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2 posted on 01/13/2013 8:03:56 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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From: Hebrews 1:1-6

The Greatness of the Incarnate Son of God

[1] In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; [2]
but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir
of all things, through whom also he created the world. [3] He reflects the glory of
God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of
power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of
the Majesty on high, [4] having become as much superior to angels as the name
he has obtained is more excellent than theirs.

Proof from Sacred Scripture

[5] For to what angel did God ever say, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten
thee”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? [6] And
again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels
worship him.”


1-4. The first four verses are a kind of prologue to the letter, which does not carry
the greetings and words of thanksgiving to God normally found in letters of St
Paul. Like the prologue of St John’s Gospel, the letter moves immediately into its
main subject — the divinity of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. It speaks of Christ as
a Son whose sonship is eternal, prior to the creation of the world and to his Incar-
nation; it speaks also of Christ’s mission to save all men, a mission appropriate
to the Word who created all things. This exposition culminates in the affirmation
of Christ’s absolute superiority over angels, a theme dealt with, in different ways,
up to the end of the second chapter.

The entire epistle in fact develops the subject entered on in the prologue — the
sublimity of Christ, the natural and eternal Son of God, the universal Mediator,
the eternal Priest. This is why St Thomas Aquinas says that the subject matter
of this epistle is the “excellence” of Christ. In this respect the Letter to the Heb-
rews is different from the other letters in the Pauline corpus: in some letters (the
“Great Epistles” and the Captivity Letters) the Apostle deals with the grace which
imbues the entire mystical body of the Church; others (the Pastoral Letters) deal
with the grace bestowed on certain members of the Church (such as Timothy
and Titus); whereas the Letter to the Hebrews looks at grace as it is found in the
Head of the mystical body, Christ. This “excellence” of Christ the Angelic Doctor
adds, is examined by St Paul from four points of view: the first is that of Christ’s
origin, which the sacred writer identifies by calling him the true (natural, metaphy-
sical) Son of God, when he says that God has spoken to us by a Son; the se-
cond is that of his power, for he depicts him as being made the heir of all things;
the third is that of his activity, when he affirms that he created the world; the
fourth, his sublime dignity, when he says that Christ reflects the glory of God (cf.
“Commentary on Heb.”, Prologue and 1:1).

Christ is thus presented as the pinnacle and fullness of salvific Revelation, as the
Second Vatican Council reminds us: “After God had spoken many times and in
various ways through the prophets ‘in these last days he has spoken to us by a
Son’ (Heb 1:1-2). For he sent his Son, the eternal Word who enlightens all men
to dwell among men and to tell them about the inner life of God [...]. He did this
by the total fact of his presence and self-manifestation — by words and works,
signs and miracles, but above all by his death and glorious resurrection from the
dead, and finally by sending the Spirit of truth. He revealed that God was with us,
to deliver us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to eternal life”
(”Dei Verbum”, 4).

1. Divine Revelation, which is rightly called “the Word of God”, develops in stages
in the course of the Old and New Testaments. “By this Revelation,” Vatican II
teaches, ‘the invisible God (cf. Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17), from the fullness of his love,
addresses men as his friends (cf. Ex 33:11; Jn 15:14-15), and moves among men
(cf. Bar 3: 38), in order to invite and receive them into his own company.This eco-
nomy of Revelation is realized by deeds and words, which are intrinsically bound
up with each other. As a result, the works performed by God in the history of sal-
vation show forth and bear out the doctrine and realities signified by the words;
the words, for their part, proclaim the works, and bring to light the mystery they
contain” (”Dei Verbum”, 3). Revelation is, then, a gradual opening up of God’s
mysteries whereby little by little, like a wise teacher, it makes known who he is
and what his plans are concerning the salvation of all mankind. For, although
there is only one God and one way of salvation, man needs to be educated by
means of many precepts and to progress by stages on his way to God and so
advance in faith towards complete salvation in Christ. God in his mercy reveals
his mysteries to man in this way in order that the whole world experiencing “this
saving proclamation, on hearing it should believe, on believing it hope, on hoping
in it love” (St Augustine, “De Catechizandis Rudibus”, 4, 8).

