Bernardin de Piconio’s Commentary on Philippians 3:17-4:1

3:17. Be imitators of me, brethren, and observe those who so walk as you have our form.

Be imitators of me. The Greek has, be imitators together, (or by common consent), of me, and observe those who so walk, as you have a type in us. It is to be explained that the Apostle says, imitate me, rather than imitate Christ, because there were ostensibly two types or standards of what
was called the Christian life, one set by the Apostles, the other by the heretics, who systematically lived in sin, and seriously maintained that this was serving Christ. These were the dogs referred to in verse 2. He said there, observe the dogs, to avoid them; here he says, observe those who walk as
we do, to follow and imitate them. This is further stated in the next verse. The Apostles, St. Chrysostom says, were a type and exemplar of holy living. So should every prelate be. Yet the faults of the prelate do not excuse the subjects, because Christ said Learn of me. And we have in the Scriptures the examples of all virtues.

3:18. For many walk, who I have often told you, and now also tell you weeping, are enemies of the cross of Christ,

Many walk, who though they profess to preach the cross of Christ, are not to be imitated in their lives. I often told you of them when I was with you, and now I mention them again with tears. Those who live in pleasure, says St.
Chrysostom, are truly to be wept for. The same Father adds these remarks: They are enemies of the cross of Christ, first, because they attributed justification to the law and not to grace, the fruit of the cross. Secondly, because while they made a profession of Christian faith, they lived in ease and
pleasure, which is in direct opposition to the cross. Nothing is so unlike a Christian as to seek for rest and ease. Thy Lord was led to his cross, and thou seekest rest. Thy Lord was pierced with nails, and thou indulgest in pleasures!
Is this like a generous soldier? If thou lovest thy lord, live his life, and die his death, crucify thyself, not so as to die, but so as to say with Paul, To me the world is crucified.

3:19. Whose end is death, whose God is their stomach, and their glory in their own confusion, who think of the things of earth.

Whose end is death. The end to which their steps are directed, at which they must arrive if they pursue the course on which they have entered, is ruin, destruction, death eternal. Whose God is their stomach. Who have in reality no higher object in their religious teaching than to secure their own maintenance and support, and live upon the credulity of their disciples. Their boast and glory is everything of which they ought to be ashamed. And their care and pride is exclusively for what belongs to this world, nor do they, in truth and reality, sincerely believe in any other. It is not improbable, from the phrase used in the next verse, that the persons to whom the Apostle refers were Roman citizens and prided themselves on that distinction, whicii St. Paul also possessed, as well as the citizens of Philippi.

3:20. But our conversation is in the heavens: whence also we look for a Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our conversation is in the heavens. In the Greek, our city stands, and is even now existing, in the heavens.  πολιτευμα (politeuma)  our civic municipality or incorporation. The Syriac, our military constitution, as an army. The Ethiopic, our state, city, or republic. Tertullian, our municipality. In heaven
is our home and refuge, our safety and protection, our friends and comrades, our rights and freedom. We are citizens of heaven, and live under the laws and government of a celestial kingdom. And from heaven we look for the Lord Jesus Christ, who will come at the last day, not as our judge or enemy, but our Saviour, and set us, his friends, free for ever from care or sorrow of mind or body, clothe soul and body with eternal splendour and glory.

3:21, Who will reform the body of our humility, made to resemble the body of his splendour, according to the operation by which he is also able to subject to himself all things.

For he will reform, in the Greek transfigure or transform, turn into another form as regards its accidents, rendering it no longer subject to suffering or corruption, but impassible, incorruptible, and eternal, the body of our humility, a Hebraism for our lowly, abject, miserable body, bringing it to the likeness of his our most glorious body, the body of his splendour, or glory, in and through which his glory is made manifest. And this change he will effect by the exertion of the almighty power he possesses, by which all material things are subject to his will.

The heretics believed that the human body will perish for ever in the grave, and only the immaterial nature survive for eternity; and further, that all material existence being essentially impure, the body is in itself vile and unholy, so our treatment of it does not affect the spirit, and becomes therefore insignificant. In opposition to these dreadful errors, the Apostle maintains, in these concluding verses, 1. That there is a material existence prepared for us in the heavens; 2. that Christ dwells materially in the heavens, exalted in glory at the right hand of God; 3. that his body is glorious
and beautiful beyond imagination or description; 4. that our own will be transfigured into the same splendid image at the last great day; 5. that his empire extends over the material world, which, according to his good pleasure and imperial will, is destined to share his eternity.

4:1. Therefore, my brethren, dearest and most desired, my joy and my crown, so stand in the Lord, most beloved.

Therefore, in consideration of the indescribable glory and happiness of the resurrection of the body, incorruptible, sinless, impassible, and immortal, which Christ has promised you, and to which you look forward, as explained in the concluding verses of the last chapter, I entreat you, my brethren, and the objects of my most ardent affection, the cause and occasion of my greatest joy, and whose salvation is to be my crown and reward at the last day, to continue stedfast, as you have stood hitherto, in the faith of Jesus Christ, and in the communion of his one, true, holy, Catholic and Apostolic
Church. They are not only his joy, says St. Chrysostom, but his glory; not only his glory, but his crown. Could there be a higher testimony to their faith and Christian virtue, than to be the crown of Paul? Happy is the prelate who will be able to say of his subjects at the last day what Paul said of the Philippians: my joy and crown. For if not his joy they will be his sorrow; if not his crown of glory, his confusion and condemnation.

