mode of expressing your future resolves. Or, the words of this verse may be only a conclusion drawn from the two foregoing chapters, wherein St. James instructs them in several points of Christian morality; and now, he tells them, that if they hereafter sin in any of the particular points in which he instructed them, the instruction and knowledge imparted will only aggravate their sin; for, sins committed with knowledge are more grievous, than if they were committed in ignorance.

 

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Father MacEvily’s Commentary on James 5:1-6

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 25, 2012

This post begins with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of chapter 5, followed by his notes on the reading. I’ve included (in purple text) his paraphrase of the text he is commenting on.

ANALYSIS OF JAMES CHAPTER 5

In this chapter, St. James denounces against the hard-hearted rich, the heaviest punishments in the life to conic, on account of their crimes and cruelties towards the poor (Jam 5:1). These cruelties he enumerates. First—Their hard-heartedness was such, as to suffer their wealth to rot, sooner than give it to the poor (Jam 5:2), and their money to rust, sooner than dispense it: the consequence of which is, that they will suffer the severest punishments (Jam 5:3). The next crime he charges them with is, defrauding the labouring poor of their hire, one of the most iniquitous means of amassing riches (Jam 5:4). He then charges them with leading luxurious and debauched lives, painpering themselves in delicacies, like cattle destined for slaughter (Jam 5:5). And finally, he charges them with committing the most heinous crime, of persecuting unto death, innocent just men; and, as an aggravating circumstance of their injustice, he states, that these were unable to make resistance (Jam 5:6).

Turning to the poor and persecuted, he exhorts them to patience by several considerations such as the near approach of the Lord—the example of the husbandman, who patiently endures hardships in hopes of the distant harvest (Jam 5:7-8). He cautions them against murmurings (Jam 5:9), and consoles them by the examples of the prophets of old, and especially by the example of Job (Jam 5:10-11). He prohibits rash swearing (Jam 5:12).

He promulgates the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (Jam 5:13-15). He exhorts them to the confession of their sins, afid to prayer for one another, and he adduces the example of Elijah, as an instance of efficacious prayer (Jam 5:16-19). Finally, he points out the great merit of converting sinners from their evil ways.

Jam 5:1  Go to now, ye rich men: weep and howl in your miseries, which shall come upon you.

Come on, now, ye (hard-hearted and haughty) rich men, weep and howl on account of the miseries in which you shall be eternally involved (unless you expiate your crimes by a true repentance).

“Go to,” αγε, an interjection, having for object, to excite attention (as in James 4:13). “Ye rich;” some interpreters understand these words to refer to the hard-hearted rich among the Pagans. But it is most probable (as in James 2) that he is addressing the rich, who, contrary to their Christian profession, were guilty of the crimes here enumerated. Of course, there is question of such among the rich, as “were not poor in spirit,” and were guilty of inhumanity towards the poor. “Weep and howl” in anticipation of the miseries, in which you shall be eternally involved hereafter, unless you repent for your crimes; it is to induce them to do penance that St. James menaces them with the rigorous judgments of God. Some Commentators understand the woes here denounced by St. James to have reference to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and the injuries which the rich were to sustain from the party of the zealots, the dominent party at Jerusalem, before its total destruction. It is more probable, however, that the words are to be understood in a more general sense, as extending to the punishments with which the abuse of riches, and the crimes consequent thereon, are visited at all times.

Jam 5:2  Your riches are corrupted: and your garments are moth-eaten.

(As proof of you inhumanity and hard-heartedness towards the poor, who are perishing for want of food and raiment), you permit your substance to rot, and your garments to be eaten by moths, sooner than feed or clothe your famishing brethren.

St. James now recounts the crimes of the rich which draw down such heavy chastisements. The first charge against them is, their inhumanity to the poor, the proof of which is, that they suffer “their riches,” i.e., the abundance of food of all kind sored up in their granaries, to rot, and their superfluous garments to become “moth-eaten,” sooner than feed and clothe the hungry and famishing poor. There cannot be a greater proof of their inhumanity and hard-heartedness—crimes so strongly denounced in every part of sacred Scripture.

Jam 5:3  Your gold and silver is cankered: and the rust of them shall be for a testimony against you and shall eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up to yourselves wrath against the last days.

Your gold and silver (which you should have expended on the suffering poor) is idly laid by; and the rust of this money, hoarded up, shall serve to accuse your barbarous inhumanity, and be witness against you on the day of judgement, and shall serve as the moral cause of your tortures in inextinguishable flames; you have laid up for yourselves a treasure of wrath and heavy punishment, against the day of final judgment.

“Your gold and your silver is cankered.” Another instance or proof of their inhumanity to the poor, against whose cries, their hearts are steeled and their bowels closed. Their gold and silver utensils, probably, had a greater proportion of alloy than in modern times; and hence, were liable to rust. “And the rust of them shall be for a testimony against you,” inasmuch as it will be a witness of their inhumanity, in having these riches uselessly laid by—contrary to all laws natural and divine, while the wretched poor were starving. And shall eat your flesh as fire,” because it shall be the moral cause of their tortures in the avenging flames of hell; or, because the recollection of this rusting of their wealth, which they might have meritoriously expended on God’s poor, will supply fresh food to the eternal gnawing of the never-dying worm of conscience, one of the bitterest torments of the damned. Some even add, that there is allusion here made to the painful effects of rust rubbed into raw flesh, which gives us a vivid idea of the dreadful punishment, that is sure to overtake either the abuse, or the unjust acquisition of riches.

“You have stored up to yourselves (wrath) against the last days,” this is referred by some to the days then immediately preceding the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, Others, more probably, understand the words of the day of general judgment, when both body and soul shall be tormented. “Wrath” is not found in the Greek, which runs thus, you have treasured up for yourselves, &c. Hence, the word was, most likely added to the passage from (Rom 2:5), where the phrase is very like the present, and refers to the punishments of the life to come. The Greek reading is understood by others to mean: You have been so eager for sordid gain as not to cease from amassing it even in your last days, in extreme old age, when you can have but very little time for enjoying it.

