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How Should I Rejoice in the Lord Always?

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Today I read a portion of Aquinas’ commentary on Philippians. Below is the text (the italics is from Paul, the rest from Aquinas)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. 6 Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.

Above, he proposed examples for them to follow; here in a moral exhortation he shows how they should conduct themselves: first, how they should act in the future; secondly, he commends them on the past (4:10). In regard to the first he does two things: first, he urges them to persevere in what they already have; secondly, to advance to something better (4:4). The first is divided into two parts: first, he gives them a general exhortation to persevere; secondly, he lays down special ways for definite persons (4:2). In regard to the first: first, he reminds them of his own affection; secondly, he gives the exhortation (4:lb).

He certifies his affection in five ways: first, by reason of the faith, by showing that he loves them; hence he says, my brethren, i.e., through faith: “You are all brethren” (Mt. 23:8); secondly, by reason of charity; hence he says, whom I love: “My beloved” (1 Cor. 10: 14); thirdly, according to desire; hence he says, and long for: “God is my witness, how I yearn for you all” (supra 1:8). And I say long for, because I long for you or because you long for me. Fourthly, by joy; hence he says, my joy, and this because you are good: “A wise son makes a glad father” (Prov. 10:1); fifthly, by reason of future joy; hence he says, and crown; “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” (1 Thess. 2:19).

Then when he says, stand firm thus in the Lord, he urges them to persevere, saying, stand firm, i.e., persevere, as I do; or continue as you are: “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt. 10:22).

Then when he says, I entreat Euodia, he gives the individual exhortations: first, in regard to concord; secondly, in regard to solicitude in helping (4:3). These two women, Euodia and Syntyche, ministered to the saints in Philippi, and perhaps there was some strife between them. Therefore, he urges them to be at peace: “ Agree with one another” (2 Cor. 13:11).

Then when he says, I ask you also, true yokefellow, he asks a certain person to help certain other persons. He says, yokefellow, because he was a fellow preacher: “A brother helped is like a strong city” (Prov. 18:19). Help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers. And I ask this of all whose names are in the book of life. He says this in order not to offend the others whom he did not name. As if to say: It makes no difference if I do not write everyone’s name, because they are written in a better place: “Rejoice and be glad” (Mt. 5:12).

According to a Gloss the book of life is the same as the predestination of the saints. They are the same reality but the ideas are different. It should be noted that in olden times it was a custom to write in a register the names of those appointed to some duty or dignity, as soldiers and senators, who were enrolled in the palace. Now all the predestined saints are chosen by God for something great, namely, eternal life; and this appointment is called predestination. The record of this appointment is called the book of life: and this record is in the divine memory, because inasmuch as He appoints, He predestines; inasmuch as He knows it unchangeably, it is called foreknowledge. Therefore, this foreknowledge about the predestined is called the book of life.

But is anyone ever erased from this book? I answer that some are enrolled absolutely, and others in a qualified sense. For some are absolutely predestined by God to obtain eternal life, and they are enrolled indelibly. Others are predestined to have eternal life not in itself, but in its cause, inasmuch as they are ordained to justice for the present; and such persons are said to be erased from the book of life when they fall away from justice in this life.

Then when he says, Rejoice in the Lord, he urges them to make more progress: first, he prepares their mind to make more progress; secondly, he arranges their activity (4:8). In regard to the first he prepares their mind in regard to three things: first, in regard to spiritual joy; secondly, in regard to spiritual rest (4:6); thirdly, in regard to peace (4:7). In regard to the first: first, he describes what our joy should be; secondly, he discloses the cause of joy (4:5b).

