Dixit autem ad eum Dominus: vade, quoniam vas electionis est mihi iste, ut portet nomen meum coram gentibus, et regibus, et filiis Israël.
And the Lord said to him: go your way; for this man is to me a vessel of election, to carry my name before the gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.
1. Homines in Sacra Scriptura inveniuntur vasis comparati propter quatuor, scilicet: propter constitutionem, repletionem, usum et fructum.
1. In Sacred Scripture men are compared to vessels from four viewpoints: their construction, contents, use, and fruit.
Primo enim quantum ad constitutionem. Vas enim artificis arbitrio subiacet. Ier. XVIII, 4: fecit illud vas alterum, sicut placuerat ei. Sic et constitutio hominum subiacet Dei arbitrio, de quo in Ps. XCIX, 3: ipse fecit nos et non ipsi nos. Unde Isaias XLV, 9 dicit: numquid dicit lutum figulo suo: quid facis? Et infra IX, 20: numquid dicit figmentum ei, qui se finxit: quid me fecisti sic? Et inde est quod secundum voluntatem Dei artificis diversa invenitur vasorum constitutio. II Tim. II, 20: in magna autem domo non solum sunt vasa aurea et argentea, sed etiam lignea et fictilia.
From the viewpoint of construction, vessels depend on the good pleasure of their maker: he reworked it into another vessel as it seemed good to him (Jer 18:4). In the same way men’s construction depends on God’s good pleasure: he fashioned us and not we ourselves (Ps 100:3); hence Isaiah asks: does the clay say to him who fashions it: what are you making? (Isa 45:9). In the same vein St. Paul asks: shall the thing formed say to him that formed it: why have you made me thus? (Rom 9:20). Hence, it is the Creator’s will that determines the variety of construction among his vessels: in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and earthenware (2 Tim 2:20).
Beatus autem Paulus, quia vas electionis nominatur in verbis propositis, quale vas fuerit, patet per id quod dicitur Eccli. L, 10: quasi vas auri solidum ornatum omni lapide pretioso.
In the above words, blessed Paul is described as a vessel of election. What sort of vessel he was is described in Sirach: as a vessel of solid gold adorned with all kinds of precious stones (Sir 50:9).
Aureum quidem vas fuit propter fulgorem sapientiae, de qua potest intelligi quod dicitur Gen. II, 12: et aurum terrae illius optimum est, quia, ut dicitur Prov. III, 15: pretiosior est cunctis opibus. Unde et beatus Petrus testimonium perhibet ei dicens. II Petr. III, 15: sicut et charissimus frater noster Paulus secundum datam sibi sapientiam scripsit vobis.
He was a gold vessel on account of his brilliant wisdom; what is said in Genesis can be understood as speaking of this: the gold of that land is the best (Gen 2:12), because, as it is said: it is more precious than all riches (Prov 3:15). Whence even blessed Peter bears witness to him: so also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him (2 Pet 3:15).
Solidum quidem fuit virtute caritatis, de qua dicitur Cant. ultimo: fortis est ut mors dilectio. Unde et ipse dicit Rom. VIII, 38 s.: certus sum enim quia neque mors neque vita, etc. poterunt nos separare a caritate Dei.
He was solid on account of the virtue of love, of which it is said: love is strong as death (Song 8:6). Hence Paul himself writes: I am sure that neither death, nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:38ff.).
Ornatum autem fuit omni lapide pretioso, scilicet omnibus virtutibus, de quibus dicitur I Cor. III, 12: si quis superaedificat supra fundamentum hoc, aurum, argentum, lapides pretiosos, etc. Unde et ipse dicit II Cor. I, 12: gloria nostra haec est, testimonium conscientiae nostrae, quod in simplicitate cordis et in sinceritate Dei et non in sapientia carnali, sed in gratia Dei conversati sumus in hoc mundo.
Furthermore, he was adorned with all kinds of precious stones, i.e., with all the virtues, concerning which it is said: now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones (1 Cor 3:12). Hence, he says: our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we have conducted ourselves in the world with simplicity of heart and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God (2 Cor 1:12).
2. Quale autem fuerit istud vas patet ex hoc quod talia propinavit: docuit enim excellentissimae divinitatis mysteria, quae ad sapientiam pertinent, ut patet I Cor. II, 6: sapientiam loquimur inter perfectos, commendavit etiam excellentissime caritatem, I Cor. XIII, instruxit homines de diversis virtutibus, ut patet Col. III, 12: induite vos sicut electi Dei, sancti et dilecti, viscera misericordiae etc.
