Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 12:6-16
Posted by Dim Bulb on January 15, 2013
This post includes Fr. Callan’s Summaries on Romans 12:3-8 and Romans 12:9-21 to help provide context. Text in red are my additions.
THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD BE CONTENTED WITH THE OFFICE HE HAS RECEIVED, AND SHOULD DISCHARGE HIS DUTIES TO GOD WITH HUMILITY
A Summary of Romans 12:3-8~The sacrifice that we should make of our body and the corresponding renovation of our mind ought to be guarded by humility, which excludes all self-importance and enforces self-restraint in our dealings with one another. Let each Christian, by a faithful discharge of his duties, contribute his part to the common good of the Church.
6. And having different gifts, according to the grace that is given us, either prophecy, to be used according to the rule of faith;
In the next two paragraphs Fr. Callan talks in general concerning verses 6-8, he then moves on to look at the verses in more detail.
In verses 6-8 St. Paul illustrates the different gifts of the Christians, and the different uses of these gifts. The sentences are elliptical and need to be completed by the understanding of different verbs or phrases; e.g., after prophecy we should understand, let us prophesy; after ministry, let us serve; after teacheth, let him excel; after exhorteth, let him be assiduous; after giveth, let him give; after ruleth, let him rule; after mercy, let him show mercy.
There is question in these verses of what theologians call gratiae gratis datae, i.e., extraordinary and supernatural gifts, which God sometimes confers on certain persons, not on account of personal merits, nor for the spiritual advantage of the recipient, but rather for the general benefit of the Church. In the early days of the Church, when there was greater need of such extraordinary happenings, these gifts were often bestowed on the faithful. St. Paul makes particular mention of them in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. There he enumerates nine gifts, while here he speaks of only seven; but in neither place does he intend to do more than call the attention of the faithful to a few for the sake of illustration.
(6) According to the grace. This shows that the bestowal of the charismata does not depend on the personal merits of the recipient, but only on the free will of God. God distributes them as He will and to whom He will. Each one, therefore, should content himself with the gift he has received, and not desire that of another.
Prophecy, i.e., a supernatural gift by which one knows hidden and future things, and which one uses to edify the Church (1 Cor 14:3 ff., 1 Cor 14:24) in explaining the sacred mysteries and stimulating the faithful to virtue.
To be used is not in the Greek.
According to the rule of faith. “Rule of faith” should be rather measure of faith, according to the Greek. By these words St. Paul cautions the prophet not to exceed the limits of his supernatural gift, that is, not to mix up his own personal thoughts with the suggestions that come from the Holy Ghost (Lagrange). The prophet is to use his gift for the benefit of the faith, and consequently in conformity with the teaching of faith; that is, he must use it secundum rationem fidei, id est non in vanum, sed ut per hoc fides confirmetur; non autem contra fidem (St. Thomas). This interpretation, following the Latin Fathers, regards the rule of faith as an objective measure, rather than as a subjective disposition. Cornely and the Greek Fathers, however, prefer this latter view; but it is difficult to see how one subjectively, could know whether or not he was exceeding the revelation given him (Lagrange).
In the Vulgate rationem fidei should be mensuram fidei.
7. Or ministry, in ministering; or he that teacheth, in doctrine;
Ministry, διακονιαν, is a general term embracing all ecclesiastical functions, but used here to designate certain services in the community, which are going to be enumerated. The offices about which there is question in this verse were of an extraordinary and supernatural kind, which required corresponding supernatural gifts in those who exercised them (Cornely).
He that teacheth, etc. The change of construction may be merely for literary reasons, or because the different ways of ministering are now to be spoken of. The teacher (διδασκων) occupies the third place, after the Apostles and prophets (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11). His office is to expound, elucidate and systematically explain the truths of Christianity. It does not appear that the teacher or doctor was inspired like the prophet, whose function was to discover and to declare.
In doctrine, i.e., let the teacher faithfully exercise his office.
8. He that cxhorteth, in exhorting; he that giveth, with simplicity; he that ruleth, with carefulness; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
He that exhorteth (παρακαλων) . Nowhere else is this gift spoken of. It seems to have consisted in the special grace of imparting counsel and stimulus, or encouragement to others, thus moving them to the practice of virtue.
He that giveth (ο μεταδιδους) is he that is moved by the Holy Ghost to give alms to the poor (1 Cor 13:3).
With simplicity, i.e., not seeking one’s own interest, but only the welfare of his neighbor for God’s sake.
He that ruleth (ο προισταμενος) does not refer to ecclesiastical superiors, properly speaking, but to those who were charged with various duties, such as looking after the widows, the orphans, the poor and the like (Cornely, Lagrange, etc.).
With carefulness, i.e., let the office be exercised with zeal and fidelity.
He that sheweth mercy (οG3588 T-NSM ελεων) means one who gives personal care and attention to the miserable, the poor and the sick.
With cheerfulness, i.e., with pleasantness and sweetness of manner, in order to show fulness of affection for those in distress, and to inspire hope (2 Cor 9:7).