Jam 5:4  Behold the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which by fraud has been kept back by you, crieth: and the cry of them hath entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

You have resorted to the most iniquitous practices for amassing wealth. Behold the hire of the laborers, who have reaped down your fields, which you have unjustifiably withheld from them, cries for vengeance against you; and the cry of those whom you have thus injured, has been attended to by Him who is able to inflict summary vengeance on you—the Lord God of armies.

The crime with which he charges them, and which is calculated to draw down upon them the heavy vengeance of God is, defrauding the labourer of his hire. This is said “to cry against them,” a form of expression which strongly points out its enormity. Hence, it is reckoned among the sins, which cry to heaven for vengeance. “Which by fraud has been kept back by you.” The Greek word, αφυστερημενος means, to keep back by any unjustifiable means. “And the cry of them,” i.e. of those who have reaped (for, this latter is expressed in the Greek, των θερισαντων), “hath entered the ears of the Lord of sabaoth,” which shows the prompt vengeance to be inflicted in punishment of this crime. ” Lord of sabaoth,” i.e., the Lord of armies, who, therefore sets at nought all human power and greatness. In him the poor and the orphan, although here apparently helpless, have a powerful defender, ” ” Tibi derelictus est pauper, orphano tii eris adjutor (Translation: “To thee is the poor man left: thou wilt be a helper to the orphan”Psalm 10:14) “Sabaoth,” this Hebrew word is retained by St. James, because it sounds better in the ears of the Jews, as expressing God’s power and majesty. The same has been done by the Septuagint translators who always retain the Hebrew word “Sabaoth.” If such heavy punishments are here denounced by the Apostle against individual cases of the unjust detention of the labourers’ hire, what must the grievous enormity of their crimes, who, after ruthlessly exterminating entire districts, unjustly appropriate to themselves, against the clearest dictates of every law, natural and divine, the accumulated and permanent fruits of the labour, sweat, time, and money of the defenceless occupier of the soil? If this be not detaining and defrauding, on a gigantic scale, the hire of labourers, it is hard to say what else is. Will not this National sin, in many instances aggravated by heartless cruelty, and committed against the defenceless poor, out of hatred of their religion, cry to heaven for vengeance?

Jam 5:5  You have feasted upon earth: and in riotousness you have nourished your hearts, in the day of slaughter.

You have lived in delicacies and debaucheries upon the earth, and you have feasted your hearts, preparing yourselves for vengeance,  like the animals fattened for slaughter.

“You have feasted upon earth,” i.e., like the rich glutton in the Gospel (Luke 16:20, &c.), you indulged in unbounded and sumptuous gratification in eating and drinking and the enjoyment of good cheer. “And in riotousness you have nourished your hearts.” In Greek it is, και εσπαταλησατε εθρεψατε τας καρδια, and you have rioted; you have nourished your hearts. “You have rioted,” refers to the crime of voluptuousness and the indulgence of impure pleasures—an inseparable attendant of excess in eating and drinking—”in vino luxuria” (Eph 5:18), “venter æstuans mero spumit hi libidinem” (St Jerome). “You have nourished your hearts,” i.e., indulged in good cheer unto satiety.” “In the days of slaughter.” In some Greek copies, as in a day of slaughter; the Vulgate follows the Vatican MS., which, besides the meaning in the Paraphrase, may also mean, that their daily banquets were like festival days, on which the victims were slain, and great feasting indulged. The meaning in the Paraphrase, however, seems preferable.

Jam 5:6  You have condemned and put to death the Just One: and he resisted you not.

You have procured the condemnation and death of just and un-offending men, whenever they stood in your way, and what adds to, and aggravates your guilt-you did this, when the victims of your unjust persecution were quite helpless, and unable to resist you.

The next crime with which he charges them is of a still blacker character. “You have condemned,” i.e., caused to be condemned, contrary to all justice—or, the word may mean, that, while by a mockery of justice, instituting a trial, in which might was the only rule of justice, they condemned and put to death the just man. “And he resisted you not,” which shows the helplessness of their victim, and the consequent aggravation of their cruelty and injustice towards him. Of the injustice referred to by St. James, the murder of Naboth by Achab (2 Kings 21), is adduced by Commentators, as a most striking exemplification. By “the just one,” some interpreters understand Him, who was just by excellence—our Blessed Redeemer, whom the Jews put to death. It more probably, however, refers to just men in general, who might stand in the way of the aggrandizement or further enrichment of those unjust rich men, whom St. James is here addressing, and the singular number, “the just one,” is employed, for emphasis sake, to show the helplessness of each victim of oppression, which is more clearly seen, by considering each case individually.

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Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on James 3:16-4:3

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 19, 2012

This post begins with the Fr. MacEvilly’s brief summary analysis of all of chapter 3, followed by his commentary on James 3:16-18. After this comes his summary analysis of chapter 4, followed by his commentary on James 4:1-3. In addition, I’ve included (in purple text) his paraphrasing of the verses he is commenting on.

Summary of James chapter 3~St. James resumes, in this chapter, the subject briefly glanced at (James 1:19, James 1:26) regarding the government of the tongue: and after showing the danger caused by the tongue in teaching, others (James 3:1), he proceeds to treat, in a general way, of the faults committed by means of that member. He says, that by governing the tongue, we show that we can keep all our passions under control (James 3:2). He compares the tongue to the bits of horses and the helms of vessels, also to a small spark of fire, which can set a large quantity of timber in a blaze (James 3:3-6).

He next points out the difficulty, and, consequently, the great care to be employed, in subduing the tongue (James 3:7-8); the monstrous and incompatible uses, to which it is applied (James 3:9-10); and from the analogy of nature, from what is impossible in the natural order, he argues against what is inconsistent and opposed in morals (James 3:11-12).

After a lengthened digression regarding the vices of the tongue, he returns to the subject with which he commenced the chapter, regarding those who wish to act in the capacity of teachers, and shows the qualities with which a teacher of others should be gifted (James 3:13-14). He notes the characters of true and false wisdom (James 3:15-18).

Jas 3:16  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

For, bitter envy and contention are the parents of confusion and disorderly conduct of every kind, and of all sorts of wicked works.