2. The nature of this vessel is made clear by the sort of things it poured out; for Paul taught the mysteries of the most lofty divinity, which require wisdom: among the mature we do speak wisdom (1 Cor 2:6). He extolled love in the loftiest terms in 1 Corinthians 13. He taught men about the different virtues: put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, meekness, patience (Col 3:12).
3. Secundo etiam ad vasa pertinere videtur ut liquore aliquo impleantur, secundum illud IV Reg. IV, 5: illi offerebant vasa et illa infundebat.
3. In the second place, it is customary for vessels to be filled with some sort of liquid: they gave her vessels and she filled them (2 Kgs 4:5).
Invenitur etiam inter vasa diversitas quantum ad huiusmodi plenitudinem. Nam quaedam inveniuntur vasa vini, quaedam olei, et diversa diversi generis. Sic etiam et homines diversis gratiis, quasi diversis liquoribus, replentur divinitus, I Cor. XII, 8: alii datur per Spiritum sermo sapientiae, alii, etc.
Now vessels are classified according to what is poured into them: for some are wine vessels, some oil vessels, and so on. In the same way, God fills men with diverse graces, as though with diverse liquids: to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit (1 Cor 12:8).
Hoc autem vas, de quo nunc agitur, plenum fuit pretioso liquore, scilicet nomine Christi, de quo dicitur Cant. I, 2: oleum effusum nomen tuum. Unde dicitur ut portet nomen meum. Totus enim videtur fuisse hoc nomine plenus, secundum illud Apoc. III, 12: scribam super eum nomen meum.
But the vessel about which we are now speaking was filled with a precious liquid, the name of Christ, of which it is said: your name is oil poured out (Song 1:3). Hence, to carry my name, for he seems to have been thoroughly filled with this name: I will write my name upon him (Rev 3:12).
Habuit enim hoc nomen in cognitione intellectus, secundum illud I Cor. II, 2: non enim iudicavi me scire aliquid inter vos nisi Christum.
For he possessed this name in the knowledge of his intellect: for I decided to know nothing among you except Christ (1 Cor 2:2).
Habuit etiam hoc nomen in dilectione affectus, secundum illud Rom. VIII, 35: quis nos separabit a caritate Christi? I Cor. ultimo: si quis non amat Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, sit anathema.
He also possessed this name in the love of his affections: who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Rom 8:35); if any one does not love our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed (1 Cor 16:21).
Habuit etiam ipsum in tota vitae suae conversatione. Unde dicebat Gal. II, 20: vivo autem iam non ego vivit vero in me Christus.
Finally, he possessed it in the contents of his whole life. Hence he said: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).
4. Tertio, quantum ad usum considerandum est quod omnia vasa alicui usui deputantur, sed quaedam ad honorabiliorem, quaedam ad viliorem, secundum illud Rom. IX, 21: an non habet potestatem figulus luti ex eadem massa facere aliud quidem vas in honorem, aliud vero in contumeliam? Sic etiam homines, secundum divinam ordinationem, diversis usibus deputantur, secundum illud Eccli. XXXIII, 10–11: omnes homines de solo et ex terra, unde et creatus est Adam. In multitudine disciplinae Dominus separavit eos et immutavit vias eorum. Ex ipsis benedixit et exaltavit, maledixit et humiliavit.
4. In the third place, with regard to use, one should consider that all vessels are set aside for a definite use, but some for a more honorable and some for a baser use: or has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor? (Rom 9:21). So, too, according to God’s decree, men are set aside for different uses: all men are from the ground and from the earth, whence also Adam was created. In the fullness of his knowledge the Lord distinguished them and appointed their different uses; some of them he blessed and exalted, but some of them he cursed and brought low (Sir 33:11–12).
Hoc autem vas ad nobilem usum est deputatum, est enim vas portatorium divini nominis, dicitur enim ut portet nomen meum, quod quidem nomen necessarium erat portari quia longe erat ab hominibus, secundum illud Is. XXX, 27: ecce nomen Domini venit de longinquo.
