Lesson 8 Acts of the Apostles

acts of the apostlesFranciene and I hope that you are enjoying this lesson about the struggles and questions that resulted in the first apostolic council in AD 49. It is interesting to think that these first apostles saw the need for a structured format which would debate and address these immediate needs that they were facing at the time, and how that same structure has come down through the ages to address other needs as they arose. It really shows us God’s providence in His protection over the discernment of the new leaders of His new Church, and how He continues that same solicitous care of us through our current Pope.

While there was a lot of action and discussion in the chapter, it seemed to be handled pretty smoothly by the apostles. It seems natural that one of the first orders of business would be to decide just what was required of new “converts” and how they would be grafted onto the existing Jewish observances. It probably took hours of heated discussion and lots of searching prayer to arrive at the decisions they did, and it must have initially caused a lot of friction among the new Christians.

But what seemed very interesting to me in this lesson is something in the commentary in our workbook for this lesson. On page 75, in the box at the bottom of the page is a lengthy quote by Saint Pacian of Barcelona, apparently from a sermon he wrote. The excerpt begins by quoting from this chapter in Acts saying “It seemed proper to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden upon you than this: It is necessary for you to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from fornication. You will do well to observe these things.” It goes on to say “The Holy Spirit overlooked many things, but He bound us to these things under pain of capital danger. Other sins are remedied by compensatory works of supererogation; but these crimes are to be feared, for they do not merely weaken the soul but snatch it quite away. Stinginess is redeemed by generosity; insult by apology, harshness by gentleness; amends are made by practice of the opposite…but what can he do who was contemptuous of God? What shall the murderer do? What remedy shall the fornicator find? These are capital sins, brethren, these are mortal.”

I had never really thought about our sins being “remedied by compensatory works of supererogation” and I looked up “supererogation” to get a better understanding of what it means. It seems to mean those acts that exceed the minimum required by the Commandments in the Bible. If “amends are made by practice of the opposite”, it seems that when we become aware that we have been unkind, or harsh, or unbending in some situation, then we can try to practice those very traits that we had sidestepped before. It gives us hope that as we grow in self-knowledge and can see some of our faults and habits, we can try to focus on cultivating the behavior and virtues that we would otherwise not have practiced without this awareness. According to this quote by Saint Pacian, these are the kinds of sins that “weaken the soul”, and it is encouraging to me to think that I can fight that weakness with the strength and fervor with which I can practice these opposite behaviors and attitudes. And I suppose that the practice of love overall is a good antidote to other selfish behaviors, as St. Peter himself reminds us when he wrote “love covers a multitude of sins.”

I have certainly learned a lot from each of these chapters, and I am grateful to each of you for your perseverance and study and our discussions each week. We can learn so much from each other in our study and discussion together, and I look forward to our Tuesdays. As always, feel free to contact either Franciene or me if you have any questions or concerns. We hope that you are enjoying a blessed week, and we look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.

And just a reminder about this lesson–don’t worry about the last question, # 20 where we are asked to select three Church Councils and explain why we found them interesting. There is a 2-page brief summary of the various Councils on pages 76-77 in our workbook, and that is an interesting history lesson in a very brief form. Just feel free to skip that question when you are doing your lesson this week. If time permits, we can discuss what we found interesting on those two pages.

You all are in our prayers,

Franciene and Karen