“Inconstancy,” i.e., disquietude, tumults, and seditions. St. James proves that the wisdom of the envious is “earthly, sensual, &c,” because it is inconstant and turbulent, creating tumults and seditions, clearly observable in the conduct of the heretics, in all ages, but particularly true of modern reformers, as may be seen from the history of their times. The conclusion which St. James wishes us to derive from this verse is, that men acting under the influence of such a spirit cannot be possessed of true wisdom.

Jas 3:17  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

But true wisdom, which descends from above, from the throne of God, is distinguished by opposite qualities and characteristics. First, it inculcates, and disposes to, purity both of soul and body; next, it inculcates, and disposes us to cultivate, as far as possible, peace with all men; it is opposed to all vain display and ostentation, or, it is urbane and affable to all; it is not obstinately wedded to self-opinion and judgment; but, easily persuades us to adopt the good measures and advice proposed by good men; it inclines us interiorly, to take compassion on the wretched and miserable; and prompts us to works of beneficence and charity to the poor, which are the good fruits, springing from the virtue of mercy; it is not precipitate in judging of our neighbor’s actions and intentions; or, it has no respect for persons and parties; it is opposed to all hypocrisy, all intriguing, all affectation of superior sanctity.

Having, in the preceding, described true wisdom negatively, the Apostle now
gives its peculiar distinguishing characteristics, quite the opposite of those, by which false wisdom is distinguished. First, it is “chaste,” opposed to “sensual” (verse 15). “It is peaceable, modest, easy to be persuaded,” three qualities opposed to “devilish,” “easy to be persuaded,” not obstinately inflexible in its own judgment, but “consenting to the good.” There is no word corresponding with this, in the Greek. It is, most probably, inserted in the Vulgate, as a fuller explanation of the words, “easy to be persuaded,” as if to say; by “easily persuaded” is not meant, easily persuaded to either good or bad measures, by either good or bad men; but consenting and easily persuaded to good measures, proposed by good men. It is not unusual for the Vulgate translator, wherever the Greek word is susceptible of a two-fold meaning (as the Greek word here, ευπειθης, is), to give both; hence, for one word in the Greek, we have sometimes two, in the Vulgate.— Vide Epistle to Galatians 5:21-23, &c. “Full of mercy,” &c., opposed to “earthly,” to that selfish spirit of avarice, which makes us close our ears to the wants of the poor, and the relief of the necessitous. “Mercy,” refers to the inward feelings of compassion, “and good fruits,” to the external manifestation of these feelings by good works, which spring from it, as fruits from their root. “Without judging.”—(See Paraphrase). “Without dissimulation,” ανυποκριτος.

Jas 3:18  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

And the fruit of increasing merits here, and eternal life hereafter, to be reaped from justice, are sown, not in contention, envy, or strive; but in peace, to be possessed by those only, who cultivate peace both with themselves and with others.

“The fruit of justice,”‘may refer to justice itself, so that the words may mean, that justice itself, as a fruit always increasing, is reaped by those who cultivate peace, or (as in Paraphrase), “the fruit of justice,” may mean the fruit, which the seed of justice produces; viz., eternal life, which proceeds from, and is produced by peace, for such as practice and cultivate it.

A Summary of James, Chapter 4~In this chapter, St. James points out the source of the dispositions which he censures, as opposed to that peace recommended by him in the foregoing chapter—viz., the corrupt passions of the human heart (James 4:1). He shows, in the next place, the utter folly of seeking for true happiness in the gratification of these passions, instead of having recourse by prayer to God, from whom alone true happiness can come (James 4:2). And although they have recourse to God, still their prayer is of no effect, for want of the proper dispositions, either as regards the object of petition, or its motive (James 4:3). He then points out how utterly incompatible are the friendship of God and the opposite friendship of the world, enticing us to commit sin, and desert from God (James 4:4). This he illustrates by a reference to the testimony of Sacred Scriptures (James 4:5), and he mentions the claims God has on our undivided service and love (James 4:6).

He next exhorts them to range themselves under the banners of God, and fight manfully against the devil (James 4:7); and in order to battle in the service of God, as they should, he recommends them to enter on a new life of virtue, to do penance for the past, and practice the virtue of true, unaffected humility (James 4:8-10).

He then cautions them against another vice, springing also from pride—viz., the vice of detraction, and all the other vices of the tongue, whereby our neighbour’s character is unjustly injured. He shows the enormity of detraction; because, the man guilty of it constitutes himself a judge of the law (James 4:11), and intrudes into the province of the Supreme Lawgiver (James 4:12).

He censures another fault of the tongue, common among worldly-minded men, consisting in this: that in giving expression to their future resolves, they speak, as if they reposed their entire reliance on their own strength, without any dependence of the will and adorable Providence of God(James 4:13-17).

Jas 4:1  From whence are wars and contentions among you? Are they not hence, from your concupiscences, which war in your members?

From whence, think you, spring these strifes and contests that exist amongst you? Is it not from the corrupt passions and irregular desires of your hearts, which employ the different members of your bodies, as the instruments of the warfare, which they constantly endeavour to sustain in the soul?

“Wars and contentions” (in the Greek, for “contentions” we have, μαχαι = mache, “fights”), probably refer to the same thing—viz., quarrels and disputes, which may be either of a civil or religious nature, to which latter kind the Jews were particularly prone. Some Commentators refer this also to the teachers—it is better, however, extend it to all Christians; and as these words are written for all times, probably the word “wars” may refer to those which St. James foresaw would take place at a future day, even between Christian states. They all originate in their “concupiscences,” i.e., their unsubdued lusts, “which war in your members,” i.e., which employ the members of the body, viz., the eyes, the ears, the tongue, the hands, &c., as instruments of that warfare, which the unsubdued passions of pride, selfishness, avarice, &€., endeavour eternally to carry on in the soul of man.

Jas 4:2  You covet, and have not: you kill and envy and cannot obtain. You contend and war, and you have not: because you ask not.