Anyone who desires to make progress must have spiritual joy: “A cheerful heart is a good medicine” (Prov. 17:22). The Apostle touches on four characteristics of true joy; first, it must be right, this happens when it concerns the proper good of man, which is not something created, but God: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge” (Ps. 73:28). Therefore, it is right, when there is joy in the Lord; hence he says, in the Lord: “‘Me joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh.,8:10). Secondly, it is continuous; hence he says, always, “Rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16). This happens when it is not interrupted by sin, for then it is continuous. But sometimes it is interrupted by temporal sadness, which signifies the imperfection of joy. For when a person rejoices perfectly, his joy is not interrupted, because he cares little about things that do not last; that is why he says always. Thirdly, it should be multiple, for if you rejoice in God, you will rejoice in His incarnation: I bring you good news of a great joy, which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior” (Lk. 2: 10); and in your own activity: “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous” (Prov. 21:15); and in your contemplation: “Companionship with her has no bitterness” (Wis. 8:16). Again, if you rejoice in your good, you will be prepared to rejoice in the good of others; if you rejoice in the present, you are prepared to rejoice in the future; hence he says, again I will say, rejoice. Fourthly, it should be moderate and not flooded with pleasures, as happens in worldly joy; hence he says, let all men know your forbearance. As if to say: Your joy should be so moderated that it will not degenerate into dissoluteness: “The people continued feasting in Jerusalem before the sanctuary” (Judith 16:20). He says, let all men know, as if to say: Your life should be so moderate in externals, that it offends the gaze of no one; for that would hinder your manner of life.

Then when he says, the Lord is at hand, he touches on the cause of joy. For a man rejoices when his friend is near. But the Lord is near with the presence of His majesty: “He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27); He is also near in His flesh: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). Again He is near through indwelling grace: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:8); and by His clemency in hearing: “The Lord is near to all who call upon him” (Ps. 145:18); and by His reward: “Its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged” (Is. 13:22).

Then when he says, have no anxiety, he shows that our minds should be at rest: first, that anxiety is uncalled for; secondly, what should take its place in our mind (4:6b).

It was fitting to add have no anxiety [solicitude] after saying that the Lord is at hand. As if to say: He will grant everything; hence there is no need to be anxious: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall. put on” (Mt. 6:25).

But this seems to be contrary to what is stated in Romans (12:8): “He that rules, [do so] with solicitude.” I answer that anxiety or solicitude sometimes suggests diligence in seeking what is lacking; and this is commendable and opposed to negligence. Sometimes it suggests anxiety of spirit with a lack of hope and with the fear of not obtaining that about which one is anxious. Such anxiety the Lord forbids in Matthew (6:25), because no one should despair, as though the Lord will not grant what is necessary. But in place of anxiety we should have recourse to God: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Pet. 5:7). And this is done by praying; hence he says, but in everything let your requests be made known to God.

It is fitting, after be says the Lord is at hand, to speak of petition, for it is customary to make petitions of a new lord on his arrival. He mentions four things required in every prayer. First, that prayer implies the ascent of the mind to God; therefore he says, by prayer: “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds, and he will not be consoled until it reaches the Lord; he will not desist until the Most High visits him” (Si. 35:17). Secondly, it should be accompanied by confidence of obtaining, and this from God’s mercy: “We do not present our supplications before thee on the ground of our righteousness, but on the grounds of thy great mercy” (Dan. 9:18); therefore, he says, and supplication, which is an appeal to God’s grace and holiness; hence it is the prayer of a person humbling himself: “The poor use entreaties” (Prov. 18:23). We do this when we say: “Through your passion and cross…” Thirdly, because a person who is ungrateful for past benefits does not deserve to receive new ones, he adds, with thanksgiving: “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). Fourthly, prayer is a petition; so he says, let your requests be made known to God: “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matt. 7:7). If we reflect, we will notice that all the prayers of the Church contain these four marks: first of all, God is invoked; secondly, the divine benefits are thankfully acknowledged; thirdly, a benefit is requested; and finally, the supplication is made: “Through our Lord….”

But it should be noted that be says, let your requests be made known to God. Does not the Lord know them? This is explained in three ways in a Gloss: first, let them be made known, i.e., approved in God’s presence and counted worthy and holy: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee” (Ps. 141:2). Or let them be made known to ourselves, that is, let us recognize that they always reach God. As if to say: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6). Or, let them be made known to those who are with God, i.e., the angels, through whose ministry they are brought to God, not because He does not know them, but because they intercede for us: “The smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (Rev. 8:4).

