Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Every high priest. He speaks first of the office of priests in general, before he speaks of Christ’s priesthood. A priest is chosen and preferred before other men, as qualified for the divine ministry, to offer up gifts, oblations, sacrifices, in order to obtain forgiveness for his own sins and those of the people, who, by the experience he has of his own infirmities, may compassionate others who offend through frailty or ignorance, every priest (excepting our Saviour Christ) being a sinner. Nor must he take upon himself rashly and inconsiderately, for temporal motives, this sacred ministry, formidable (says St. Gregory) even for the shoulders of Angels; he must consult God by prayer, follow the advice of his spiritual guides and pious parents; by these means to know whether he has a call from God to this ministry, as Aaron had. (Witham) — The priest and pastor should never forget that he is a man and a sinner; that he is honoured with this divine ministry, to offer sacrifice both for his own sins and for the sins of the faithful; that prayer should be his delight, the altar his centre, and the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ his supreme felicity. “This sacrifice of the Eucharist,” says St. Augustine, “has succeeded to all the ancient victims that were immolated of old, to signify the future sacrifice.” (lib. 10. chap. xx. de Civit. Dei.) As to the word mass, it was in use to signify this holy sacrifice of the altar above thirteen hundred years ago. See the second Council of Carthage, canon 3.; St. Jerome upon the Prov. chap. xi.; St. Ambrose, lib. 2. ep. 14. Missam facere cœpi; I began to say mass. It was introduced into this country [of Great Britain] with Christianity itself. See Ven. Bede’s history, chap. xxvii. & b. 4. chap. xiv.
Ver. 4. See in 3 Kings xiii.; 2 Paralipomenon xxvi.; and 1 Kings xiii. the manifest punishments of the Almighty on laics that impiously and sacrilegiously attempted the ministry of priests. In the Christian dispensation, archbishop Cranmer, the very soul of the pretended reformation, dictatorially pronounces, “he that is appointed to be a bishop or priest, needeth no consecration:” words quoted by Dr. Stillingfleet from his own handwriting, in his Irenicum, p. 391, 2nd ed. But the Catholic Church has given a very different decision, which is confirmed by the testimony of Scripture, apostolical tradition, and the unanimous consent of the Fathers. See Acts vi. 6. and xiii. 3. and xiv. 22.; 1 Timothy iv. 14. &c. See in the history of Socrates, who lived in the fifth century, how the usurpation of Ischyras, in taking upon himself the name and office of a priest without receiving holy orders, was reprobated as a crime worthy of death. (lib. 1. chap. xxvii. Ed. Val.)
Ver. 5. So also Christ, as man, did not glorify himself, by assuming this dignity of high priest, but had it conferred upon him by the divine decrees of his eternal Father, who said to him: Thou art my Son, and thou art a priest forever, &c. (Witham)
Ver. 6. Some may perhaps wonder why St. Paul does not dwell more in this epistle on the eucharistic sacrifice; but until the Hebrews understood the bloody sacrifice on the cross, they could not be supposed to understand the unbloody sacrifice of the altar. The holy Fathers observe, that the sacrifice of Melchisedech, (Genesis xiv. 18.) offered in bread and wine, prefigured the unbloody sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ at his last supper. See Clement of Alexandria, lib. 4. Strom. chap. viii.; St. Cyprian, lib. 2. ep. 3. ad Cæul.; Eusebius of Cæsarea, lib. 5. Dem. Evang. chap. iii.; St. Jerome, ad Marcel.; St. Augustine, ep. 95. ad Inn. Pap.; St. Ambrose; St. Epiphanius; St. Chrysostom; &c. apud Bellarmine, lib. 1. de missa. chap. vi. Hence it follows, that the holy Eucharist is truly and properly a sacrifice as well as a sacrament, as the paschal lamb or passover of the old law was both a sacrament and sacrifice. For either our Saviour offered sacrifice at his last supper under the forms of bread and wine, or he cannot be called a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech. For the different orders of priests are chiefly distinguished by their sacrifice; (see ver. 1.) and if it be supposed that our Saviour only offered a bloody sacrifice, he would with more propiety have been called a priest according to the order of Aaron, and not of Melchisedech. See St. Augustine, lib. 16. de Civitat. Dei. chap. xxii.