(Behold both the utter folly of seeking true happiness in the gratification of your corrupt passions, and the total disappointment in which this gratification ends): for, although you obey the dictates of these corrupt passions, still you cannot secure their object; although you indulge in mortal hatred and envy towards whomsoever you think to obstruct your designs; still, you cannot possess that which you seek. You strive and labour hard in pursuit of happiness, and you cannot find it; because, you have not recourse to the proper means of obtaining from God, from whom alone they can proceed (James 1:17), these real and substantial goods, alone capable of satisfying the cravings of the heart; that means is, fervent and humble prayer.

In this verse, he shows the utter folly of seeking for pleasure and real happiness in the gratification of these concupiscences, since this gratification ends in total disappointment. “You covet,” i.e., indulge these passions, “and have not,” and still you cannot secure the object of their gratification. “You kill and envy and cannot obtain.” For “kill,” the reading in some Greek copies is, “you envy and are jealous.” And this reading Estius thinks would make better sense. The reading followed by the Vulgate, φονευετε και ζηλουτε, “you kill and envy,” has, however, the authority of the best manuscripts, in its favour; and the word “kill,” most likely refers to the will and disposition to commit murder, the guilt of which it entails; rather than to the act, although, even amongst the early Christians, some might possibly be found to commit the deed; and what wonder, was not a Judas found among the twelve Apostles to do worse?

“You contend and war, and you have not, because you ask not,” i.e., you strive and labour hard to gratify your desires; and still, you possess not the happiness, of which you are in search, “because you ask not,” because you have not recourse to God by prayer, to obtain these solid and substantial goods, alone capable of satisfying the cravings of the heart, which come only from Him, who is the source of every good gift (James 1:17).

Jas 4:3  You ask and receive not: because you ask amiss, that you may consume it on your concupiscences.

And although you may have recourse to prayer, it is of no use to you, from a want of the proper dispositions; you ask for what you may waste on the guilty gratification of your corrupt passions, instead of seeking for what will advance your spiritual interests, the concerns of your eternal salvation.

The words of this verse are an answer to an objection which the addressees are supposed to make to St. James; we do ask, and this is of no use for us. St. James answers, that their prayers are fruitless, for want of the proper dispositions, either because the object of their petition is bad, and the required feelings of humility, confidence, and perseverance, are wanting, both of which, as to the object and dispositions of their prayer, are included in the word “amiss:” or, because the motive of their prayer may be bad—their object in begging for temporal goods is, “to consume,” to squander them in gratifying their corrupt passions; to such prayers, God will never lend an ear.

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Father MacEvily’s Commentary on James 2:14-18

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 11, 2012

I’ve included in this post the Bishop’s own paraphrasing of the text he is commenting on. The paraphrases are in purple text and follow immediately after the scripture passage and before his comments.

Jas 2:14  What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?

But of what avail will it be for a man, my brethren, to have faith, and to place reliance on his faith, if he have not works corresponding with it? Will his faith, without works, be sufficient for salvation? By no means.

The Apostle now enters on one of the principal subjects of this Epistle, viz., the refutation of the errors of the followers of Simon Magus, regarding the sufficiency of faith alone for justification. As this erroneous doctrine, so ably and clearly refuted here by St. James, is one of the fundamental errors revived by modern Reformers, it may not be amiss to explain, in a few words, the doctrine of the Catholic Church on this subject; this doctrine has been so clearly laid down by the Council of Trent (Session VI., de justificatione).

Every Catholic admits the absolute, indispensable necessity of faith for justification. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews, xi.) ; without it, no man was ever justified, sine qua (fide) nulli unquam contigit justificatio (Council of Trent, Sess VI, 7). Although, not absolutely the first grace (the proposition,  fides est prima gratia, put forward in the Schismatical Council of Pistoia, was condemned in the Bull, Auctorem fidei); still, it is the first grace in the order of justification, of which it is “the root and foundation,” in the language of the Council of Trent (Sess VI., , 8). But every Catholic denies the sufficiency of this faith, for justification or salvation. It is necessary, not sufficient. Besides faith. Catholics require other dispositions, viz., hope, fear, penance, initial charity. All these are required, as previous dispositions, before God infuses the grace of justification. These may all exist in the soul; but they do not, by any means, constitute this grace, nor do they establish any claim to it, that either on the grounds of justice or fidelity, God might not refuse. It is quite certain, however, that whenever they exist in the soul, God will, of his own goodness, gratuitously infuse the grace of justification, which is a grace inhering in the soul—this is a point of faith—and it is theologically certain, that it inheres, permanently, by wayof habit. It cleanses the soul from the stains of sin whereby it is defiled, in a manner analogous to the defilement caused
the body by leprosy; and according as this grace is increased, the soul becomes brighter and fairer in the sight of God; in the language of the Psalmist, “whiter than snow.” This grace of justification is accompanied with the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the several gifts of the Holy Ghost, The same good works, the same acts, which, performed under the influence of divine grace and faith by a sinner before he is justified, serve only as dipositions for justification, will, when performed by the same man, after he is justified, and in a state of sanctifying grace, give him a claim, and a strict right, grounded on God’s gratuituous and liberal promise, to an increase of
sanctifying grace, to eternal life, and its attainment, if he die in grace, and to an increase of glory. This is what Catholics call merit, grounded, however, on God’s grace, and his gratuitous promise, through the merits of Christ (Council of Trent, Sess., VI., Can XXXII).

Modern sectaries, on the other hand, maintain, that in order to be justified and saved, faith alone is sufficient; this justifying faith, according to them, consists in a firm and undoubted confidence, which each one has, that, although in sin, God does not impute to him his sins, in consideration of the merits of Christ. As for good works, they deny them a share in justifying man, they require them merely as the fruits of faith, signs of its presence; since without them, true faith, according to their notions, cannot exist.

Now, that their idea of justifying faith is wholly erroneous, will appear quite evident to any person who reads the 11th chapter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, wherein he describes this justifying faith to be the “evidence of things that appear not,” and in applying it to the several examples, he always supposes it to consist in a firm belief in the truth of God’s revelation.

