14 But Peter standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke to them: Ye men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you and with your ears receive my words.
Peter, the divinely constituted visible head of the church, representing her invisible founder, with characteristic ardour, now comes forward to defend the Apostles and our Lord himself, who commissioned them, from so foul a calumny. He stands up in order to make himself heard, “with the eleven” who also very, likely, stood up with him, in token of their respect, and in order to express their concurrence in what he was divinely inspired to utter. What the idiom or language he employed was, is, a subject of controversy. It is supposed by many eminent Interpreters, that he addressed them in the vernacular of the country—The Syro-Chaldaic or Aramaic of Palestine, so that almost all understood him. Likely, the foreign Jews retained still, with their knowledge of the language of the countries of their abode, a knowledge of the language of the country of their origin also. It may be too that the miracle of tongues was continued here, God so disposing it, that his hearers, foreigners as they were, understood his words, though strange to them; or, the words having the sound of his native tongue for each, the one language spoken became diversified and transformed in the ears of each into his own native tongue. Of this we have an example in the life of St. Francis Xavier, who speaking one tongue was understood by different peoples as if he were speaking their own language.
This address of St. Peter is composed of two parts. In the first part, taking advantage of the circumstances, to defend the miracle and the Apostles against calumnies and ridicule, he shows from the wonderful event, which was, the subject of scorn—that the times of the Messiah had now arrived. In the second part, he shows from our Lord’s miracles, that he was the long-expected Messiah.
“Ye men of Judea.” Native born Jews, “and all you that dwell in Jerusalem,” all you—besides native born Jews—proselytes or strangers who now dwell in Jerusalem. These comprised the whole assembly.
“Receive my words.” Listen attentively to what I am about to say to you.
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know most certainly that God hath made both Lord and Christ, this same Jesus, whom you have crucified.
“House,” the entire family or descendants of Israel. “Know most assuredly,” from the Resurrection of our Lord, from His elevation up to Heaven, from the sending down of the Holy Ghost, shown in the miracles of tongues, &c., from the Prophecies just quoted, let them firmly believe, that God has constituted this same Jesus, viewed according to His human nature. “Lord of all things”—“and Christ.” That is to say, the long expected Messiah of the Jewish Nation, whom He anointed in His Incarnation and Union with the Eternal Word, with the oil of gladness beyond his fellows.
“Whom you have crucified,” thus, rendering yourselves guilty of the greatest crime ever perpetrated on this earth. In this peroration and conclusion of his discourse, he meant to excite in them feelings of compunction and to stimulate them to penance, which, with the aid of God’s grace, he succeeded in doing.
37 Now when they had heard these things, they had compunction in their heart and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles: What shall we do, men and brethren?
“They had compunction,” exteriorly produced by the words of Peter, and interiorly, “in their heart,” efficaciously produced by the grace and unction of the Holy Ghost enlightening and stimulating them. The Greek for “had,” κατενυγησαν, means, transpierced, as if by some sharp instrument. They were pierced in their hearts with bitter, pungent sorrow—“compunction,” on account of the crime of putting our Lord to death, whom they now believed and knew to be their long promised Messiah.
“What shall we do?” in expiation of so dreadful a crime.
38 But Peter said to them: Do penance: and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
“Do penance,” which implies change of heart, in the first instance, also good works worthy of penance.
“And be baptised every one of you in the name”—by the authority, or in the faith “of Jesus Christ,” and the external profession of that faith, by embracing his religion and becoming his followers.
The Greek for “in,” επι, upon, would imply that their Baptism should be grounded on the profession of the Christian religion. “For the remission of your sins,” so that, through this rite as an instrument, you may receive the remission of your sins. “And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Shall receive the Holy Ghost with His gifts. This is understood by some of the Sacrament of Confirmation given through the imposition of hands, administered in the early ages of the Church immediately after, or simultaneously with, Baptism.
However, since the giving of the Holy Ghost was not confined to the rite of confirmation, as in the case of the Apostles themselves; nay, He was given in some cases before it, as happened Cornelius the Centurion: Hence, it is better to understand it of giving of the Holy Ghost, in due circumstances to the faithful, apart from the rite of imposition of hands.
In this it is not implied that Baptism was given in “the name of Jesus,” but only in the form prescribed by our Lord Himself (Matthew 28:19). Likely, St. Peter had fully instructed them on these points.
39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call.
In proof that they will receive the Holy Ghost, he tells them that to the Israelites in general, in whatever place they are, many of them here present from even the most distant nation under heaven (“far off”) was made the promise announced by Joel (v. 17) regarding the effusion of the Holy Ghost.
“And their children,” their sons and daughters referred to by Joel, limited neither to time nor place. It embraced “all flesh.”
The terms, “afar off,” are frequently employed in the Old Testament to designate the Gentiles, who were to be co-heirs of Abraham’s promises (Galatians 3:29; 4:28), in opposition to those “near,” which denotes the Jews. However, it militates against its application here, that St. Peter needed to be informed by a heavenly vision, after this, of the call of the Gentiles (Acts 10:10, &c.) Moreover, it was of the Jews, Joel spoke. “Whomsoever the Lord our God shall call.” Besides being of the race of Abraham, they needed a Divine call to be partakers of the promised blessings.
40 And with very many other words did he testify and exhort them, saying: Save yourselves from this perverse generation.
The entire of St. Peter’s discourse is not given here. The same may be said of his other discourses, as well as those of St. Paul and of others recorded in this narrative of the Acts.
“Did he testify,” by adducing the testimony of Scripture, the Prophecies regarding our Lord, the sanctity of his life, his miracles in life and death, the testimony of the Apostles, who were so many eyewitnesses, that his teachings and sayings regarding Christ were true.
“This perverse,” unbelieving, unrepenting “generation.” Similar are the words (Matthew 12:39). They should strive not to be involved in the common ruin in store for the wicked unbelievers. This is the practical summary of St. Peter’s exhortation.
41 They therefore that received his word were baptized: and there were added in that day about three thousand souls.
“Received his word,” voluntarily and believed. In the words, “whom the Lord shall call,” is asserted the necessity of Divine grace; here, is vindicated human liberty, as a principle of free action.
“Added,” joined the Church or congregation of the faithful already formed.