Hebrews 7:10

For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him.
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Thomas Aquinas

AD 1274
335. – Having showed how Melchizedek was likened to the Son of God, the Apostle now shows the pre-eminence of Melchizedek’s priesthood over the Levitical. In regard to this he does two things: first, he attracts their attention; secondly, he states his thesis (v. 5). 336. – He attracts them by saying that he is about to speak of great and important matters: ‘Hear, for I will speak of great things’ (Pr. 8:5); hence, he says, see how great, i.e., of what great dignity, he is, to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tithe of the spoils: ‘Cursed is the deceitful man, that has in his flock a male, and making a vow, offers in sacrifice that which is feeble, to the Lord’ (Mal. 1:14). Abraham is called a patriarch, i.e., the chief of fathers, not because he had no father, but because the promise of being father of the Gentiles was made to him: ‘You shall be a father of many nations’ (Gen. 17:4); ‘Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations’ (Sir. 44:20); ‘I have made you a father of many nations before God whom he believed’ (Rom. 4:17). 337. – Then (v. 5) he shows the pre-eminence of Melchizedek’s priesthood over that of the Levitical. In regard to this he does two things: first, he states his proposition; secondly, from this he concludes his thesis, namely, that Christ’s priesthood is preferred to the Levitical (v. 11). The first is divided into two parts: in the first he states his proposition; in the second he rejects a certain response (v. 9). In regard to the first he does two things: first, he shows the pre-eminence in regard to that in which he used his priesthood; secondly, in regard to the state of the priesthood (v. 8). But two things pertain to the priest, namely, to receive and to bless. Therefore, he does two things: first, he shows its excellence as far as receiving tithes is concerned; secondly, in regard to blessing (v. 6b). In regard to the first he does two things: first, he shows who is competent to accept tithes; secondly, how Melchizedek did this in a more excellent manner (v. 8). 338. – He says, therefore: And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people. In this he shows that it belongs to priests to take tithes. But it should be noted that the members of Levi’s tribe were deputed to divine worship, but among them only the descendants of Aaron were priests: ‘Take unto you also Aaron, your brother, with his sons from among the children of Israel, that they may minister to me in the priest’s office’ (Ex. 28:1). Hence, those who belong to the tribe of Levi through Aaron took tithes. This would seem to indicate that the priests alone took tithes, which is contrary to what it says in Numbers (18:21): ‘I have given to the sons of Levi all the tithes of Israel.’ I answer that the Levites received them, only because they ministered to the priests; consequently, they were given not for themselves but for the priests. Furthermore, the Levites received only one-tenth of the tithes, as it says in Numbers (18:26); therefore, only the priests received and did not pay. 339. – Secondly, he shows by what right they received them, namely, by a commandment of the Law; hence, he says, they have commandment in the law to take tithes. But if this is a commandment of the Law, then, since the observance of a commandment of the Law is now a sin, it seems unlawful to give or to receive tithes now. I answer that there were in the Law some precepts that were purely ceremonial, as circumcision, the immolation of the lamb, and so on. Such laws, since they were only figurative, it is no longer licit to observe, for they were a figure of something to come; hence, anyone who observes them now would be signifying that Christ is still to come. But others were purely moral, and these must be observed now. Among these was the giving of tithes, as was explained above. Hence, tithing was in vogue during the Law and under the New Testament: ‘The worker is worthy of his food’ (Mt. 10:10); ‘The worker is worthy of his hire’ (Lk. 10:7). But the determination of such a portion now is made by the Church, just as in the Old Testament it was determined by the Law. But others were partly ceremonial and partly moral, as the judicial precepts. These laws are no longer to be used in regard to what is ceremonial; but in regard to what is moral, they must be obeyed. Yet it is not necessary that they be observed in their proper form. Another objection: If it were a commandment still in vogue, then one who does not take tithes sins, and they sin where they are not taken. I answer that some say that no one may lawfully renounce his right to take tithes, but it is lawful to renounce the practice of taking them because of scandal; and this from the example of the Apostle who took no sustenance from anyone. So they say that the are commanded not to renounce the right. But it is better to say that they are not commanded to take; but they have this command introduced for themselves, so that they can take, and the others are bound to give. 340. – Thirdly, he shows from who they received, namely, from the people, i.e., from their brethren, though these also are descended from the loins of Abraham. For since someone might say that just as Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham, so, too, his sons, the Levites; therefore, that priesthood is not preferred to this one. Consequently, he excludes this and says that the Levites themselves were of the seed of Abraham and, consequently were inferior to Abraham, who paid the tithes. 