Again, that, besides faith, good works are required for justification and salvation, is so evident from the following part of this chapter, that it only requires to be read over attentively, to be convinced of it. In truth, the words bear no other meaning, and on this account it was, that some of the early Reformers rejected the Epistle altogether. Finally, that true faith may exist without good works or charity, is clear from several passages of Sacred Scripture. St. John 12:42 says, “many of the chief men believed in him, but did not confess him, for they loved the glory of man more than of God,” The word, “believe” here has reference to real, true faith, as is evident from the use of the word, in the entire chapter. St. Paul tells us, that “if he had faith strong enough to remove mountains, &c.,'” and had not charity, it would profit him nothing (1 Cor 13), and that this faith can be separated from charity, is clear from St Matthew 7, wherein, we are told, that many will say,
“Lord have we not performed many wonders in thy name,”and shall receive for answer—”I neverknew you.”

Objection.—St. James does not deny the sufficiency of real faith, because he is referring to mere putative faith, “if a man say, he has faith.”

Answer.—He speaks of real faith; for, he adds, “shall faith be able to save him?” He therefore, supposes the person in question to have real, genuine faith.

Jas 2:15  And if a brother or sister be naked and want daily food:

Suppose a Christian of either sex to be naked or hungry, and in want of common necessaries of life,

The Apostle illustrates the inutility of faith and the knowledge it gives us, unless accompanied with good works, by an example of the inutility, to a distressed neighbour, of our knowledge of his wants, and of our sterile sympathy, unless it be accompanied by acts of benevolence administering to his wants. “If a brother or sister,” i.e., a Christian of either sex, “be naked,” &c, i.e., in want of the common necessaries of life.

Jas 2:16  And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?

And that any of you, aware of this want, dismiss them with the cold expression of your sympathy and good wishes for their relief, without, at the same time administering to their wants, of what avail will your knowledge of their wants be to them?

“And one of you,” without relieving them, merely wishes them well, “be you
warmed,” &c., “what will it profit?” which is equivalent to saying—it shall be of no profit whatever to them.

Jas 2:17  So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.

As, then, fine professions of regard will nowise profit the distressed, with whose wants we are acquainted, unless we administer relief; so neither will the knowledge we have from faith avail us without works, without complying with what it points out. Unaccompanied with works, it is dead in itself; for, it is destitute of the vivifying principle of sanctifying grace, whereby, we are perfectly connected with the head of which we are members, and his grace and mercy communicated to us.

“So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.” In the Greek, καθ εαυτην,
by itself. This is the application of the foregoing example. As kind words, and fine professions of regard, even accompanied by good wishes, will prove of no avail to the distressed; so, neither will faith profit the believer; “it is dead in itself;” because, the person who only has faith, although he be a member, is still but a dead member of the body of Christ; his faith is altogether dead, as to justification. The Apostle explains this more fully in verse 26, “as the body without the spirit is dead,” &c.

From this, it by no means follows, that faith without good works is not real faith. St. James looks upon faith in this verse, as destitute of the vivifying principle of charity, or good works, by which it is enlivened or roused to action (Gal 5:6); he compares it to a human body, destitute of the soul that animates it, which, although dead, is still a real body. So, charity is the soul or form of faith, which, although proceeding from the principle of divine grace, is, still, dead as to justification without charity, which alone perfectly unites us with Christ, our head. “Faith” says the Council of Trent (Sess VI., c. 7), “unless hope and charity be added to it, does not perfectly unite one with Christ, nor render him a living member of his body.” Faith, even without charity, really subsists in its subject, viz., the soul of man; in its object, God and eternal glory; in its motive, revelation; but, it is dead as to justification. From this very example, it is clear, that faith can be without good works; because, as we can have a knowledge of our neighbour’s wants without actually relieving them; so, also, can we have the knowledge imparted by faith, without acting up to it by good works.

Jas 2:18  But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works. Shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith.

(Another argument of the inutility of faith without works, grounded on the impossibility of externally professing our faith otherwise than by good works). Suppose two Christians, one having works and faith, the other having no works; and that the former calls upon the latter to profess his faith, can he do this? By no means. Since it is by works alone it can be manifested; whereas, the other can, from his works, give a proof of his faith, from which his works have emanated.

This is a new argument of the inutility of faith alone, without good works.— Faith cannot be manifested without them; now, this external profession is obligatory on all, both for the sake of example, and for holding that communion of saints, in which we all believe.

Query.—How can a man show his faith from his works, since an unbeliever can perform many good works?

Answer.—St. James, in the present instance, supposes both the persons in question to have faith, and that the man having works, recurs to them as a proof and manifestation of his faith. Hence, he does not infer faith from works; for, he supposes faith to have existed previously. Moreover, from works we can infer the existence of faith; because, there are certain good works, or a continued performance of them, which only a person having faith could accomplish. For, although an unbeliever may, aided by actual divine grace, perform certain good works; still, he could not persevere in performing a continued series of good works, without sin; and there are certain heroic deeds of virtue, which he could not perform at all.

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on James 2:1-5

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 6, 2012

This post includes Fr. MacEvilly’s analysis of chapter 2 of James, followed by his commentary on verses 1-5. Also, I’ve included in purple text his paraphrasing of the passages he is commenting on.

Analysis~St. James commences this chapter, by exhorting the Christian converts to avoid the crime of ”’respect of persons,” of which he adduces an example (Jam 2:1-2). The example in question, although, apparently at first sight, not quite in point, however, as explained in the Commentary, will be seen to be perfectly so (Jam 2:3-4). As it had reference to the undue preference shown the rich before the poor, St. James points out how unbecoming such conduct is, being opposed to the economy of God, in reference to the poor (Jam 2:5), and unmerited on the part of the rich, whose vices he enumerates (Jam 5:6-7). This, however, should not interfere with the respect, which the order of charity inculcates in regard to the rich, and those to whom respect and honour are due, (James 2:8). But this honour should not be carried to the extent of ” respect of persons,” which the law of God condemns (Jam 2:9), and which, like every grievious violation of any other single precept, involves us to a certain extent, in the guilt of violating the entire Law (Jam 2:10-11).

(Jam 2:12). He inculcates the necessity of showing mercy to all those, who may be involved in miseries of any kind (Jam 2:13).

