Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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COLOSSIANS - Chapter 1

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Colossians 1

Supplemental Commentary:

Introduction  1, 1-14

1, 1-2:  Greeting.    1.  In five other letters (1.2 Thess., 2 Cor., Phil., Philem.) St. Paul associates with himself his disciple Timothy, who, as some commentators suggest, may have written this letter at the Apostle's dictation.  But see 4, 14 and 18.  Apostle: writing to Christians whom he does not know personally, St. Paul appeals to his infallible authority as an Apostle chosen by God.    2.  Holy: separated off from the world and consecrated to God in Baptism (2, 12; 3, 1-3).  Faithful: either having the faith, believing; or steadfast and true.  Grace, peace: the friendship of God, bringing with it tranquility of soul.

1, 3-8:  Thanksgiving.    4.  Love must be joined to faith, else faith is dead (Gal. 5, 6; Jas. 2, 23-26).  Epaphras had reported (8) an instance of their love shown especially in works of charity towards fellow-Christians.    5.  Hope means here the things hoped for, as in Titus 2, 13.  Believing in God and loving Him, the Christian strives by leading a life of virtue to attain to salvation and an eternal reward, the full possession of God in the beatific vision.  In Christian hope, true love of self is selfless, because it looks to God's greater glory.  St. Paul himself labored with the eternal reward in mind (1 Cor. 9, 23-25; 2 Tim. 4, 8).    6.  Whole world: a hyperbole, as in 23; similarly 1 Thess. 1, 8; 2 Cor. 2, 14; Rom. 1, 8.  The gospel bears fruit and grows through the good works and spiritual progress of the faithful and through new converts being won to the faith.  The grace of God: the free gift from God of redemption and salvation through Christ preached in the gospel.    7.  Epaphras, who had preached the gospel in Colossae and the adjacent towns (2, 1; 4, 12-13), shares with Tychicus (4, 7) the honorable title of a companion of St. Paul in the service of Christ.    9.  The Apostle prays constantly that the knowledge they received (6) may grow until they are filled with it.  Spiritual: coming from the Holy Spirit (Jas. 3, 17).  Of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom directs the mind to refer all things to the supreme cause, while understanding enlightens us concerning their true nature.

1, 9-14:  Prayer for Their Progress.    10.  The gifts for which St. Paul prays will spur the Colossians on to greater charity and give them a deeper insight into God's will.    11.  Besides knowledge, they will need God's help to bear their trials patiently.    12.  Christian patience is always tinged with joy, enabling the faithful to accept hardships with rejoicing and even to render thanks to God for them.    13.  To the metaphor of light for the life of grace corresponds darkness as the realm of sin and Satan (John 3, 19 f; Acts 26, 18; Eph. 5, 8; 1 Thess. 5, 5; 1 Pet. 2, 9).    14.  The transfer occurs at Baptism, when we put on Christ (Gal. 3, 27; Rom. 6, 4 f).  We are reborn in Christ.  In that rebirth, the grace by which we are justified and our sins are forgiven is granted us through the merits of His Passion.  (The Council of Trent, Session vi, chapter 3).  The kingdom (of the Son) is the Church Militant.

I.  THE PRE-EMINENCE OF CHRIST  1, 15 -- 2, 3

1, 15-20:  God, Creator, Head.    15.  Image: the same expression is used of Christ in 2 Cor. 4, 4 and of man in 1 Cor. 11, 7.  An image is both derived from an archetype and resembles it.  Man, created to God's image (3, 10; Gen. 1, 26 f), is like God in his being endowed with spiritual faculties and supernatural grace.  Christ is God's image in that He possesses the divine nature (1, 19; 2, 9).  Through the image we come to know the invisible God, the Father, whom we cannot see directly (John 1, 18; 14, 9; 17, 21-26; Matt. 11, 27; Luke 10, 22).  The Firstborn of every creature: to the firstborn belong both priority and pre-eminence.  Here, then, St. Paul combines two ideas: the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, incarnate in Christ, is "born, not made," and for that reason is above all creatures; besides, existing from all eternity, He is prior to creatures made in time.