THE EXERCISE OF MUTUAL CHARITY
A Summary of Romans 12:9-21~As in 1 Cor 12:31; 1 Cor 13:1 ff., so also here, after treating of the charismata or special gifts of Christians, St. Paul passes on to an enumeration of the general qualities of the faithful, beginning with charity (αγαπη), the most excellent gift of God to the soul. While the counsels that follow are not arranged in any very determinate and logical order, yet it can be said that the Apostle treats first of the mutual exercise of charity among the Christians (Rom 12:9-16), and then of duties toward
all men, especially one’s enemies (Rom 12:17-21).
9. Let love be without dissimulation. Hating that which is evil, cleaving to that which is good.
Love (η αγαπη), i.e., charity toward God and the neighbor.
Without dissimulation, i.e., without hypocrisy (ανυποκριτος), sincere, and not from the lips only (2 Cor 6:6; 1 John 3:18).
Hating that which is evil, etc. Our love for our neighbor should be regulated according to a stern and uncompromising moral standard, and so should detest evil and seek good wherever they are found.
10. Loving one another with the charity of brotherhood, with honour preventing one another.
In verses 10-21 there is a remarkable series of coordinated participles, adjectives, infinitives (verse 15) and imperatives,—all of which have an imperative sense. The participles are expressive of habits which manifest themselves in daily life.
With the charity of brotherhood. The Christians, being all of one faith and of one family, whose head is Christ, should have a fraternal love for one another. And this brotherly love among the Christians should prompt them to be eager to exhibit mutual signs of respect, one trying to get a start on the other, in external manifestations of honor and esteem (Cornely). Fr. Lagrange and others think St. Paul is speaking here of interior sentiments, rather than of external demonstrations. Naturally, however, the internal habit would show itself in external actions.
The fraternitatis of the Vulgate would better be fraterna.
11. In carefulness not slothful. In spirit fervent. Serving the Lord.
In carefulness, etc., i.e., in regard to solicitude we should be active and diligent in helping others and in executing our private duties.
In spirit fervent, i.e., acting with great fervor of mind under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Serving the Lord. We should be animated with a spirit of great fervor, because we are serving our Lord Jesus Christ, to whose service we are entirely dedicated. The reading of the Vulgate, Domino servientes, is according to the best Greek reading, τω κυριω δουλευοντες; rather than serving the time, i.e., making good use of one’s time and opportunities.
12. Rejoicing in hope. Patient in tribulation. Instant in prayer.
Rejoicing in hope, i.e., be joyous in the hope of heavenly rewards which wait upon the fervent Christian; be patient in tribulation, i.e., be constant and persevering (υπομενοντες) in trials, which lead to hope (v. 4) and increase your merits for future blessedness; be instant in prayer, i.e., be habitually devoted to prayer by which you obtain from God the grace necessary to observe all the other precepts of the law.
13. Communicating to the necessities of the saints. Pursuing hospitality.
Communicating, etc., i.e., imparting aid, when necessary, to your fellow-Christians, the saints, regarding their need as your own.
Pursuing hospitality. The practice of hospitality is often inculcated in the New Testament (Heb 13:3; Titus 1:8; 1 Tim 3:2; 1 Pet 4:9), and was most necessary, because many of the Christians had been forced to leave all things to follow Christ.
14. Bless them that persecute you: bless, and curse not.
Bless, etc. Although the Christians were subject to more or less constant persecution for their faith, still it was their duty to return good for evil, to love those that hated them, etc., as our Lord had commanded (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27, etc.). The Apostle admonishes the Christians to wish their enemies well, and not to curse them. This was a vastly different spirit from that of the Jews who introduced into their official prayers maledictions against the Christians (cf. Lagrange, Le Messianisme, etc., p. 294).
15. Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep.
Rejoice . . . weep. The infinitives here in Greek have an imperative meaning. Since the Christians are all members of one body, each one should share in the joy or sorrow of each other one. The Apostle says first, rejoice with them that rejoice, because, as St. Chrys. observes, “it requires a very generous soul, when your neighbor prospers, not only not to envy him, but even to rejoice with him; whereas only a stony heart is unmoved by the distress of another.”
16. Being of one mind one towards another. Not minding high things, but consenting to the humble. Be not wise in your own conceits.
Being of one mind, etc. The Apostle again counsels the Christians to cultivate modesty and humility—virtues which will promote mutual agreement among them, causing each one to feel and act towards his neighbor as towards himself. No one should on account of birth, riches or the like, consider himself better than his neighbor, because all are one with Christ (Gal 3:28), and there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, rich nor poor.
Not minding high things, etc., i.e., in the social order, not in the intellectual and moral orders.
Consenting to the humble, i.e., condescending to humble offices, being contented with humble gifts, not refusing to do anything, however lowly, provided it be good. Another interpretation understands the Apostle to mean that the Christians should condescend to live on a level and associate with those of lower condition of life and of lower culture. This interpretation makes τοις ταπεινοις (“but consenting to the humble”) masculine here, as it is everywhere else in the Old and New Testaments, with the possible exception of Psalm 136:6; whereas the other understands it to be neuter, to refer to things and not to persons. Those who make the phrase neuter are influenced by the antithesis to τα υψηλα (“not minding higher things”).
Be not wise, etc., i.e., do not entertain so high an opinion of your own judgment as to despise and refuse the counsel of others; avoid self-conceit.