Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
Were dispersed. During this great persecution of the Church, those who could not conceal themselves, were dispersed into different countries. Thus did the Almighty make use of the malice of his enemies, to the greater exaltation and glory of his own name. For those who fled, carried with them the light of the gospel, wherever they went. (Tirinus) --- They were burning torches, which communicated of their holy fire to every place, in which they were scattered. (St. Augustine, Serm. cxvi.) --- Thus was the gospel disseminated from Jerusalem into all Judea and Samaria. --- And Samaria. Though our Saviour in his life time had forbid them to preach to the Samaritans, (Matthew x. 5.) they now knew that the time of that precept was past. (Witham)
Took care. In an ancient work, which give the history of the finding of St. Stephen's body, generally considered authentic, and printed at the end of the 7th volume of St. Augustine's works, we find the following account. "Stephen having been stoned without the northern gate, lay there without burial one day and a night, according to the order of the Jewish rulers, that his body might become a prey to birds and beasts, but God did not suffer either to touch it." --- "Then I, Gamaliel, compassionating these servants of Jesus Christ, and desiring to have some share in the faith and religion of this holy man, sent among the Jews some Christians who feared God, dwelling at Jerusalem, to take away privately the body, and bring it in my chariot to my country house, where it was deposited in my tomb towards the east, and we mourned over it for forty days," &c. It is an injury to pray for a martyr, who ought to assist us by his prayers. (St. Augustine, Serm. xvii.) --- We see great devotion used in burying his body, and four centuries afterwards, at the finding and translating thereof. Very many miracles were performed on that occasion, as St. Augustine witnesses in his work de Civitate Dei, lib. xxii. chap. 8, and Serm. de S. Steph. T. viii.
This man is the power of God, which is called (that is, which is truly) great. Simon pretended to be God, and the great God. See St. Irenæus, lib. i. chap. 20.
He had bewitched them with his sorceries, or magic: he had put them out of their wits, turned their heads, charmed them, stupefied them. (Witham)
Dementasset, Greek: exestakenai autous. So ver. 13. Stupens admirabatur, the same word, Greek: existato.
Simon himself believed. That is, pretended to believe, that he might obtain the power of speaking in tongues, and working miracles, which was frequently imparted to the faithful at baptism. (Menochius) --- He was filled with pride and presumption, says St. Augustine. He wished to imitate the prodigies of the apostles, but loved not their justice, nor the truth they preached. He entered into the Church, and desired baptism, not to obtain the grace of justification, but to have an occasion of extolling himself. He wished to walk in wonders above himself. (In Psalm cxxx.)
The Holy Ghost, which the apostles came to give the Samaritan Neophytes, was not the spirit of grace, of justice, and of sanctity, for that they had received at baptism; but the spirit of strength, to confess with confidence and freedom the name of Jesus, and the supernatural and miraculous graces, usually at that time granted to the faithful, by the imposition of hands. Philip did not administer the sacrament, because he could not; he was not a bishop. Hence now in the Church, we see only the chief pastors do it, præcipuos et non alios videmus hoc facere. See St. John Chrysostom, hom. xviii. in Acta. --- There is no mention here, it is true, of unction, but the most venerable antiquity clearly specifies it. St. Cyprian, in the third age [third century], says: "it is moreover necessary, that he who has been baptized, should be anointed, that having received the chrism, that is, the unction, he may be the anointed of God." (Ep. lxx.) --- In the next age [fourth century], St. Pacianus writes: "Do you say that this (the power of remitting sins) was granted only to the apostles? Then I say, that they alone could baptize, and give the Holy Spirit, for to them alone was the command of doing it given. If, therefore, the right of conferring baptism, and of anointing, descended to their successors, to them also has come the power of binding and loosing." (Ep. i. ad Sym. Bibl. Max. T. iv. p. 307)
They received the Holy Ghost. Not but that they had received the grace of the Holy Ghost at their baptism; but not that plentitude of grace, and those gifts, which they received from bishops in the sacrament of confirmation. This sacrament, as St. John Chrysostom observes, St. Philip, the deacon, had not the power to give. (Witham)
St. John Chrysostom, hom. xviii. Greek: oude gar eichen exousian.