When speaking of Revelation, the First Vatican Council recalled that although
‘God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural
light of human reason from the things that he created, [...] it was, nevertheless,
the good pleasure of his wisdom and goodness to reveal himself and the eternal
decrees of his will to the human race in another and supernatural way” (”Dei Fi-
lius”, Chap. 2). This supernatural revelation, as it says (reaffirming the teaching
of the Council of Trent), is contained in books and in oral traditions which the A-
postles received from Christ or from the Holy Spirit and passed on to us. Christ’s
Gospel had earlier been promised by the prophets and, more generally, by the
entire Old Testament. The epistle refers to this when it says that God spoke in
the past through the mouth of the prophets “in many ways”, that is, at various
stages in the history of the chosen people, and “in various ways”, that is, by
means of visions, words, actions and historical events.

2. “The most intimate truth which this revelation gives us about God and the sal-
vation of man shines forth in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and the
sum total of Revelation” (”Dei Verbum”, 2).

St John of the Cross comments on this passage in a very beautiful and profound
way: “And this is as if he had said: That which God spoke of old in the prophets
to our fathers in sundry ways and divers manners, he has now, at last, in these
days, spoken to us once and for all in the Son. Herein the Apostle declares that
God has become, as it were, dumb, and has no more to say, since that which
he spoke before, in part, to the prophets, he has now spoken altogether in him,
giving us the All, which is his Son.

“And so he who would now enquire of God, or seek any vision or revelation would
not only be acting foolishly, but would be committing an offense against God, by
not setting his eyes altogether upon Christ, and seeking no new thing or aught
beside. And God might answer him after this manner, saying: ‘If I have spoken
all things to you in my Word, which is my Son, and I have no other word, what
answer can I now make to you, or what can I reveal to you which is greater than
this? Set your eyes on him alone, for in him I have spoken and revealed to you
all things”’ (”Ascent of Mount Carmel”, Book 2, Chap. 22).

The “last days” refer to the period of time between the first coming of Christ and
the second coming, or Parousia. These days have begun because the definitive
“Word” of God, Jesus Christ, can be seen and heard. Mankind already finds it-
self in the “last age”, in the “end of the ages” (cf. 1 Cor 10:11; Gal 4:4; Eph 1:10).

By speaking to us through his Son, God reveals to us his saving will from the mo-
ment of the Incarnation onwards, for the second person of the Blessed Trinity has
come into the world to redeem us by dying for us and to open for us the way to
heaven by his glorification. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the “prophet” par excellence
(cf. note on Jn 7:40-43), for he perfects and completes God’s merciful revelation.
The Incarnation and the subsequent events of our Lord’s life are, like his teaching,
a source of salvation.

It was appropriate that the Son who perfectly revealed God the Father should also
be the divine Word, the Creator of the world (cf. Jn 1:3). The creative action of the
divine “Logos” or Word is not contradicted by the statement that Creation is the
work of God the Father, for everything done by God outside himself (”ad extra”)
is an action common to the three divine persons; nor is it correct to see the Word
as merely an instrument used by the Father, for he is one in substance with him.

