Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
St. Luke, who had published his gospel, wrote also a second volume, which, from the first ages, hath been called the Acts of the Apostles. Not that we can look upon this work, as a history of what was done by all the apostles, who were dispersed in different nations; but we have here a short view of the first establishment of the Christian Church, a small part of St. Peter's preaching and actions, set down in the first twelve chapters, and a more particular account of St. Paul's apostolical labours, in the following chapters, for about thirty years, till the year 63, and the 4th year of Nero, where these acts end. (Witham) --- St. Luke, after giving us the history of the life, actions, miracles, sufferings, and instructions of Jesus Christ, in his gospel, here give us the life and actions of the apostles, the primitive Christians, and particularly all that relates to St. Paul, by way of an appendix. And what could he give more useful or more important to the Church, whether we consider the noble examples he offers for our imitation, or the excellent lessons for our improvement in spiritual wisdom? He describes in this book the accomplishment of many things that had been predicted by Jesus Christ, the descent of the Holy Ghost, the prodigious change effected in the minds and hearts of the apostles: we behold here the model of Christian perfection, in the lives of the first Christians, and the practice of the most eminent virtues, in the conduct of the blessed apostles; the miraculous operations of the holy Spirit, in the conversion of the Gentiles, and this wonder of wonders, the foundation of the holy Catholic Church, the establishment of the spiritual kingdom of God promised through all the inspired oracles, and the daily addition which the Lord made to his Church, of such as should be saved. (chap. 2. ver. 47. and chap. xv. ver. 5.) --- St. Luke has entitled this work, the Acts of the Apostles, that we may seek therein, says St. John Chrysostom, (tom. 5. hom. xii.) not so much the miracles that the apostles performed, as their good deeds, and eminent virtues. In appearing to give us a simple history, says St. Jerome, this holy physician furnishes us with as many remedies, to cure the maladies of our souls, as he gives us words for our instruction. (Ep. 103.) --- It is thought, that his principal design was to oppose to the false acts of the apostles, that were then in circulation, a true and authentic history of the actions of St. Peter and St. Paul. The Catholic Church has ever held this work in such great esteem, that it has not only superseded every pretended history of the kind, that preceded it, but also every ascititious one that has succeeded it. (St. Augustine, de consen. Evang. lib. iv. chap. 8.) --- It is very probable, that St. Luke wrote his acts at Rome, whilst he was near St. Paul, during the time of his confinement, for he remained with him till his deliverance. There can be no doubt that the work was written in Greek, and in a more pure and polished style, than we find in any other writings of the New Testament. St. Luke generally cites the Septuagint, apparently because he was ignorant of the Hebrew; and because, St. Paul more frequently having to preach to the Gentiles, preferred citing the sacred text in the language known in common, sooner than in Hebrew, which was understood by few. See St. Jerome, in Isai. vi. and again, tradit. Hebr. in Genes. 45. --- The Catholic Church has ever admitted this book into the canon of Scriptures; though many heretics, says St. Augustine, have rejected it. (ep. 253. and lib. de util. cred. 7.) St. John Chrysostom, (hom. i. in Acta) complains, that this book, in his time, was not sufficiently attended to, which he esteems as no less useful than the gospel itself. Erasmus, in his preface to the Acts, says, that he had, in the first instance, some notion of adding this book to St. Luke's gospel, as they are both addressed to the same person, and the Acts are not inconsiderable part of the sacred history; for, as the gospel shews the seed committed to the earth, and sown in the field, the Acts represent it as taking root, shooting up, and producing its fruit. --- The Acts have not uniformly held the same place in the Testament which they hold at present. Sometimes this book was inserted immediately before the book of Revelation, as St. Augustine and others insinuate. At other times, we find it between the epistles of St. Paul and the canonical epistles. Some persons express their surprise, that St. Luke, who was the inseparable companion of St. Paul, has not given the account of St. Paul's