Simon ... offered them money. From hence it is called the sin of simony, to but, sell, or give money for benefices, and spiritual things. It was vanity that made Simon desire this power. (Witham) --- Hence to give or receive money in exchange, or as a price for any spiritual good whatever, is justly esteemed sinful. It is called simony, from the name of the person, who was first engaged in this sin. (Haydock) --- Simon acts the part of a tempter to the apostles, and wishes to draw them into prevarication by offering money for what was above all price, and of what they were not the proprietors, but the dispensers. (St. Clement of Rome)
May thy money perish with thee; or go with thee to perdition. This was a prophecy, says St. John Chrysostom, of St. Peter who saw him incorrigible, and that he would not repent. (Witham)
Nor lot in this matter. Literally, in this saying. (Witham)
That perhaps this thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee. The word perhaps, as the interpreters commonly observe on this and other places, many times does not imply any doubt or uncertainty. There could be no doubt, says St. John Chrysostom, only as to his repenting: if he repented, it is certain he would find remission of his sins. (Witham) --- St. Augustine (ep. cviii.) understands the text, Greek: metanoeson apo, &c. of penance done for heinous offences in the primitive Church, and teaches us to translate it thus, as it is in the Vulgate, both here and 2 Corinthians xii. 21. and Apocalypse ix. 21, and adds that very good men do daily penance for venial sins, by fasting, prayer, and alms.
In the gall of bitterness. In the bitter gall of hypocrisy, in the bonds, fetters, and chains of sin and iniquity. (Witham)
Pray ... for me. Instead of following the advice of St. Peter, he begs them to pray, not that God would touch his heart, and give him repentance; but that the evils might not fall upon him. In this he is a true model of false penitents, who hate not the sin, but fear the punishment, which is the consequence of it. He afterwards left the East, and went to Rome, under the reign of Claudius. Sts. Justin, Irenæus, and others say, the senate adored him as a divinity. Having undertaken to fly in the air, in the presence of the emperor and senate, when he had raised himself to a certain height, he was brought down by the prayers of Sts. Peter and Paul, and died a few days after, of the wounds he received by the fall. (Calmet) --- See also Eusebius, Theod., St. Augustine, &c.
This is desert. In construction, whether we regard the Latin or Greek, to be desert, may either agree to the way leading to Gaza, or the city itself, which formerly had been almost destroyed. (Witham) --- To the site of old Gaza, which was then a desert; above which was built the new Gaza, nearer the sea. (Bible de Vence) --- Beza frequently makes very free with St. Luke, and in his annotations, an. 1556, says the text is wrong; it cannot be so.
An eunuch. It is likely a proselyte converted to the Jewish religion. He shews his zeal and devotion, says St. John Chrysostom, not only by coming to Jerusalem, but by reading the prophets in his chariot. (Witham)
How can I, unless some one shew me, or be a guide to me, as in the Greek. Let every one, and especially the unlearned, take good notice of these words, not to wrest the Scriptures to his own perdition. To follow his own private judgment, or his private spirit, is to make choice of a blind and incompetent guide, as to the sense of the Scriptures, and the mysteries of faith. See the preface to the gospel of St. John. (Witham) --- It appears this eunuch was not one of those, who are now so commonly seen, who think the Scripture is every where plain, and the sense open to every body. Such would do much better to acknowledge, that they stand in need of a guide. (Grotius, hic.) --- St. Jerome, in his letter to Paulinus, printed at the head of the Latin Bibles, shews the necessity of an interpreter. The apostles themselves could not understand the Scriptures till Christ gave them the knowledge; tunc aperuit illis sensum ut intelligerent scripturas. (Luke xxiv. 45.)
Et quomodo possum, nisi aliquis ostenderit mihi? Greek: ean me tis odegese me.
As a sheep, or a lamb, &c. The eunuch, by divine Providence, was now reading the 53d chap. of Isaias, which is of Christ, and his sufferings. --- In humility his judgment was taken away. The sense seems to be, that Christ having humbled himself, so as to undergo an unjust judgment, or condemnation to die on the cross, hath been again raised from the dead, and delivered from that judgment by his glorious resurrection and ascension. (Witham)
Here is water. This shews, that baptism is to be given with water. (Witham)
If thou believest, &c. The Scripture many times mentions one disposition, when others no less necessary are supposed, as here a sorrow for sins, a firm hope, love of God, &c. (Witham) --- Faith is thus seen to be a necessary predisposition in the adult, for the reception of baptism. They must answer for themselves; but infants are baptized in the faith of the Church. Their sponsors, who receive them from the font, answer for them. (Denis the Carthusian) --- And as the defilement was not personal, but that of others, so are they purified by the faith of others.
Act 8:38 are not to suppose that in the administration of the sacraments in the primitive Church, nothing more was done than what we read, totidem litteris, in the Scripture. St. Augustine answers this, when he says: "insomuch that he saith, Philip baptized him, he would have it understood, that all things were done, which though in the Scripture, for brevity sake, they are not mentioned, yet by order of tradition we know were to be done."