341. – Then when he says, But this man who has not the genealogy received tithes of Abraham, he shows how it was more fitting for Melchizedek to receive tithes, because he was not of the stock of Abraham; hence, he has not their genealogy, namely, of the Levites. Furthermore, according to a commandment of the Law it was lawful for him to take tithes; consequently, their priesthood was subject to the observance of the Law. But he took tithes not by reason of any law but of himself; therefore, his priesthood was a figure of Christ’s priesthood, which is not subject to the Law. Likewise, they received from a lowly people, namely, their brethren, but he from the highest, namely, from Abraham. 342. – Then when he says, and blessed him that had the promises, he shows his excellence from the viewpoint of the blessing. His reason is this: In Genesis (14:19) it says that Melchizedek blessed Abraham; but one who blesses is greater than the one blessed, therefore, etc. Hence, he says that Melchizedek blessed Abraham, who had the promises. But on the other hand, it says below (11:39): ‘They received not the promise.’ I answer that Abraham did not receive the promise, i.e., the things promised, because he did not obtain it; but he possessed it in faith and hope, and to him specifically the promises were made. 343. – Then when he says, it is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior, he states the major premise of his reasoning. But here there are three objections: the first concerns the statement that the lesser is blessed by the better. On this score the Poor Men of Lyons claim that any just person is greater than a sinner; consequently, a just layman is not blessed by a wicked priest, but conversely. Hence, they would have it that every just man is a priest and no sinner is a priest. I answer that this error is most pernicious, because if a good minister is required for conferring the sacraments, in which salvation is found, it follows that no one is sure of his salvation or knows whether he was properly baptized, because he cannot know if the priest was just. For no one could be ministers, because ‘no one knows whether he is worthy of hatred or love’ (Ec 9:1). Therefore, it should be noted that a person can do something in two ways: either by his own authority, or by someone else’s. When it is by his own authority, it is required that he be just. But a priest is only a minister; hence, he acts only in virtue of Christ: ‘Let a man so account of us as the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God’ (1 Cor. 4:1). Therefore, he does no harm whether he be good or bad, because it is Christ Who blesses in him. Hence, without any contradiction, the one who is greater, blesses. The second objection is that since Christ is greater than any priest, how can the body of Christ be consecrated by a priest? I answer that the priest blesses the matter and not the body of Christ. Furthermore, he does not act by his own authority, but by that of Christ, Who as God is greater than His body. The third objection is that it does not seem true that the greater always blesses the lesser, because the Pope is consecrated by a bishop, and an Archbishop by a suffragan, both of who are lesser. I answer that a bishop does not consecrate the Pope nor the suffragan the Archbishop, but they consecrate this man to be Pope or Archbishop. Furthermore, they do this as the ministers of God, Who is greater than the Pope. 344. – Then when he says, Here tithes are received by mortal men, he shows the pre-eminence of the priesthood on the part of the priest by reason of his state. His reasoning is this: That the more excellent which is not corrupted. But in the Levitical priesthood mortal men, i.e., who succeed by death, receive tithes; but there, in the priesthood of Melchizedek, by one of who it is testified from the Scripture, that he lives, i.e., it makes no mention of his death, not because he did not die, but because he signifies a priesthood that continues forever: ‘Christ, rising again from the dead, dies now no more’ (Rom. 6:9); ‘I was dead, and behold I am living forever and ever’ (Rev. 1:18). 345. – Then when he says, and one might say that even Levi who received tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, he answers an objection. For someone might say: it is true that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham who gave him tithes; but Levi is greater than Melchizedek. So the Apostle says that this is not valid, because one might say that through Abraham, i.e., through the medium of Abraham, even Levi paid tithes to him who received them, i.e., to Melchizedek. Therefore, he is still greater than Levi. But on the other hand, if the father of a bishop gives tithes, that is no reason why the bishop is less than the one who receives the tithes. Therefore, neither in the case at hand. I answer that the cases are not the same, because the entire dignity of the Jewish race and of its priests stemmed from Abraham; but in the case of a bishop, his entire dignity derives from Christ, not from his father. 346. – Then (v. 10) he explains what he had said; and he says that Levi was still in the loins of his father, Abraham, when he gave tithes to Melchizedek, who met him. Consequently, when Abraham was tithed, Levi was tithed. But on the other hand: Christ, too, was in his loins, just as Levi: ‘The son of David, the son of Abraham’ (Mt. 1:1). Therefore, if the reason why Melchizedek is greater than Levi is that Levi was tithed, there seems to be no reason why Christ was not tithed; consequently, Melchizedek is still greater than Christ. And the same difficulty applies to original sin, because as it says in Romans (5:12): ‘In whom all have sinned,’ i.e., in Adam. Therefore, it seems that Christ, Who existed in him in the same way as we, should have contracted original sin. I answer that all this is understood in regard to those who were in Abraham or in Adam according to seminal reasons or bodily substance. For Christ was conceived in regard to His body from the most pure and holy matter of the Blessed Virgin, as it says in 3 Sent. d. 5.

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation - 2 Peter 1:20

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