This vessel, however, was set apart for noble use, for it is a vessel such as carries the divine name; for it is said: to carry my name. It was, indeed, necessary for this name to be carried, because it was far from men: behold the name of the Lord comes from afar (Isa 30:27).
Est autem nobis longinquum propter peccatum, secundum illud Ps. CXVIII, 155: longe a peccatoribus salus. Est etiam nobis longinquum propter intellectus obscuritatem, unde et de quibusdam dicitur, Hebr. XI, 13, quod erant a longe aspicientes, et Num. XXIV, 17, dicitur: videbo eum, sed non modo; intuebor illum, sed non prope. Et ideo sicut angeli divinas illuminationes ad nos deferunt, tamquam a Deo distantes, ita apostoli evangelicam doctrinam a Christo ad nos detulerunt. Et sicut in Veteri Testamento post legem Moysi leguntur prophetae, qui legis doctrinam populo tradebant secundum illud Mal. IV, 4: mementote Moysi servi mei ita etiam in Novo Testamento, post Evangelium, legitur apostolorum doctrina, qui, ea quae a Domino audierunt, tradiderunt fidelibus, secundum illud I Cor. XI, 23: accepi a Domino quod et tradidi vobis.
It is far from us on account of sin: salvation is far from the wicked (Ps 119:155). It is also far from us on account of the darkness of our understanding; hence it was said of some that they beheld it from afar (Heb 11:13) and I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh (Num 24:17). Consequently, just as the angels bestow God’s light on us, as being far from God, so the apostles brought us the Gospel teaching from Christ; and just as in the Old Testament, after the law of Moses, the prophets were read to instruct the people in the teachings of the law—remember the law of my servant, Moses (Mal 4:4)—so also, in the New Testament, after the Gospels, the teachings of the apostles are read, who handed down to the faithful the words they had heard from the Lord: for I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you (1 Cor 11:23).
5. Portavit autem beatus Paulus nomen Christi: primo quidem in corpore, conversationem et passionem eius imitando, secundum illud Gal. ultimo: ego enim stigmata Christi Iesu in corpore meo porto.
5. The blessed Paul carried Christ’s name, first of all, in his body by imitating his life and sufferings: I bear on my body the marks of Jesus (Gal 6:17).
6. Secundo in ore, quod patet in hoc quod in epistolis suis frequentissime Christum nominat: ex abundantia enim cordis os loquitur, ut dicitur Matth. XII, 34.
6. Second, in his speech, for he names Christ very frequently in his epistles: out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34).
Unde potest significari per columbam, de qua dicitur, Gen. VIII, 11, quod venit ad arcam portans ramum olivae in ore suo. Quia enim oliva misericordiam significat, congrue per ramum olivae accipitur nomen Iesu Christi, quod etiam misericordiam significat, secundum illud Matth. I, 21: vocabis nomen eius Iesum; ipse enim salvum faciet populum suum a peccatis eorum.
Hence, he can be signified by the dove of which it is said that it returned to the ark bearing an olive branch in its mouth (Gen 8:11). For since the olive signifies mercy, it is fittingly taken to stand for Christ’s name, which also signifies mercy: you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21).
Hunc autem ramum, virentibus foliis, detulit ad arcam, scilicet Ecclesiam, quando eius virtutem et significationem multipliciter expressit, Christi gratiam et misericordiam ostendendo. Unde iste dicit I Tim. I, 16: ideo misericordiam consecutus sum, ut in me primo ostenderet Iesus Christus omnem patientiam. Et inde est quod sicut inter scripturas Veteris Testamenti maxime frequentantur in Ecclesia Psalmi David, qui post peccatum veniam obtinuit, ita in Novo Testamento frequentantur epistolae Pauli, qui misericordiam consecutus est, ut ex hoc peccatores ad spem erigantur; quamvis possit et alia ratio esse, quia in utraque scriptura fere tota theologiae continetur doctrina.
This olive branch bearing leaves was brought to the ark, i.e., to the Church, when he explained its power and meaning in many ways, disclosing Christ’s grace and mercy. Thus, he says: I received mercy for this reason that in me, as in the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience (1 Tim 1:16). Hence, just as the most frequently used writings of the Old Testament in the Church are the Psalms of David, who obtained pardon after his sin, so the most frequently used writings of the New Testament are the epistles of Paul, who obtained mercy, so that by these examples sinners might be aroused to hope; although another reason for this custom could be that in each of these writings is contained almost the whole teaching of theology.
