Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Vain. Septuagint, “foolish by nature, who are ignorant of God.” (Haydock) — In this and the three following chapters, the miseries of idolatry are described, to shew the value of wisdom and piety. (Calmet) — Without the knowledge of God, all is darkness, 1 Corinthians ii. 2. (St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho) — Is. He who is, must be the most proper name of God, Exodus iii. 14. Philosophers could perceive that all creatures had a beginning, and that there must be some first cause or God, whom some confessed, but did not honour as they ought, Romans i. (Worthington) — Could not. Inasmuch as they were vain. (Haydock)
Ver. 2. Fire. The chief god of the Persians. — Wind. Zephyrus, &c. — Air. Which is perhaps the wind. Socrates was accused of adoring nothing, but heaven and the clouds, (Aristot.[Aristotle?] nub.) as the Jews were. Nil pręter nubes et Cœli numen adorant. (Juvenal xiv. 97.) — Stars. The zodiac, or pleiads. This species of idolatry was most ancient and general. — Water. The ocean, Neptune, &c. The Egyptians adored water above all, as the origin of other things. Hence they were punished first by it. (Philo, vit. Mor. 1.) — Moon. These were mostly the objects of worship, under the names of Baal, Astarte, (Calmet) the Phœbus, or Dianę of the Romans. (Haydock)
Ver. 5. Thereby. God is announced by the heavens, and by all creatures, Psalm xviii. 1., and Romans i. 20. “Who can look up to heaven, and be so foolish as not to allow that there is a God?” (Cicero, Harusp.)
Ver. 10. Of men. The pagans in general took the material statue to be the residence of a god. (St. Augustine, City of God chap. vii. 6., and viii. 13.) — The more learned regarded the figures of the sun, &c., as his representations, while others supposed that Jupiter meant the heavens, Juno the air, Vulcan, fire, &c. — Hand. This is to abuse antiquity. The idol of the Arabs was a rough stone. In more polished nations, the workmanship of Praxiteles, Phidias, &c., was more regarded. (Calmet) — As no creature deserves to be esteemed a god, much less do the works of men’s hands. (Worthington)
Ver. 14. Vermilion. The ancients greatly esteemed this colour, (Calmet) and painted with it the statues of their gods on festival days, and the bodies of those who had the honour of a triumph. (Pliny, [Natural History?] xxxiii. 6.)
Ver. 15. Iron. Baruch (vi. 26.) ridicules the same custom, and the other prophets intimate that the pagans took these statues to be really gods, otherwise their practice was no more blameable than that of the Jews, who fastened the cherubim to the ark with gold, and carried them. But the latter did not believe that the Deity resided personally in those images; no more than we do, that Christ is attached to his image on the cross. This distinguishes the behaviour of the faithful from that of pagans. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Idolaters are inexcusable: and those most of all that worship for gods the works of the hands of men.
1 But *all men are vain, in whom there is not the knowledge of God: and who by these good things that are seen, could not understand him that is, neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman:
2 *But have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon, to be the gods that rule the world.
3 With whose beauty, if they, being delighted, took them to be gods: let them know how much the Lord of them is more beautiful than they: for the first author of beauty made all those things.
4 Or if they admired their power, and their effects, let them understand by them, that he that made them, is mightier than they:
5 For by the greatness of the beauty, and of the creature, the creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby.
6 But yet as to these they are less to be blamed. For they perhaps err, seeking God, and desirous to find him.
7 *For being conversant among his works, they search: and they are persuaded that the things are good which are seen.
8 But then again they are not to be pardoned.
9 For if they were able to know so much, as to make a judgment of the world: how did they not more easily find out the Lord thereof?
10 But unhappy are they, and their hope is among the dead, who have called gods the works of the hands of men, gold and silver, the inventions of art, and the resemblances of beasts, or an unprofitable stone the work of an ancient hand.
11 *Or if an artist, a carpenter, hath cut down a tree proper for his use, in the wood, and skillfully taken off all the bark thereof, and with his art, diligently formeth a vessel profitable for the common uses of life,
12 And useth the chips of his work to dress his meat:
13 And taking what was left thereof, which is good for nothing, being a crooked piece of wood, and full of knots, carveth it diligently when he hath nothing else to do, and by the skill of his art fashioneth it, and maketh it like the image of a man:
14 Or the resemblance of some beast, laying it over with vermilion, and painting it red, and covering every spot that is in it:
15 And maketh a convenient dwelling-place for it, and setting it in a wall, and fastening it with iron,
16 Providing for it, lest it should fall, knowing that it is unable to help itself: for it is an image, and hath need of help.
17 And then maketh prayer to it, enquiring concerning his substance, and his children, or his marriage. And he is not ashamed to speak to that which hath no life:
18 And for health he maketh supplication to the weak, and for life prayeth to that which is dead, and for help calleth upon that which is unprofitable:
19 And for a good journey he petitioneth him that cannot walk: and for getting, and for working, and for the event of all things he asketh him that is unable to do any thing.
1: Romans i. 18.
2: Deuteronomy iv. 19. and xvii. 3.
7: Romans i. 21.
11: Isaias xliv. 12.; Jeremias x. 3.