In the next place, he treats of the principal subject of the Epistle, viz., the necessity of good works, for justification atid salvation (Jam 2:14), and the futility of faith alone, which he shows—firstly, by the example of the inutility of a mere speculative knowledge of our neighbour’s want, without actually relieving it (Jam 2:15-17); secondly, by showing the necessity of good works, for the discharge of the duty of externally professing and manifesting our faith (Jam 2:18); thirdly, by comparing dead faith, in a certain sense, with the faith of demons (Jam 2:19); fourthly, by the example of Abraham, justified through works (Jam 2:20-24); fifthly, by the example of Rahab (Jam 2:25); finally, he compares dead faith to a dead body (Jam 2:26).

Jas 2:1  My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory, with respect of persons.

My brethren, do not, while professing the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of glory, guilty of the crime of exception of persons; that is to say, do not attempt to unite two things which are incompatible, and which mutually exclude each other, viz., the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and the crime of exception of persons.

“Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory.” The word”glory” is, by some Commentators, connected with ”faith,” i.e., the glorious faith of our Lord, &c. the connexion in the Paraphrase, joining it with “our Lord,” is the more probable. Our Lord Jesus Christ is called “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). “With respect of persons,” i.e., do not attempt to unite two things so incompatible. “Respect,” or exception, “of persons” takes place, whenever an unjust preference is shown to one party beyond another; (v.g.) a judge would incur the guilt of “respect of persons,” by pronouncing sentence, on account of the appearance and external circumstances of a person, without any regard to the merits of the case. Others, among whom is Lapide, interpret the words thus: do not believe that the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ consists in an exception of persons, so that he is honoured when to your Agapes and meetings you admit the rich only and the noble, to the exclusion and contempt of the poor and squalid, as if the glory of Christianity consisted in external pomp and show.

Jas 2:2  For if there shall come into your assembly a man having a golden ring, in fine apparel; and there shall come in also a poor man in mean attire:

In illustration of the crime to which I refer; suppose two men come into your place of public worship, one of them a rich man, in showy apparel, and wearing on his finger a gold ring; the other, a poor man, in mean and squalid dress,

He illustrates by an example, what this “respect of persons” is, against which he has been cautioning them. Suppose “there shall come into your assembly,” in Greek, συναγωγην, synagogue, which, most probably, refers to their place of public assemblage for religious worship, like the Jewish synagogue; or, perhaps, to one of the old synagogues, converted into a place of worship for the converted Jews; “a man having a gold ring,” which, as appears from the Greek, χρυσοδακτυλιος, was worn on his finger, a thing generally done by the rich; “in fine apparel;” in Greek,  εσθητι λαμπρα, shining apparel. “Your assembly” is understood by some to refer to judicial assemblies, such having been, as they say, according to Jewish custom, held in places of worship.

Jas 2:3  And you have respect to him that is clothed with the fine apparel and shall say to him: Sit thou here well: but say to the poor man: Stand thou there, or: Sit under my footstool:

And that you assign to the rich man some commodious honourable seat, while the poor man is contemptuously made either to stand up, or sit down in some lowly place.

And you assign an honourable commodious seat to the rich man, on account of his riches, while the poor man, because he is poor, is treated contemptuously, and made either to stand up or sit down in some humble, lowly place.

Jas 2:4  Do you not judge within yourselves, and are become judges of unjust thoughts?

Do you not, by treatment so different in both cases, come to a very unfair and partial decision, and do you not found your judgment, on false estimates and erroneous reasonings.

“Do not judge within yourselves.” In Greek, διεκριθητε εν εαυτοις, are you not judged within yourselves, your conscience reproaching you, and stinging you with remorse for your unjust conduct. The Vulgate reading is the more probable, as appears from the following words, “and are become judges,” &c., which are explanatory of the former. In some Greek copies, και is prefixed to the beginning of this verse, ”and, do you not judge,” &c., but it is omitted in the chief MSS. “And are become judges of unjust thoughts.” In the Greek, διαλογισμων, reasonings, i.e., unjustly reasoning, and concluding from false estimates, that the rich man, as such, is to be preferred before the poor. It is not easy to see what St. James means by this example. Hence it is, that Commentators are perplexed about the meaning of the passage. They cannot discover anything like great guilt, in the preference shown to the rich man in the case alluded to, nor do they see any reason for ranking it with the crime of “respect to persons,” which (verse 6) is called, “dishonouring the poor;” since, there is no great dishoiour shown a poor man in having a rich man accommodated with a seat in any assembly, whether sacred or profane, before him: or of classing it (Jam 2:11) with adultery or murder. It is on account of this difficulty, that St. Augustine and others assign to the example in question an enigmatical meaning; and say, that, it is not so much the giving of a place of honour to the rich man and refusing it to the poor, St. James here condemns, as the crime signified by this preference, viz., the preference given to the rich on account of their worldly connexions in ecclesiastical dignities and ofifices, before the poor, who may be better qualified for such dignities. “Quis enim ferat eligi, divitem ad sedem honoris Ecclesiæ, contempto paupere instructiore ac sanctiore?”—St. Augustine (Ep. 29), referring to this passage. (See my attempted translation below). The same interpretation is adopted by Mauduit. Hence, according to them, St. James is treating of the odious crime of simony. This interpretation derives probability from verse, 5, where the Apostle would appear to allude to the selection, which God made of poor fishermen, preferably to the great ones of the earth, for exercising the exalted and sublime fanctions of the Apostleship. Others understand the example of the preference shown to the rich before the poor in courts of justice, which unjust sentence is signified by the preference in seats alluded to. Others understand it to refer to the crime denounced by St. Paul in the 1 Cor 11, viz., the contempt shown to the poor in the Agapes or love feasts, which in the infancy of the Church were celebrated immediately before receiving the Holy Eucharist (vide 1 Cor 11) The neglect shown the poor, on such occasions, was highly scandalous and injurious to religion, on which account, St. Paul denounces it in the strongest language. This opinion has this advantage, that it solves the difficulty without departing from the literal meaning of the text. If we understand the passage to refer to the ordinary meetings in the church, we must suppose the neglect, referred to by St. James, to be greatly aggravated by the contempt, with which the poor must have been treated. This, in the infancy of the Church, must have proved very detrimental to religion.