“It is the good Father’s own, unique Word who has ordered this universe. Being
the good Word he has arranged the order of all things [...]. He was with God as
Wisdom; as Word he contemplated the Father and created the universe, giving
it substance, order and beauty” (St Athanasius, “Oratio Contra Gentes”, 40 and
46). Not only did the Word make the Father manifest by creation; he, together
with the Father and the Holy Spirit, acted in the revelation of the Old Testament:
in fact, many patristic writers attributed to the Son — as “angel” or “messenger
of Yahweh” — the divine epiphanies witnessed by Moses and the prophets. St
Irenaeus writes, for example, that Christ prefigured and proclaimed future events
through his “Patriarchs and prophets”, thereby acting in his role as Teacher, pro-
mulgating the divine commandments and rules and training his people to obey
God the Father (cf. “Against Heresies”, XIV, 21). A profound harmony links God’s
revelation in Creation, in the Old Testament and in the New Testament: in each
case it is the same God who is manifesting himself and the Word is ever actively
involved. This activity of the Word is hidden and happens through the prophets in
the Old Testament; whereas in the New the Word becomes flesh and acts direct-
ly. This passage in Hebrews combines the revelation of Jesus Christ as Mediator
and maker of the universe (cf. Col 1:15-18; 1 Cor 8:6) with the idea that God has
at last spoken to us in his Son, who “is in the bosom of the Father”, and has
made known to us the invisible mysteries of the Godhead (cf. Jn 1:18).

3a. These words, which describe Christ’s divinity and eternity, recall the passage
in the Book of Wisdom which reads, “For she is a reflection of eternal light, a
spotless mirror of the working of God” (Wis 7:26). What the Old Testament de-
scribed as an attribute of God is now revealed as a personal being the second
person of the Trinity, the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

Using three images, the text teaches that Jesus Christ is perfect God, identical
to the Father. By saying that he “reflects” the glory of the Father it means that
he and the Father share the same nature — which is what we profess in the Creed
when we say that Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, is “light from light,
true God from true God” (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed). “The author means”,
St John Chrysostom writes, “that Christ has this glory in his own right; it can suf-
fer no eclipse nor can it either increase or diminish” (”Hom. on Heb.”, 2).

The Son is also “stamped” with the nature of the Father; “stamp” is a translation
of the Greek word “character”, which means the mark left by a tool used to en-
grave or seal (for example, the impression of a seal on wax, or the seal affixed
to a document, or the brand used to identify livestock). This word indicates two
things — first, the perfect equality between the mark and the seal which makes
it, and second, the permanence of the mark.

“Upholding the universe by his word of power”: the Son, through whom all things
have been created, is also maintaining them in existence. God the Father not
only creates but, through the Son, maintains a continual, direct influence on his
creation; if he did not do so, as St Thomas Aquinas explains, the world would re-
vert into non-being: “If the divine power ceased to operate, existence would cease,
the being and subsistence of every created thing would end: (the Word) therefore
upholds all things in respect of their existence, and he sustains them also by vir-
tue of being the first cause of everything he has created” (”Commentary on Heb.”,
1, 2). It makes sense that God the Father should wish to keep the world in exis-
tence by means of the same Word by whom he created it.

3b. This is the central message of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Christ, the con-
substantial Son of the Father, the perfect reflection of his substance, who crea-
ted all things and maintains them in existence, by becoming man brought about
purification for sins and by his sacrifice was glorified and put at the right hand of
the Father, receiving “the name which is above every name” (cf. Phil 2: 6-11; Jn
1:1, 3, 14). The actions of Jesus Christ are a continuum of mercy and salvation
which extends from the creation of the world and mankind to the point where he
is seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father. Creation and Redemption
are mysteries intimately linked to each other. The Son, the divine Word, is both
Creator and Redeemer. “It is appropriate to speak in the first instance”, St Ath-
anasius writes, “of the creation of the universe and of God its Creator, in order
correctly to appreciate the fact that the new creation of this universe has been
brought about by the Word who originally created it. For there is no contradic-
tion in the Father’s effecting the salvation of creatures by him through whom they
were created” (”De Incarnatione Contra Arianos”, 1). This is why the tradition of
the Church, echoing certain references in the New Testament (cf. Gal 6:15; 2
Cor 5:17; Eph 4:24; Col 3:10), describes the Redemption as a “new creation”.