Stand, so as to inherit the promise of Christ’s resurrection Do not follow those whose end is death (3:19).

If St. Paul missed a crown by his allegiance to Jesus Christ, which is not absolutely impossible, he found another at Philippi.

2. I request Evodia, and I entreat Syntiche, to agree together in the Lord.
3. I also request thee, my brother and comrade, help those women who laboured with me in the Gospel, with Clement and my other coadjutors, whose names are in the book of life.

Evodia and Syntiche were two women of position and influence in the Church at Philippi, who were employed in the conversion or instruction of women. Access to women was not permitted without difficulty to the other sex in the
countries bordering on the Levant, and they were consequently, as a rule, instructed by women in the principles of the Christian faith. There was apparently some disagreement between the two women here named. All the Greek and Latin writers so understand the words. St. Paul proceeds to recommend them, as well as the others who were engaged in the same holy work, to the care of some man of high reputation, whom he does not name, but whom he calls his brother and comrade. In the Greek the word rendered by the Vulgate germane, brother, is an adjective: συζυγε γνησιε. The first of these words signifies fellow -labourer, the figure being taken from a pair of bullocks drawing together under the same yoke. γνησιε is true, sincere, and genuine. There is much difference of opinion as to who was the person referred to. Some suppose he was one of the bishops or deacons saluted at the beginning of this Epistle; others, that he was the husband or brother of one of the two women whom St. Paul has named. Vatablus and Grotius think it was Epaphroditus, and that St. Paul had written down in the Epistle what he had already in all probability communicated to the Bishop of Philippi by word of mouth, in order that it might be publicly known to the Philippian Church. And certainly the Bishop was the right person to be entrusted with the task of affording encouragement, support, and possibly maintenance to the female ministers and officers of the Church of which he was in charge, and reconcile them in case of any difference or disagreement. St. Chrysostom
remarks that the point is not of great importance, and what is interesting is to observe the high value which the Apostle sets upon the services of these holy women, the care he took of their welfare, and the prominence he gives to their office and their names.

To the same care and solicitude St. Paul recommends also Clement, and the rest of his fellow-labourers, whose names it is not necessary for him to record, because they are written in God’s book of life. The list of God’s faithful servants, predestined to life eternal. There is possibly a reference to
Exod 32:32. If thou do it not, blot me also out of the book which thou hast written. And the Lord answered, I will blot him out of my book, who has sinned against me. Mortal sin, therefore, or final apostasy, may occasion the erasure of a name once entered in the book of life. In Ps 68:29 we read, Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written among the just. In the book of the prophet Daniel 12:1, in the day when Michael the great prince shall rise up, all thy people shall be saved who are found inscribed in the book. And Christ said to the seventy disciples, Rejoice, not that demons are subject to you, but because your names are xvritten in the heavens, Luke 10:20. In the Apocalypse 3:5, Christ says to the angel of the Church of Sardis: Who overcometh, I will not blot his name out of the booh of life. But what if he is overcome? In the same mysterious prophecy we read, 13:8, that all who dwell on earth will worship the wild beast, whose names are not inscribed in the book of life of the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world. And in 20:12: I saw the dead, small and great, standing before
God, and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is that of life. And the dead were judged by their works, according to what was written in the books. Lastly, in the vision of the lioly Cathohc Church, shown in figure to St. John as the City of God, we are told, 21:27. There shall never enter there anything that defiles, and causes abomination and a lie, but only those who are written in the book of life of the Lamb. In this book of life were inscribed the names of the fellow-labourers of St. Paul, unknown to us. The Clement here mentioned was in all probability a different person from the celebrated Pontiff, St. Clement I., Bishop of Rome.

It would be unnecessary to refer, were it not that it has attracted the attention of St. Chrysostom, to an extraordinary interpretation which some writers have placed upon the opening words of verse 3, as if the faithful colleague referred to meant the Apostle’s wife. To begin with, it is certain from what St. Paul says in 1 Cor 7:7, as well as from the unbroken current of tradition, that he never was married. Besides, the terms used in this verse are in the masculine, not only in the Greek text and the Vulgate, but in all the
versions, and are so understood by all the Fathers, Greek and Latin, as well as by Calvin and Beza. The Syriac has: my true associate. The Ethiopic, my brother and comrade. The Arabic adopts the Greek word as a proper name, and reads, in the masculine,Syzyga,  fair, or noble. This view is also taken by some other writers, who consider Syzygus a proper name.  O noble Syzygus. St. Chrysostom refers to the other interpretation as meaning the Apostle’s wife, only to reject it as false, and Theodoret stigmatizes it as absurd. Nevertheless some modern writers, and among them Faber Stapulensis, Erasmus, Cajetan, and Catharinus have adopted it. Their arguments are criticized and refuted at considerable length by Estius.

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One Response to Bernardin de Piconio’s Commentary on Philippians 3:17-4:1

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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