Ver. 7. Who in the days of his flesh, of his mortal and suffering condition, even with strong and fervent crying out, and tears, offering up as man, prayers and supplications to him, to God, who could save him from death; to wit, in the garden of Gethsemani, and on the cross, yet with a perfect resignation and conformity of his human will to the divine will, was heard for his reverence. I leave this translation, which is in the Rhemes Testament, very literal from the Latin Vulgate, and which cannot be said to be any ways disagreeable to the Greek. As to the sense, there are two expositions in the best interpreters. St. Chrysostom and many others understand, that he was heard as to every prayer that he made absolutely, and not conditionally only, (as when he prayed that the cup of his sufferings might pass from him) and he was heard for that reverence, reverential regard, and just consideration which the eternal Father had for him, who was his true Son. This interpretation agrees better with the Greek text, in which is left out the word his. Others by his reverence, understand that he was heard on account of that reverential fear, that respectful submission and piety, which he always had towards his eternal Father. And if it be asked in what Christ was not heard, and in what he was heard: he was not heard when he said, let this cup of sufferings, or this death, pass from me, because it was not what he asked and prayed for with an absolute desire, but only thereby expressed the natural fear which, as man, he had of death, and therefore presently added, but not my will but thine be done, expressing what he knew to be the divine will. And to shew this, St. Chrysostom on these words, brings all those sentences by which our Saviour, Christ, had declared that he had power to lay down his life, and power to take it up again; that no one taketh it from him, but that he laid it down of himself. See John x. 18. and St. Chrysostom, hom. vii. p. 475. But Christ was heard in all he prayed for with an absolute will, according to what he said to his Father, I know that thou always hearest me. (John xi. 42.) He was heard as to all that he asked with an absolute will, either for himself or his Church. (Witham) — What excellent dispositions these of Jesus Christ in his sacrifice, which we learn from his apostles. How truly worthy are these tears both of our love and our adoration! Hence it appears, that Jesus Christ in his prayer both in the garden and on the cross shed tears, though the evangelists are silent on this head. (Menochius)
Ver. 8. He that was truly the Son of God, and knew all things, learnt practically, and taught us perfect obedience in suffering and dying a cruel death on the cross. (Witham)
Ver. 9. And being consummated, or perfected as man in all kinds of virtues, and at the same time true God by his divine person, became the author of salvation to all those who both believe in him and obey him. (Witham)
Ver. 10. There is but one eternal Pontiff, one universal Priest given by God all others are his vicars, but not successors, whom he associates to his priesthood, to continue those same functions on earth which he himself exercises in heaven, and which had been prefigured in Melchisedech.
Ver. 11. Of whom, i.e. of his high priesthood, according to the order of Melchisedech, we have mighty things to say, and very hard to be expounded or understood by you, at least many of you, who, though you ought to be masters after the gospel hath been so long preached, and even by the apostles of Christ, yet you are weak as to understanding it; (the Greek also signifies slothful and negligent) you stand in need of being taught the first elements and principles of the Christian faith, like children, who are rather to be fed with milk than with more solid meats. How many are there now in the like condition, who are for reading and expounding all the holy Scriptures according to their own way of thinking? (Witham)
 Ver. 7. Exauditus est pro suâ reverentiâ, eisakoustheis apo tes eulabeias. Even the last Protestant translation, though much more exact than any of the former, puts, and was heard in that he feared. If the Rhemes translation, which I have not changed, be obscure, I much doubt whether theirs can be better understood. I will not suppose that they mean with Calvin, that Christ was so abandoned on the cross as to be driven to despair, and that he feared and felt the punishments of the damned, from which he begged to be freed, and was heard. Beza, says Calvin, was the first author of this exposition, that is, of this blasphemy. I will rather suppose that the Protestant translators only meant, that Christ, as man, feared death. How then was he heard in that he feared? not so as to be freed from death, which he willingly underwent, but was heard so as to triumph over death, and shortly after to rise and ascend triumphant into heaven. Dr. Wells, in his amendments to the Protestant translation, has changed it in this manner, was heard so as to be delivered from his fear; and in his paraphrase expounds it thus, namely, by an Angel sent on purpose to strengthen him; so that he expounds this text of the fear and prayer of Christ in the garden, from which fear he was freed at the appearing of the Angel. (Luke xxii. 43.) I pretend, notwithstanding, that the Protestant translation, was heard in that he feared, though we take it with the additions made by Dr. Wells, was heard so as to be delivered from his fear, is far from being exact, nor can it be looked upon as a proper and literal translation from the Greek text, apo tes eulabeias. First, where is there any thing in the Greek for he