martyrdom. St. John Chrysostom (hom. i. in Acta) gives an excellent solution: "the apostles, and other apostolic men, wrote little, but did a great deal." The martyrdom of St. Paul, that took place in the public theatre of Rome itself, and before the eyes of all the Christians of this capital of the world, could not remain unknown, but the voyages and other circumstances of his life, too useful to the Church to be suffered to pass into oblivion, called for the exertions of St. Luke's eloquent pen, which, though admirably accommodated to an historic design, is not wholly free from Hebraisms, and Syriacisms. The Acts of the Apostles include the history of the infant Church, from the day of our Lord's ascension into heaven, till the deliverance of St. Paul, two years after his arrival at Rome, i.e. a space of thirty years, from the year 33, to the year 63 of Jesus Christ, or from the 19th year of Tiberius, till the 9th year of Nero. This golden book paints, as it were, the face of the primeval Christian Church; it places before our eyes the singular providence of God, in founding and protecting his Church, and how the apostles, (in spite of every opposition of the armed power of the whole world, to oppress the gospel,) without any foreign assistance of learning, credit, power, or expectation of any temporal advantages, but relying solely on the power of truth, and the virtue of the holy Spirit, laboured in the propagation of the faith, without intermission, till the power of God, under the ignominy of the cross, became eventually triumphant. See Wm. Whitfield Dakins, LL.D. in his prolegomena. --- It may be divided into four parts. In the first eight chapters, St. Luke gives the origin and progress of the Christian Church among the Jews. From the 9th to the 16th, he shews how widely it was spread among the Gentiles: from the 16th to the 20th, the diverse peregrinations of St. Paul, till his last journey to Jerusalem: and from the 20th to the end, with what patience he underwent innumerable sufferings, trials, and indignities, with what magnanimity he had head against the violent surges of persecution, and his astonishing equanimity under every possible calamity. --- This account, which is not continued beyond his two years' imprisonment in Rome, contains a general sketch of the history of the Church during the epoch it describes of thirty years. The leading facts therein contained are, the choice of Matthias to be an apostles, in the room of Judas; the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost; the preaching, miracles, and sufferings of the apostles at Jerusalem; the conversion of St. Paul; the call of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert; the persecution of the Christians by Herod Agrippa; the preaching of Paul and Barnabas to the Gentiles, by the express command of the Holy Ghost; the decree made at Jerusalem, declaring that circumcision, and a conformity to other Jewish rites and ceremonies were not necessary in Gentile converts; the miraculous cures performed by the handkerchiefs and aprons which had only touched the body of St. Paul; whilst the latter part of the book is exclusively confined to the history of St. Paul, of whom, as we have already seen, St. Luke was the constant companion for several years. --- The place of its publication is doubtful. A learned prelate advances, that the probability appears to be in favour of Greece, though some contend for Alexandria, in Egypt. This latter opinion rests upon the subscriptions at the end of some Greek manuscripts, and of the copies of the Syriac version; but the best critics think, that these subscriptions, which are also affixed to other books of the New Testament, deserve but little weight; and in this case they are not supported by any ancient authority. But the sentiment of this learned prelate, does not bias the opinion we gave at the beginning, and which we find confirmed by Alban Butler, in his life of St. Luke, vol. x. p. 432. where he says, "that St. Luke attended St. Paul at Rome, whither he was sent prisoner from Jerusalem in 61. The apostle remained there two years in chains; but was permitted to live in a house which he hired, though under the custody of a constant guard; and there he preached to those who daily resorted to hear him. From ancient writings and monuments belonging to the Church of St. Mary in via lata, which is an ancient title of a Cardinal Deacon, Boronius, in his Annals ad. an. 55. and Arringhi, in his Roma Subterranea, lib. iii, chap. 41. tell us, that this Church was built upon the spot where St. Paul then lodged, and where St. Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles."