To “sit down at the right hand of the Majesty” is equivalent to saying “has the sta-
tus of God”: “Majesty” is a term of reverence used to refer to God without naming
him; thus, Jewish rabbis would refer to God as “Lord”, “the most High”, “the Po-
wer”, “Glory”, etc. Sitting in the presence of God was a prerogative of the Davidic
kings (cf.2 Sam 7:18; Ezek 44:3), and the person at the right hand was seen as
occupying the place of honor (cf. Ps 45: 10). Psalm 110 proclaims that God will
have the Messiah sit at his right hand, and at various times Christ referred to that
prophecy to assert that he was the Messiah and God (cf. Mt 22: 44; 26:63-65; Jn
5:17-18; 10:30-33). The exaltation of the Son to the right hand of the Father was
a constant theme of apostolic preaching (cf. Acts 2:33; Rom 8:34; 1 Pet 3:22;
Rev 3:21; Eph 1:20). As St John Chrysostom comments, when St Paul says
that the Son sat down at the right hand of the Majesty he means principally to re-
fer to the status of the Son as equal to that of the Father. And when he says that
he is on high, in heaven, far from meaning to confine God with in spatial limits,
he wants us to see God the Son, as Lord of the universe, raised up to the very
throne of his Father (cf. “Hom. on Heb.”, 2).

4. The prologue ends with a very important statement, which introduces the
theme of the rest of the first chapter: Christ is superior to the angels. To under-
stand this comparison of Christ with the angels, one needs to bear in mind the
outlook of the Jews at the time. The period immediately prior to the New Testa-
ment had seen a considerable development of devotion to angels among the or-
dinary religious Jews; with the result that this was the danger of Jesus, because
he was a man, in some way being seen as on a lower level than angels, who,
created beings though they are, are pure spirits. In the Acts of the Apostles (cf.
Acts 23:9), we find the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin surmising that St Paul’s prea-
ching may result from revelation given him y an angel; and belief in the existence
of angels was a point of contention between Pharisees and Sadducees (cf. Acts
23:7). For this reason the author of Hebrews wants to make it quite clear to
Christians of Jewish origin that Jesus is much more than an angelic being.

Christ is superior to angels, the inspired writer says, because he has the title of
Son, which is his by natural right. This name demonstrates his divine nature, a
nature superior to that of any visible or invisible created being, whether material
or spiritual, whether earthly or angelic: something’s name describes its essence
and, particularly in Sacred Scripture, name and essence are at times one and
the same. Thus, for example, the phrase “in the name of” (cf. Mt 28:19; Acts 3:
6; 4:7; 4:12; etc.) refers not just to the authority or power of the person named,
but to the person himself. Jesus Christ, because he is the very Son of God, is
superior to angels by virtue of the glory due to his eternal oneness with the Fa-
ther. As eternal Son of God, to him belonged, by right of inheritance, the title
of Son and Lord. Moreover, after his passion and resurrection he has “become”
superior to angels by a new title through his exaltation on high (cf. 1 Cor 15: 24-
27; Phil 2:9-11). This passage refers primarily to Jesus’ glorification as man; for
the words “having become as much superior to angels...” cannot refer, St John
Chrysostom points out, to his divine essence: by virtue of his divinity the Son is
equal to the Father and cannot be subject to change, cannot “become” anything:
he is eternally what he is by generation from the Father: “Eternal Word by nature,
he did not receive his divine essence by way of inheritance. These words, which
manifest his superiority over the angels, can only refer to the human nature with
which he has been clothed: for it is that nature that is a created one” (”Hom. on
Heb.”, 1).

On the essence of angels and what they are, see the note on Lk 1:11.

5. Ancient Hebrew exegesis of this verse of Psalm 2 took it in a messianic sense:
the Messiah or Anointed would be king of Israel and would enjoy God’s special
protection. Therefore he merited being called “Son of God”, in the same kind of
way, though more eminently, as other kings and just men of Israel deserved the
title. But in Hebrews 1:5 the verse is given a much more profound interpretation:
the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is the eternal Son of God, begotten “today”, that is,
in the continuous present of the eternal Godhead. It is affirming the generation
of the Son by the Father in the bosom of the Trinity, whereby the Son proceeds
eternally from the Father and is his mirror image. This form of generation is radi-
cally different from physical generation, whereby one living being physically be-
gets another like unto himself; and it is also quite different from Creation, where-
by God makes everything out of nothing. It is different from physical generation
because, in the Holy Trinity, Father and Son co-exist eternally and are one and
the same and only God, not two gods. It is different from Creation because the
Son has not been made from nothing but proceeds eternally from the Father.