16.  The sense of in him is explained by the formulas through him (John 1, 3) and unto him (Rom. 11, 36): the Word is the efficient and final cause, the beginning and the end (Apoc. 22, 13) of all created things, corporeal and incorporeal; in Him all things are centered.  Thrones, etc.: the terms can refer to good and bad angels indiscriminately.  See 2, 15 where demons, and Eph. 3, 10 where good angels are meant.  St. Paul names four of the angelic orders (Eph. 1, 21; Rom. 8, 38).  The Thrones are not mentioned elsewhere.  The Apostle began here to attack the false teachers (2, 10.15.18) who raised angels to a place of mediatorship between God (or Christ) and men.

17.  The Son is supreme because all created things came into being through His agency, having permanence in Him, and exist for Him who is God (Acts 17, 28; Heb. 1, 3).    18.  The same person, the Word made flesh (John 1, 14), Jesus Christ, is also the head, that is the principle or source, the beginning, of the supernatural life of grace in the Church, which is His Mystical Body (see Eph. 4, 15 f; 5, 23.29 f).  Since He first conquered death in His Resurrection (1 Cor. 15, 20; Apoc. 1, 5), He is firstborn (in a sense different from that of 15) from the dead.  As Creator and Redeemer, in the created world and in the spiritual order represented by the Church, He must be held to be chief and leader.  The false claims that St. Paul has in mind in 2, 10.19 are thus exploded.

19.  The ultimate reason of Christ's pre-eminence is now given.  God the Father, not present in either the Greek or the Latin, is supplied as subject, for here the thought of 12-14 is again taken up.  It was God's free choice that in Christ there should reside permanently a fullness of graces deriving from the fullness of the divinity (see 2, 9 below).    20.  As sinners we were God's enemies, standing in fear of His wrath and punishment; reconciled and in peace with Him, we have the hope of union with Him in heaven (Rom. 5, 1-11; 2 Cor. 5, 18-21).  Earth, heavens: the benefits of the Redemption are shared by all creatures; not only by men but also by inanimate nature (Rom. 8, 20 f) and by angels (Eph. 3, 10), who rejoice in the deeper knowledge they have gained of God's plan of salvation.

1, 21-23:  Conciliator.    21.  What the Apostle has affirmed of all mankind he now applies in particular to the Colossians.  Before their conversion they were, as pagans and sinners, far from God, in thought and deeds His enemies.    22.  Christ's atoning death, His sacrifice of Himself on the cross, has made them here and now, even before the final judgment, worthy of God's friendship.  His body of flesh: Christ's human body, subject to sufferings and death, to distinguish it from His Mystical Body, the Church (18).    23.  Steadfast in faith, the foundation of their spiritual structure, the Colossians must hold firmly to the hope, based on the promise of an eternal reward, contained in the gospel (5).  To give up this hope for the false teachings of a sect would be to cast aside what the whole world (a hyperbole as in 6) has embraced; for to them Epaphras had preached the same doctrine his master St. Paul had taught in other cities.

1, 24 -- 2, 3:  Center of Preaching.    24.  A consoling passage, showing how intimately we can be united with our Savior.  The tribulations St. Paul has borne, such as the labors enumerated in 2 Cor. 11, 23-28, and his imprisonment in Rome, far from making him lose courage, are a source of true joy, for the infinite merits of Christ's Passion and Death (Heb. 9) are thus applied to all the members of the Mystical Body.  One with Jesus in his spirit of sacrifice, the Apostle too will be put to the supreme test (2 Tim. 4, 6), that of giving his life (John 15, 13).