Then when he says, and the peace of God… will keep your hearts, he asks that peace descend on the soul now instructed by the things said above. He asks this as though he were entreating. Peace, according to Augustine, is the tranquility of order: for the disturbance of order is the destruction of peace. This tranquility of order is considered from three aspects: first, insofar as it exists in the principle of order, namely, in God: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed” (Rom. 13:1). From that profound source in which peace exists it flows first into the beatified, in whom there is no disturbance either of guilt or of punishment; then it flows into saintly men: the holier he is, the less his mind is disturbed: “Great peace have those who love thy law (Ps. 119:165). But it is more perfect in the beatified: “Behold, I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream” (Is. 66:12). Now because God alone can deliver the heart from all disturbance, it is necessary that it come from Him; hence he says, of God: and this, inasmuch as peace considered in that source passes all created understanding, as it is stated in I Timothy (6:16): “Who alone dwells in unapproachable light”; “Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable” (Job 36:26). As it exists in heaven, it surpasses all the knowledge of the angels; but as it exists in the saints on earth, it surpasses all the knowledge of those who lack grace: “To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone” (Rev. 2:17).

And the peace, therefore, will keep your hearts, i.e., your affections, so that you will never depart from the good in anything: “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23); and your minds, so that they not deviate from the truth in anything. And this, in Christ Jesus, by whose love your affections are kept from evil and by whose faith your mind continues in the truth.

Then when he says, finally brethren, he puts order into their activity by urging them to do good; first, he mentions the object of action, namely, the good which is done; secondly, the mover to action; thirdly, the act itself; fourthly, the fruit of the act.

These four things are mentioned here. For the object of a good act is either the object of the intellect or of the affections: the object of the intellect is the true; the object of the affections is the good. Hence he says, finally brethren, i.e., since you are so minded, think of whatever is true through faith: “Love truth and peace” (Zech. 8:19). In regard to an object of the affections, certain characteristics must be present of necessity in a good act, and others are over and above. Of necessity are three things: first, that it be good in itself; hence he says, whatever is honorable [chaste]: “But the wisdom from above is first pure” (Jas. 3:17); secondly, that it be directed to one’s neighbor; hence he says, whatever is just: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [justice], for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6); thirdly, ordained to God; hence he says, whatever is pure [holy]: “That we might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life” (Lk. 1:74). The characteristics over and above what is necessary are twofold: first, that it lead to friendship; secondly, that it preserve one’s good reputation. As to the first he says, whatever is lovely, i.e., leading to mutual friendship: “Do not shrink from visiting a sick man, because for such deeds you will be loved” (Si. 7:35); “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). As to the second he says, whatever is gracious [of good fame]. For many things can be done with a good conscience, but must be omitted for the sake of one’s reputation: “Have regard for your name, since it will remain for you longer than a thousand great stores of gold” (Si. 41:12).

‘Me mover to action is twofold: first, the impulse given by a habit existing within oneself; secondly, discipline or instruction learned from someone else. As to the first he says, if there is any excellence, i.e., any habit of virtue in you, let it incline you to this: “Rich men furnished with resources, living peaceably in their habitations” (Si. 44:6). As to the second he says, if there is [any discipline] anything worthy of praise, i.e., praiseworthy knowledge, in you, do good: “Teach me good judgment and knowledge” (Ps. 119:66). He explains what that knowledge is when he says, think about these things, namely, what you have learned from my teaching: “Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29); “Men you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13); and what you have seen from my example. Thus the mover to action and its object are clear.

But because a discipline is obtained through doctrine, one must first acquire it; hence he says, think about these things. Then he must assent to it; hence he says, what you have learned and received. Furthermore, it is acquired by hearing and sight; hence he says, what you have heard and seen. But there are two kinds of good act: one is internal, and he mentions it when he says, think about these things: [“Meditate on these things”] (1 Tim. 4:15); the other is external: do: “Learn to do good; cease to do evil” (Is. 1:16).

The fruit is God, hence he says, the peace of God will be with you. As if to say: If you do all these things, God will be with you: “Live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13: 11).

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