7. Tertio portavit non solum ad praesentes sed etiam ad absentes et futuros, sensum Scripturae tradendo, secundum illud Is. VIII, 1: sume tibi librum grandem et scribe in eo stilo hominis.
7. Third, he carried this name not only to those who were present but also to those absent and as yet unborn by handing down the meaning of the Scriptures: take a large tablet and write upon it in common characters (Isa 8:1).
8. In hoc autem officio portandi nomen Dei ostenditur eius excellentia quantum ad tria. Primo quidem, quantum ad electionis gratiam, unde dicitur vas electionis. Eph. I, 4: elegit nos in Christo ante mundi constitutionem. Secundo quantum ad fidelitatem quia nihil sui quaesivit sed Christi, secundum illud II Cor. IV, 5: non enim nosmetipsos praedicamus, sed Christum Iesum. Unde dicit: vas electionis est mihi. Tertio quantum ad singularem excellentiam, unde ipse dicit, I Cor. XV, 10: abundantius illis omnibus laboravi. Unde signanter dicit vas electionis est mihi, quasi prae aliis singulariter.
8. In this role of carrying God’s name his excellence is shown in regard to three things: first, in regard to the grace of being chosen; hence he is called a vessel of election: he chose us in him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). Second, in regard to his dedication, because he sought nothing of his own but what was Christ’s: for what we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Cor 4:5). Hence, it is stated that this man is to me a vessel of election. Third, in regard to his unique excellence: I worked harder than any of them (1 Cor 15:10). Hence, this man is to me a vessel of election in a more outstanding way than the others.
9. Quantum ad fructum considerandum est quod quidam sunt quasi vasa inutilia, vel propter peccatum vel propter errorem, secundum illud Ier. LI, 34: reddidit me quasi vas inane. Sed beatus Paulus fuit purus a peccato et errore, unde fuit vas electionis utile, secundum illud II Tim. II, 21: si quis emundaverit se ab istis, scilicet erroribus et peccatis, erit vas in honorem sanctificatum utile Domino.
9. As regards fruit, one should consider that some men are, so to speak, useless vessels, either on account of sin or of error, in accord with Jeremiah: he has made me an empty vessel (Jer 51:34). But Paul was free of sin and error; consequently, he was a useful vessel of election, as he himself testified: if anyone purifies himself from these things, i.e., from errors and sins, then he will be a vessel set aside for a noble use, useful to the Lord (2 Tim 2:21).
Unde utilitas sive fructus huius vasis exprimitur cum dicitur coram gentibus, quarum doctor fuit secundum illud I Tim. II, 7: doctor gentium in fide et veritate; et regibus, quibus fidem Christi annuntiavit sicut Agrippae, ut habetur Act. XVI, 38, et etiam Neroni et eius principibus; unde dicitur Phil. I, 12–13: quae circa me sunt magis ad profectum venerunt Evangelii, ita ut vincula mea manifesta fierent in Christo in omni praetorio; Is. XLIX, 7: reges videbunt et consurgent principes. Et filiis Israel, contra quos de Christo disputabat, Act. IX, 22: Saulus autem magis convalescebat et confundebat Iudaeos, qui habitabant Damasci, affirmans quoniam hic est Christus.
Hence the usefulness or fruit of this vessel is expressed by the words, before the gentiles, whose teacher he was: a teacher of the gentiles in faith and truth (1 Tim 2:7), and kings, to whom he preached the faith of Christ, for example, to Agrippa (Acts 16) and even to Nero and his princes. Hence: what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard that my imprisonment is for Christ (Phil 1:12); kings shall see and princes shall arise (Isa 49:7). And the sons of Israel, against whom he argued about Christ: but Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9:22).
10. Sic igitur ex verbis praemissis possumus accipere quatuor causas huius operis, scilicet epistolarum Pauli, quas prae manibus habemus.
10. From the words of our text, therefore, we gather the four causes of this work, i.e., of Paul’s letters, which we have before us.
Primo quidem auctorem in vase. Secundo materiam in nomine Christi, quae est plenitudo vasis, quia tota doctrina haec est de doctrina Christi. Tertio modum in usu portationis; traditur enim haec doctrina per modum epistolarum, quae per nuntios portari consueverunt, secundum illud II Par. XXX, 6: perrexerunt cursores cum epistulis ex regio imperio, etc. Quarto distinctionem operis in utilitate praedicta.