Act 1:1 . Luke, who was the author of this history, alludes, in this verse, to his gospel, which he calls his first discourse. In that he informs us, not only of the actions, but also the doctrines of our Saviour. These words, to do and to teach, are the abridgment of the whole gospel: here he gives us the Acts of the Apostles, that is, an history of their travels and preaching. In the beginning of this work he speaks of all the apostles, and what they did before their dispersion. As soon as he comes to the mention of St. Paul, he takes notice of no one else, but is entirely taken up with the narrative of his actions. He addresses his book to Theophilus, which signifies a friend of God, or one who loves God, as if he intended to dedicate it to all the faithful, who believed in, and loved God. But it is more probable that this was the same distinct person, well known to St. Luke, and illustrious for his birth, because he gave him the title of Greek: kratiste, most excellent. [Luke i. 3.] (Calmet)
Until the day on which, giving commandments by the Holy Ghost to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up. As the Scripture was written without distinction of verses, and without any stops, or commas, which were added afterwards) the construction, and joining of words in this verse, is ambiguous. The question is, with what part of the verse these words, by the Holy Ghost, are to be joined. The sense may be, 1. that he was taken up by the Holy Ghost: but this is generally rejected. 2. That he gave his commandments by the Holy Ghost to his apostles; that is, says St. John Chrysostom, that he gave them spiritual commands, that came from the Holy Ghost, or from his holy Spirit. 3. The most probable exposition seems to be, that he gave his special commandments to his apostles, or to those whom he chose to be his apostles, by the Holy Ghost, or by his holy and divine spirit. (Witham) --- The power to preach, to baptize, to remit sins, and generally the whole commission and charge of the government of his Church after him in his name, and with his authority; which government was given them, together with the Holy Ghost, to assist them therein for ever. (Bristow)
Appearing, &c. Why did he not appear to all, but only to his disciples? Because to many of them, who did not know the mystery, he would have seemed a phantom. For if the disciples themselves were diffident, and terrified, and required to touch him with their hands, how would others have been affected? But we know from their miracles, the truth of the resurrection, which is made evident to all succeeding generations. Perhaps the apostles did not perform miracles. How then was the world converted? This is a fact which cannot be denied, and that it should have been brought about by twelve poor illiterate fishermen, without miracles, would be the greatest of all miracles, far beyond the reach of all human means. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. i. chap. 1. on Acts.) --- "And speaking of things pertaining to the kingdom of God," as we read in the Greek, and in the Protestant version, that is, pertaining to the Church, which is the kingdom of God, Greek: ta peri tes basileias tou theou, which plainly makes for unwritten tradition. (Estius)
And eating with them. This is a literal translation from the vulgar Latin. But the Protestant translation from some Greek copies, would have it, And being assembled together, he commanded them, &c. Mr. Bois defends the Latin Vulgate and even by the authority of St. John Chrysostom who doubtless understood the Greek text, as well as any one, and who takes the Greek word here to signify eating: for he observes that he apostles elsewhere proved Christ's resurrection by his eating and drinking with them. (Acts x. 4.) St. Jerome also says, the derivation of the Greek word, is from eating salt together. (Witham)
Greek: sunalizomenos, A salis & mensæ communione. Some copies Greek: sunaulizomenos.