Translation of Augustine’s words: “For who can bear for a rich man to be chosen to a seat of honor in the Church, while the poor man is despised even the most sacred part of instruction”.

Jas 2:5  Hearken, my dearest brethren: Hath not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him?

See, my dearest brethren, how different from your conduct is the example set us by Almighty God in his treatment of the poor. Has he not given them a preference and selected them before the rich and powerful according to the world, to enrich them with the gift of faith and other spiritual blessings, and make them heirs of his heavenly kingdom, which he has promised to such as love him, and evince this love by their actions.

He shows how opposed their conduct is to the example set us by God himself in the work of man’s redemption; “the poor in this world,” whether we regard the preachers of the Gospel, or those to whom it was first preached (vide 1 Cor 1:26) ; “rich in faith,” i.e., to be rich in faith, this being the end for which he had chosen them; for, before their call, they were not rich in faith; “and heirs,” to inherit his heavenly kingdom. “That love him,” shows, that an idle, merely speculative faith, is of no avail.

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My Notes on James 1:17-27

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 27, 2012

Background: The body of the letter opens with these words: My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations: Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience And patience hath a perfect work: that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing (James 1:2-4). In order to endure and profit from these temptations one must have wisdom which, if it is lacking, must be prayed for in faith (James 1:5-6), which here means being dependent on God rather than money (James 1:10-11), for to rely on both as equals is to be double-minded (James 1:8).  To be lowly is to be exalted (James 1:9), and the humiliations which a rich believer suffers can, in faith, be for his benefit, for riches, like flowers and grass, will someday wither (James 1:10-11).  Though the temptations that wealth may bring a man are not from the Lord (James 1:13) but, rather, from his own desires (James 1:14-15), “he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).  The temptations  are not from God, but the victory over them is.  Thus no one should be deceived (James 1:16).

Notes:

James 1:17  Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration.

The best and perfect gifts are those which lead to God and salvation and not, like temptations, away from Him.  These come from God who is described as the Father of lights (i.e, the heavenly luminous bodies), with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration.  There is an obvious connection between Father of lights and change, and shadow of alteration, but what is it?  The meaning seems to be that God, as creator of these bodies is above them, and cannot be compared to them.  Perhaps some (the double-minded of 1:8?) were of the opinion that God changed like the luminaries which, with the passage of time and season sometimes appear brighter and in one place, then, sometime, dimmer and in another place.  Just because God willed such “shadows of alteration” for them can not be taken as indicating He is changeable.

Another possible interpretation is that St James has in mind the creation of the luminaries in Genesis 1:14-19.  Though they may seem to change they nonetheless “mark the fixed times, the days and the seasons” (Gen 1:14, NAB).  They are described in Genesis as being seen by God as “good” (Gen 1:18).  There are those who may not see the change of the sun’s position (bringing winter, for example) as good.  Appearances may be deceiving, hiding the reality, hence the need for true wisdom (James 1:5) rather than the false wisdom which brings “factions and confusion” (see James 3:15-16).  Perhaps the double-minded man, not recognizing the limitation he has placed upon his faith, thinks God fickle when he sees the single-minded believer get what he ask, while his own prayer goes unfulfilled (James 1:8).

James 1:18  Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

It was in the word of creation that God made the lights, and however we interpret the previous verse the fact remains that God, who brought us forth by the word of truth (i.e., the Gospel), did so for His own purpose.  St James has placed the Greek word boulethei (“of his own will”) at the beginning of his statement for emphasis. It is a strong statement of God’s freedom in acting.  Just as one needs wisdom to understand His creation, so one needs wisdom to understand His re-creation of believers.

In the Greek, the word translated here as brought us forth (ἀποκυέω, apokueo), is identical to that used on verse 15: “But sin, when it is completed, begetteth (ἀποκυέω) death,” thus establishing a contrast between the double-minded and God.

The first fruits of his creatures.  “First fruits” is a liturgical term in the O.T., where it is stated that the first fruit of the womb, the fields, ect., belonged in a special way to the Lord and had to be redeemed by sacrifice (Ex 13:11-13; Ex 22:28-29).  The Greek structure of this final clause indicates that being the first fruits of His creation is the purpose or end of  His own will wrought by the word of truth.  For other uses of “first fruits” in the N.T. see 1 Cor 15:20; 1 Cor 16:15.

The plurals in the verse should also be noted: “us,” “we,” ‘first frutis,” “creatures.”  The reference is to the Church he is writing to, and, by implication, to the whole Church, rather than to individuals.  This sets the stage for his moral teaching in the letter.  As individuals we are part of a greater whole in the plan of God and as such have obligations towards others.  In light of this it is absurd to show partiality (James 2:1-13), avoid doing good (James 2:14-26);  or curse others (James 3:1-12).  It likewise calls for acting in wisdom (James 3:13-18); subduing passion and submitting to God (James 4:1-12); seeking and doing the will of God with a good conscience (James 4:13-17); and take to heart warnings on how riches are used or abused (James 5:1-6).

James 1:19  You know, my dearest brethren. And let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak and slow to anger.
James 1:20  For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God.

You know, my dearest brethren.  The Greek of the Textus Receptus followed by the KJV and others reads hoste, (“wherefore”, or “and so, therefore”), but the Western and Alexandrian manuscripts read iste, (“know”).  The change from iste to hoste was probably the result of a copyist trying to provide a smoother transition from the previous verse.   Hoste  is not used elsewhere by St James and it appears that the copyist did not recognize a common feature of his writing: he often starts new thoughts with an imperative.  The Douay-Rheims Bible which I am using takes iste as an indicative (you know) rather than an imperative (know this).  That iste should be taken as an imperative (know this) is suggested by the parallelism between verses 16-18 and 19-21, which is enhanced by the imperative.  “Each begins with an imperative followed by a vocative address (“my beloved brothers [and sisters]“) that culminates in a reference to the salvific role of the word” (Father Patrick Hartin, JAMES, Sacra Pagina Commentary Series, pg. 95).

