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Bible Commentaries

Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary


- Acts

by George Leo Haydock



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."