Baptized with the Holy Ghost, that is, cleansed, and sanctified by the plentiful graces he shall pour upon you. (Witham)
Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel? Some of them, as St. John Chrysostom observes, had still their thoughts upon a temporal kingdom of the Messias. Christ, to divert them from such imaginations, tells them, their business is to be witnesses of his doctrine and miracles, particularly of his resurrection, even to the utmost bounds of the earth, to all the nations of the world. (Witham)
He was raised up. Raised himself up, and ascended, &c. (Witham)
Behold two men, that is, two angels, stood by them in white apparel. (Witham)
So shall he come, as you have seen him going. This word going, says St. John Chrysostom, sufficiently intimates, that he ascended by his own power: for so will he come by his own power to judge the world. (Witham) --- Jesus Christ shall come on the last day, in the same body, in the same majesty, to judge the living and the dead. This he had likewise promised, in more than one place of the gospel, speaking of the vengeance, which he will exercise on the city of Jerusalem. St. Jerome, St. Hilary, and many other ancients, have believed that the Son of God will appear again on Mount Olivet, and that all people shall be assembled to judgment. (St. Jerome, super Joel iii. 2.; St. Hilary, super Matthew xxiv. 32.) --- And that same body, which thus ascended to heaven, and which will thus descend, is given us in the blessed Sacrament. "O miracle! exclaims St. John Chrysostom, He that sitteth with his Father above, is at the same time handled by men below. Jesus Christ ascending to heaven, both hath his flesh with him above, and hath left it with us below. Elias being taken up, left his disciple, Eliseus, his mantle and double spirit, but the Son of Man ascending, left his own flesh for us." (Lib. iii. de Sacerd. him. 2. ad pop. Ant. hom. de divit. et paup.) --- Sulpicius Severus, and St. Paulinus, assure us, that the marks of the feet of our Saviour were imprinted in the place off which he rose to heaven; and St. Augustine informs us, that many in his time went to Judea, to venerate these sacred marks. Ven. Bede testifies the same in the eighth age [i.e. in the 8th century]. In the time of Constantine the great, the empress Helen built a church on the place. (Calmet)
Sabbath-day's journey. It cannot now be precisely determined what this distance was, but it is most probable, that it was about a mile. On particular occasions, it perhaps was allowed to exceed a little. (Calmet)
Into an upper room, to be more retired in prayer. There they were persevering with one mind in prayer. These few words denote to us three dispositions to receive the Holy Ghost. 1. Prayer. 2. Perseverance in it. 3. To be of one mind, perfectly united in charity, and the love of one another. (Witham) --- This is the last mention that is made in Scripture of the blessed Virgin Mary. She lived the rest of her time with the Christians (as here she is particularly named and noted amongst them) and especially with St. John, the apostle, to whom our Lord recommended her. (St. John xix 26. 27.) She undoubtedly communicated to the evangelists many circumstances relative to the actions, words, and mysteries of her divine Son.
Peter, rising up, &c. Peter, says St. John Chrysostom on this place, who was prince, or chief of the apostolical college, who had authority over them all, who by his place and dignity, might, without them, have chosen, and appointed a new apostle to succeed Judas, (Christ having said to him, confirm thy brethren,) &c. yet he consults them. (Witham) --- Here Peter acts and ordains in virtue of his supremacy, and the other apostles agree to his appointment.
St. John Chrysostom, Greek: om.g.tou chorou protos, &c.
Possessed a field. Judas is here said to have done, what was done by others, with the thirty pieces of money, the reward of his iniquity. And being hanged, that is, as St. Matthew says, (chap. xxvii. 5.) having hanged himself, he burst asunder. The Greek has it, falling headlong, as perhaps he did, by his judgment of God, from the place or tree where he hanged himself. (Witham) --- Judas did not possess the potter's field, but he furnished the price to buy it, giving back the thirty pieces of silver. (Menochius) --- We often say in common, that we have done what happens in consequence of any action of ours, though it was not in our first intention. (Calmet)
Suspensus crepuit medius, Greek: prenes genomenos.
His bishoprick. The words were prophetically spoken in the Psalms, of the traitor Judas. (Witham) --- Let their habitation. In some manuscript copies, in both Greek and Syriac, we read his. In the Psalms, the text was written against the Jews, the persecutors of Christ in general; but in this place, Peter applies it to Judas in particular. (Estius, in a different place.)
Came in, and went out among us. That is, conversed with us. (Witham)
To his own place of perdition, which he brought himself to. (Witham)
And he gave them lots, which they might lawfully do, when they knew that both of them were fit, and every way qualified for the office. (Witham) --- Lots. This method of deciding the election of ministers by lots, is one of those extraordinary methods which was inspired by God; but can seldom or ever be imitated. Where both candidates appeared equally worthy, as in the present case, and human judgment cannot determine which is to be preferred, it cannot be said that it was wrong to decide it by lots. Thus were avoided any of the evil consequences which might have happened by one party being preferred before the other. St. Augustine observes, that in a doubtful case, where neither part is bad, to decide by lots is not in itself wrong. Sors enim non aliquid mali est, sed res est in dubitatione humana divinam indicans voluntatem. (In Psalm xxx.) (Haydock)