And let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak and slow to anger.  These are important biblical injunctions, see Sirach 5:11-14; Mt 5:22; Col 3:8-9; Eph 4:25-31.  Failing to hear (heed) the voice of the needy seems to have been a problem among those St James is writing to (James 1:22-25; James 2:15-16).  Likewise sins of speech (the tongue, see James 1:26James 3:1-12), and anger (James 4:1-12).  It appears that a propensity to anger was the prime cause of these sins:  For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God (vs 20).

James 1:21  Wherefore, casting away all uncleanness and abundance of naughtiness, with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Such sins as mentioned above are incompatible with our having been brought forth by the word of truth (James 1:18), the ingrafted word.  We are to cast away such things as if they were thread-bare clothing.

Casting away, could also be translated as “put away” (see Eph 4:22; Col 3:8; 1 Pet 2:1).

Receive the ingrafted word.  Contrasts nicely with “casting away” at the beginning of the verse.  The word is only able to save your souls when it is put into action, as the next verse makes clear.

Jas 1:22  But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

Technical Note:

Be ye doers of the word.  The Greek γίνομαι (ginomai) is an imperative, “become doers”.  The Greek ποιηται λογου (doers of the word) means literally producers or composers of the word.  The idea is not that they bring the word into existence, rather, they are called upon to bring it to fruition, like a composer manifesting his talent.

And not hearers only.  The Greek ἀκροατής (akroatai=hearers) is found three times in this chapter (vss 22, 23, 25), and only once elsewhere in the NT (Rom 2:13).

Deceiving you own selves. The word translated as “deceiving” is used elsewhere only in Col 2:4, where it refers to being deceived by false teachers.

St James has been admonishing his audience to persevere in trials (Jam 1:2-8), regardless of their state in life (Jam 1:9-11), and not to succumb to temptation (Jam 1:12-18), for persevering in the face of temptation will bring the promised crown of life (Jam 1:12). He then goes on to write: “Wherefore, casting away all uncleanness and abundance of naughtiness, with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (vs 21).  This means that they must “be (better: become) doers of the word, and not hearers only.”  Merely listening to the word of God and placing one’s faith in it is not enough, since it demands a response.  Indeed, the word “become” implies the necessity of growth, faith is not a once-for-all ossified state; a mere declaration one can make without further action.  “What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?  And if a brother or sister be naked and want daily food: And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit? So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself”(Jam 2:14-17).

Deceiving your own selves.  Suggests that they are misguided concerning the meaning and demands of the faith which comes by hearing (Rom 10:17; Gal 3:2; Col 1:3-5).

Jas 1:23  For if a man be a hearer of the word and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass.
Jas 1:24  For he beheld himself and went his way and presently forgot what manner of man he was.

23. Beholding his own countenance in a glass (i.e., a mirror).  The Greek phrase translated as της γενεσεως αυτου reads literally “his natural face.”   The word natural contrasts nicely with the statement in verse 18 which states that God “of his own will hath he begotten us by the word of truth.”  A contrast is being drawn between the natural and the spiritual man.  God begets to new life through His word (1 Pet 1:23), but the mere hearer of the word does not come to new life.

Jas 1:25  But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work: this man shall be blessed in his deed.

One can root out the implanted word by negligence and return to all uncleanness and abundance in naughtiness (vs 21).  The thought here is similar to 2 Peter : “For, speaking proud words of vanity, they allure by the desires of fleshly riotousness those who for a little while escape, such as converse in error: (false teachers) Promising them (those who listen) liberty, whereas they  themselves are the slaves of corruption. For by whom a man is overcome, of the same also he is the slave.  For if, flying from the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they be again entangled in them and overcome: their latter state is become unto them worse than the former.  For it had been better for them not to have known the way of justice than, after they have known it, to turn back from that holy commandment which was delivered to them.  For, that of the true proverb has happened to them: The dog is returned to his vomit; and: The sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pet 2:1822. Words in italics are mine).

Jas 1:26  And if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue but deceiving his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

An obivious warning against self deception (‘think,’ “deceiving“).  The reference to “deceiving” takes us back to verse 22, and relates to the theme of forgetting in verse 24-25.  This particular section of the letter began with the imperative phrase “know this” (vs 19).

Jas 1:27  Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world.

A statement that builds upon the admonishment of  Jam 1:21-22.  “Clean” recalls the admonition in vs 21 to cast away filthiness etc.  Note the reference to God as Father and the the injunction to visit the fatherless.  The word tribulation brings up themes dealt with in last weeks reading (see the link above, under Background).

Catechism References:

On James 1:17

212 Over the centuries, Israel’s faith was able to manifest and deepen realization of the riches contained in the revelation of the divine name. God is unique; there are no other gods besides him.[Isa 44:6]  He transcends the world and history. He made heaven and earth: “They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment….but you are the same, and your years have no end.”[Ps 102:26-27In God “there is no variation or shadow due to change.”[James 1:17] God is “HE WHO IS”, from everlasting to everlasting, and as such remains ever faithful to himself and to his promises.

2642 The Revelation of “what must soon take place,” the Apocalypse, is borne along by the songs of the heavenly liturgy[Cf. Rev 4:8-11; Rev 5:9-14; Rev 7:10-12] but also by the intercession of the “witnesses” (martyrs).[Rev 6:10] The prophets and the saints, all those who were slain on earth for their witness to Jesus, the vast throng of those who, having come through the great tribulation, have gone before us into the Kingdom, all sing the praise and glory of him who sits on the throne, and of the Lamb.[Cf. Rev 18:24; Rev 19:1-8] In communion with them, the Church on earth also sings these songs with faith in the midst of trial. By means of petition and intercession, faith hopes against all hope and gives thanks to the “Father of lights,” from whom “every perfect gift” comes down [James 1:17]. Thus faith is pure praise.

On James 1:27

2208 The family should live in such a way that its members learn to care and take responsibility for the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped, and the poor. There are many families who are at times incapable of providing this help. It devolves then on other persons, other families, and, in a subsidiary way, society to provide for their needs: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

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