feared, or his fear? or that he was delivered from his fear? This is to add in the text itself a particular exposition, which at the same time is contrary to what divers interpreters take to be the literal sense of these words, apo tes eulabeias, who by eulabeias understand that great respect and regard which was in the Father towards Christ, because he was his Son. St. Chrysostom understood the force of the Greek text as well as any one, and this seems the meaning of these his words: (log. e, p. 475, linea 20. Ed. Sav.) tosaue en autou e eulabeia, os kai apo toutou aideisthai auton ton theon. Nor does the Latin translator of St. Chrysostom, Mutius Scholasticus, in the edition of Fronto Ducæus, seem to have mistaken the sense of St. Chrysostom, where we find, (hom. viii. p. 1478) tanta fuit ejus reverentia, ac pietas, ut ideò eum revereretur Deus. Others indeed expound it of the reverential and godly fear, or piety, that was in Christ, as man, towards God, his Father, and that his prayers were heard on this account: but this will not justify the Protestant translation, that he was heard in that he feared, not the paraphrase of Dr. Wells, so as to be delivered from his fear, as if by eulabeias were understood merely a natural fear and apprehension. I find Mr. Legh, in his Critica Sacra, on the word eulabeias, says that the Syriac version has from fear: but he is mistaken, as may be seen in Walton’s Polyglot: the Syriac has only, he was heard, without any mention at all of any kind of fear, which is left out. Mr. Legh says, Nazianzen[St. Gregory of Nazianzus] and Theodoret follow this sense. He cites not the words nor the places. It must be again his mistake. Theodoret has nothing like it in his commentary on this passage, nor St. Gregory (orat. xxxvi.) where he cites these words of St. Paul. It is true eulabeias, especially in profane authors, has sometimes the same signification as timor, or metus. It is, says Scapula, timiditas circumspecta; but also, even in profane writers, the same as, religio, pietas in Deum. See also what examples Scapula brings on eulaboumai and eulabes; on which he says, apud Ecclesiasticos Scriptores, et in Test. Novi libris, circumspectus et cautus circa ea quæ ad cultum divinum pertinent, religiosus, pius, ut Luc. 2. I know also, that in Hebrews xi. 7., it is said of Noe[Noah], metùens, in the vulgar Latin, for eulabetheis; and in Acts xxiii. 10. Tribunus timens, eulabetheis; but neither do these two examples shew that in this place, where mention is made of our Saviour Christ, eulabeia can be properly and literally translated by fear, or that the sense is that Christ was heard so as to be delivered from his fear. For first, this exposition of fear and apprehension of death agrees not with the common exposition of the ancient Fathers, neither with St. Chrysostom and those who follow him, nor with the others, as I have shewn already. Secondly, this translation agrees not with the Protestant translation in other places. As for the substantive, eulabeia, it is only found in one other place in the New Testament, to wit, Hebrews xii. 28., meta aidous, kai eulabeias, where the Protestant translation has with reverence and godly fear; and for the adjective, eulabes, where old Simeon is called eulabes in the common Greek copies, (Luke ii. 25.) they have translated, a devout man. In Acts viii. 2., the men that buried St. Stephen, andres eulabeis, are translated devout men, as also in Acts ii. 5. Thirdly, the ancient Arabic version signifies propter reverentiam ejus, and the Ethiopic ob justitiam ejus, as they are in the translations of Walton, which agree with the Latin Vulgate, but not with that sense in which the English Protestants have translated the Greek. In fine, it must be observed that apo here, according to these versions, bears the sense of ob or propter, and not of ab or ex, of which signification see many examples in Estius. (Witham)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The office of a high priest. Christ is our high priest.
1 For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins:
2 Who can have compassion on them who are ignorant, and err: because he himself also is encompassed with infirmity:
3 And therefore he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
4 *Neither doth any man take the honour to himself but he that is called by God, as Aaron was.
5 So also Christ did not glorify himself to be made a high priest: but he that said to him: *Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.
6 As he saith also in another place: *Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech.
7 Who in the days of his flesh, offering up prayers and supplications, with a strong cry and tears to him, that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence.
8 And whereas indeed he was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered:
9 And being consummated, he became the cause of eternal salvation to all that obey him,
10 Called by God a high priest, according to the order of Melchisedech.
11 Of whom we have great things to say, and hard to be intelligibly uttered: because you are become weak to hear.
12 For whereas for the time you ought to be masters; you have need to be taught again what are the first rudiments of the oracles of God: and you are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.
13 For every one that is a partaker of milk, is unskilful in the word of justice: for he is a little child.
14 But solid food is for the perfect: for those who by use have their senses exercised to the discerning of good and evil.
4: Exodus xxviii. 1.; 2 Paralipomenon xxvi. 18.
5: Psalm ii. 7.
6: Psalm cix. 4.