God created angels in the context of time, as the Fourth Lateran Council says
in its profession of faith: “We firmly believe and profess without qualification that
there is only one true God [...], Creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual
and corporeal, who, by his almighty power, from the very beginning of time, has
created both orders of creatures in the same way out of nothing, the spiritual or
angelic world and the corporeal or visible universe. And afterwards he formed the
creature man, who in a way belongs to both orders, as he is composed of spirit
and matter” (”De Fide Catholica”, Chap. 1).

The Son, on the other hand, proceeds from the Father eternally as light rays
come constantly from the sun or as water forms one single thing with the spring
from which it flows.

“These words have never been addressed to an angel,” St Thomas Aquinas com-
ments, “but to Christ alone. In them three things may be observed. First, the
mode of origin, expressed in the word ‘say’. It refers to a type of generation which
is not of the flesh but rather of a spiritual and intellectual kind. Second, this gene-
ration has an altogether singular character, for he says, ‘Thou art my Son’, as if
saying that although many others are called sons, being [God’s] natural son is
proper to Him alone; others are called sons of God because they partake of the
Word of God. Third, this is not a temporal but an eternal generation” (”Commen-
tary on Heb.”, 1, 3).

The quotation from Psalm 2 is completed by Nathan’s prophecy to David (2 Sam
7:14: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son”), which announces that a de-
scendant of David will be the Messiah and will ever enjoy God’s favor. But the He-
brews text also makes it much clearer that the Messiah is the Son of God in the
proper sense of the word — a son by nature, and not by adoption (cf. Lk 1:32-33).
In Christ, therefore, two things combine: he is the Son of God and he is the Mes-
siah King.

6. Here the words of Deuteronomy 32:43, identical with those of Psalm 97:7 as
given in the Septuagint, are used to convey, as a divine commandment addressed
to spiritual beings, a directive to adore the Son. This is a further proof of Christ’s
superiority: the angels are to worship him. “This adoration shows his absolute su-
periority over angels: it is the superiority of the master over his servants and his
slaves. When Jesus Christ left the bosom of his Father to enter this world, God
required his angels to worship him. This is what a monarch does when he brings
some great personage into his palace and wishes to have him honored: he orders
his dignitaries to bow in his presence “Hom. on Heb.”, 3).

This reference to “bringing the first-born into the world” is consistently interpreted
by the Fathers of the Church and by ancient writers as a reference to the Incarna-
tion. Some authors also see this verse asreferring to the second coming of Christ,
when the world to come, unlike the present world, will be totally subject to the
Redeemer. This interpretation connected with the end of time may explain why
the text of Deuteronomy 32:43 is used: that passage is followed by reference to
the last judgment by God.

Christ’s human nature should be worshipped now and always by angels and men
alike, for by doing so they adore Jesus, who is one person — which is divine —
with two natures, one divine and one human; he is worshipped as one: his divinity
and his humanity are worshipped at one and the same time.

This worship due to Christ over every created being is reminiscent of what St Paul
says in Philippians 2:10: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven
and on earth and under the earth”, referring to the glorified human nature of Christ.
“It is fitting that the sacred humanity of Christ should receive the homage, praise
and adoration of all the hierarchies of the angels and of all the legions of the bles-
sed in heaven” (St. J. Escriva, “Holy Rosary”, Second Glorious Mystery).

Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.

Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.

3 posted on 01/13/2013 8:07:50 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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19 posted on 01/13/2013 9:22:32 PM PST by FormerACLUmember
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