First, the author, in the word vessel; second, the matter, in the name of Christ, which is the fullness of the vessel, because this entire teaching is about the teaching of Christ; third, the manner, in the use of carry. For this teaching is conveyed in the manner of letters, which were customarily carried by messengers: so couriers went with letters from the king and his princes (2 Chr 30:6). Fourth, the difference of the work in the usefulness mentioned.
11. Scripsit enim quatuordecim epistolas quarum novem instruunt ecclesiam gentium; quatuor praelatos et principes Ecclesiae, id est reges; una populum Israel, scilicet quae est ad Hebraeos.
11. For he wrote fourteen letters, nine of which instructed the church of the gentiles; four, the prelates and princes of the church, i.e., kings; and one to the people of Israel, namely, the letter to the Hebrews.
Est enim haec doctrina tota de gratia Christi, quae quidem potest tripliciter considerari.
For this entire teaching is about Christ’s grace, which can be considered in three ways:
Uno modo secundum quod est in ipso Capite, scilicet Christo, et sic commendatur in epistola ad Hebraeos.
In one way, as it is in the Head, namely, Christ, and in this regard it is explained in the letter to the Hebrews.
Alio modo secundum quod est in membris principalibus Corporis Mystici, et sic commendatur in epistolis quae sunt ad praelatos.
In another way, as it is found in the chief members of the Mystical Body, and this is explained in the letters to the prelates.
Tertio modo secundum quod in ipso Corpore Mystico, quod est Ecclesia, et sic commendatur in epistolis quae mittuntur ad gentiles, quarum haec est distinctio: nam ipsa gratia Christi tripliciter potest considerari. Uno modo secundum se, et sic commendatur in epistola ad Romanos; alio modo secundum quod est in sacramentis gratiae et sic commendatur in duabus epistolis ad Corinthios, in quarum prima agitur de ipsis sacramentis, in secunda de dignitate ministrorum, et in epistola ad Galatas in qua excluduntur superflua sacramenta contra illos qui volebant vetera sacramenta novis adiungere; tertio consideratur gratia Christi secundum effectum unitatis quem in Ecclesia fecit.
In a third way, as it is found in the Mystical Body itself, that is, the Church, and this is explained in the letters sent to the gentiles. These last letters are distinguished from one another according to the three ways the grace of Christ can be considered: in one way, as it is in itself, and thus it is set out in the letter to the Romans; in another way, as it exists in the sacraments of grace, which is explained in the two letters to the Corinthians—in the first of these the nature of the sacraments is treated; in the second, the dignity of the minister—and in the letter to the Galatians, in which superfluous sacraments are rejected against certain men who wanted to join the old sacraments to the new ones. In a third way, Christ’s grace is considered in regard to the effect of unity it produces in the Church.
Agit ergo Apostolus, primo quidem, de institutione ecclesiasticae unitatis in epistola ad Ephesios; secundo, de eius confirmatione et profectu in epistola ad Philippenses; tertio, de eius defensione, contra errores quidem, in epistola ad Colossenses, contra persecutiones vero praesentes, in I ad Thessalonicenses, contra futuras vero et praecipue tempore anti-Christi, in secunda.
Hence, the Apostle deals first with the establishment of ecclesial unity, in the letter to the Ephesians; second, with its consolidation and progress, in the letter to the Philippians; third, of its defense against certain errors, in the letter to the Colossians; against existing persecutions, in the first letter to the Thessalonians; and against persecutions to come, especially in the time of anti-Christ, in the second letter to the Thessalonians.
Praelatos vero Ecclesiarum instruit et spirituales et temporales. Spirituales quidem de institutione, instructione et gubernatione ecclesiasticae unitatis in prima ad Timotheum, de firmitate contra persecutores in secunda, tertio de defensione contra haereticos in epistola ad Titum. Dominos vero temporales instruit in epistola ad Philemonem.
He instructs the prelates of the Church, both spiritual and temporal. He instructs the spiritual prelates of the Church about establishing, preserving, and governing ecclesial unity in the first letter to Timothy; about resistance against persecutors in the second; and about defense against heretics in the letter to Titus. He instructs temporal lords in the letter to Philemon.