25-27.  Minister: servant.  St. Paul had received a special mission to the Gentiles (Acts 9, 15; 13, 2-3; 22, 21; Gal. 1-2).  Fulfill: to aid in bringing about a full realization of God's plan of salvation by preaching about a full realization of God's plan of salvation by preaching the gospel everywhere (Rom. 15, 19).  Mystery: see 1 Cor. 2, 7; Eph. 3, 1-13.  Not a teaching reserved for a small number of initiates, as in the mystery cults; but a truth which cannot be fully known to reason unaided by revelation.  Hidden: that the Gentiles were to enter the New Covenant had been foretold by the prophets of the Old, as the Apostle himself points out in Rom. 1, 2; but in the New Testament this design of divine Providence has been made so much more clear that the ancient promise can be spoken of as obscure or kept in silence (Rom. 16, 25).  As a short, comprehensive formula of the mystery, St. Paul chooses the words: Christ in (or among) you, your hope of glory.  Before their conversion the Colossians were, like other pagans, without hope (1 Thess. 4, 13); now their hope of a reward in heaven rests with Jesus (1 Tim. 1, 1).

28.  His work as Apostle to the Gentiles entails admonishing, turning men from their sins to lives of virtue; and teaching, imparting full knowledge concerning God's revelation.  To emphasize the all-embracing character of his mission, St. Paul thrice repeats every man.  [Commentary on this section is continued at the beginning of the next chapter.]


Confraternity Bible:

Greeting  1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and our brother Timothy, 2 to the brethren in Colossae, holy and faithful in Christ Jesus: grace be to you and peace from God our Father.

Thanksgiving  3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,  praying always for you, 4 for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you bear towards all the saints 5 because of the hope that is laid up for you in heaven.  Of that hope you have heard in the word of the gospel truth 6 which has reached you, even as it is in the whole world, both bearing fruit and growing; just as it does among you since the day that you heard and recognized the grace of God in truth.  7 Thus you learned from our most dear fellow-servant Epaphras.  He is a faithful minister of Christ Jesus in your behalf; 8 and it was he who made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Prayer for Their Progress  9 This is why we too have been praying for you unceasingly, since the day we heard this, and asking that you may be filled with knowledge of his will, in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  10 May you walk worthily of God and please him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.  11 May you be completely strengthened through his glorious power unto perfect patience and long-suffering; joyfully 12 rendering thanks to the Father, who has made us worthy to share the lot of the saints in light.  13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have our redemption, the remission of our sins.

God, Creator, Head  15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.  16 For in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers.  All things have been created through and unto him, 17 and he is before all creatures, and in him all things hold together.  18 Again, he is the head of his body, the Church; he, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may have the first place.  19 For it has pleased God the Father that in him all his fullness should dwell, 20 and that through him he should reconcile to himself all things, whether on the earth or in the heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross.

Conciliator  21 You yourselves were at one time estranged and enemies in mind through your evil works.  22 But now he has reconciled you in his body of flesh through his death, to present you holy and undefiled and irreproachable before him.  23 Only you must remain firmly founded in the faith and steadfast and not withdrawing from the hope of the gospel which you have heard.  It has been preached to every creature under heaven; and of it I, Paul, have become a minister.

Center of Preaching  24* I rejoice now in the sufferings I bear for your sake; and what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ I fill up in my flesh for his body, which is the Church; 25 whose minister I have become in virtue of the office that God has given me in your regard.  For I am to preach the word of God fully--- 26 the mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations, but now is clearly shown to his saints.  27 To them God willed to make known how rich in glory is this mystery among the Gentiles---Christ in you, your hope of glory!  28 Him we preach, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.  29 At this, too, I work and strive, according to the power which he mightily exerts in me.
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*

24: What is lacking of the sufferings of Christ: St. Paul means, according to many interpreters, the sufferings endured by our Lord during His life on earth.  Though these sufferings have infinite value to satisfy for the sins of men, they have to be applied to individual souls.  The labor of the Apostle contributes to this.  According to another view, St. Paul calls his own sufferings the tribulations of Christ because of his intimate union with the Savior.