Friday, January 22, 2010

Was St. Paul the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews?

From St. Thomas Aquinas' Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, Prologue, n. 5:

[B]efore we come to the task of dividing this epistle, it should be noted that before the Council of Nicaea, some doubted that this was one of Paul’s epistles for two reasons: first, because it does not follow the pattern of the other epistles. For there is no salutation and no name of the author. Secondly, it does not have the style of the others; indeed, it is more elegant. Furthermore, no other work of Scripture proceeds in such an orderly manner in the sequence of words and sentences as this one. Hence, they said that it was the work of Luke, the evangelist, or of Barnabas or Pope Clement. For he wrote to the Athenians according to this style. Nevertheless, the old doctors, especially Dionysius and certain others, accept the words of this epistle as being Paul’s testimony. Jerome, too, acknowledges it as Paul’s epistle.

To the first argument, therefore, one may respond that there are three reasons why Paul did not write his name: first, because he was not the apostle of the Jews but of the Gentiles: ‘He who wrought in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, wrought in me also among the Gentiles’ (Gal. 2:8); consequently, he made no mention of his apostleship at the beginning of this epistle, because he was unwilling to speak of it except to the Gentiles. Secondly, because his name was odious to the Jews, since he taught that the observance of the Law were no longer to be kept, as is clear from Acts (15:2). Consequently, he concealed his name, lest the salutary doctrine of this epistle go for naught. Thirdly, because he was a Jew: ‘They are Hebrews: so am I’ (2 Cor. 11:22). And fellow countrymen find it hard to endure greatness in their own: ‘A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country and in his own house’ (Mt. 13:57).

To the second argument the answer might be given that the style is more elegant, because even though he knew many languages: ‘I speak with all your tongues’ (1 Cor. 14:18), he knew the Hebrew language better than the others, for it was his native tongue, the one in which he wrote this epistle. As a result, he could write more ornately in his own idiom than in some other language; hence, he says: ‘For though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge’ (2 Cor. 11:6). But Luke, who was a skillful writer, translated this ornate Hebrew into Greek.

Reply of the Biblical Commission, June 24, 1914 on the Author and Method of Composition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Four-digit numbers refer to Denzinger-Bannwart paragraphs):

2176 I. Whether so much force is to be attributed to the doubts which in the first centuries possessed the minds of some in the West regarding the divine inspiration and Pauline origin of the Epistle to the Hebrews, because of the special abuse of heretics, that, although aware of the perpetual, unanimous, and continued affirmation of the Eastern Fathers, to which was added after the fourth century the full agreement of the entire Western Church; weighing also the acts of the Highest Pontiffs and of the sacred Councils, especially of Trent, and also the perpetual practice of the universal Church, one may hesitate to classify it with certainty not only among the canonical--which is determined regarding faith--but also among the genuine epistles of the Apostle Paul?

-Reply: In the negative.

2177 II. Whether the arguments which are usually drawn from the unusual absence of the name of Paul, and the omission of the customary introduction and salutation in the Epistle to the Hebrews--or from the purity of the same Greek language, the elegance and perfection of diction and style,--or from the way by which the Old Testament is cited in it and arguments made from it,--or from certain differences which supposedly existed between the doctrine of this and of the other epistles of Paul, somehow are able to weaken the Pauline origin of the same; or whether, on the other hand, the perfect agreement of doctrine and opinions, the likeness of admonitions and exhortations, and also the harmony of the phrases and of the words themselves celebrated also by some non-Catholics, which are observed between it and the other writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles, demonstrate and confirm the same Pauline origin?

-Reply: In the negative to the first part; in the affirmative to the second.

2178 III. Whether the Apostle Paul is so to be considered the author of this epistle that it should necessarily be affirmed that he not only conceived and expressed it all by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, but also endowed it with that form with which it stands out?

-Reply: In the negative, save for a later judgment of the Church.

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