Aquinas on Colossians 3;12-17
Posted by Dim Bulb on January 8, 2010
12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, 13forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
157. – Above, the Apostle urged the faithful to avoid evil, and here he urges them to accomplish what is good: first, he urges the acts of the particular virtues, and secondly, the acts of those principal virtues that perfect the others (v. 14). First, he reminds them of their present condition; secondly, he gives a list of the virtues (v. 12b).
158. – Paul says: If you have put on the new self, you should put on the parts of the new self, that is, the virtues: “Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12). We put these on when our exterior actions are made pleasing by the virtues.
But which virtues? Some things are appropriate for soldiers, other things for priests. Put on then what is appropriate for yourself, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. When he says chosen, this refers to the taking away of evil; and holy, refers to the gift of grace. “But you were washed, you were sanctified” (1 Cor 6:11); “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). When he says beloved, he is referring to their preparation for future glory: “He loved them to the end,” that is, of eternal life (Jn 13:1).
159. – Then, he describes what we are to put on and which will protect us in good times and in bad times: “With the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left” (2 Cor 6:7). First, he mentions what we must have in prosperity, and secondly, in times of adversity.
160. – When times are good we owe compassion or mercy to our neighbor; and so Paul says, compassion: “Through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high” (Lk 1:78); “If there is any affection and sympathy” (Phil 3:1), that is, compassion springing from love. Secondly, we must show kindness to all. Kindness [benignitas] is like a good fire [bona igneitas]. For fire melts and thaws what is moist, and if there is a good fire in you it will melt and thaw what is moist. It is the Holy Spirit who does this: “The Spirit of wisdom is kind” (Wis 1:6); “Be kind to one another” (Eph 4:32). Lowliness or humility should be found in your hearts: “The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself” (Sir 3:18). In external matters you should practice [moderation], which consists in a certain limit, so that you do not go to extremes in times of prosperity: “Let all men know of your moderation,” as Philippians (4:5) says.
161. – In the bad times of adversity three kinds of armor are necessary. First, patience, which keeps the soul from giving up the love of God and what is right because of difficulties: “You will save your souls by patience” (Lk 21:19). Sometimes it happens that a person does what is right if he alone is involved, yet he finds that the traits of other persons are insufferable; and to these he says, forbearing one another: “For by what that righteous man saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds” (2 Pet 2:8); “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves,” as we read in Romans (15:1).
Thirdly, the armor of pardon is necessary, and so he says, forgiving each other: “What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ” (2 Cor 2:10). One forgives an injury when he does not hold a grudge against the person who did it to him, and does not injure him in return. Still, when punishment is necessary, the person committing the injury must be punished. Paul adds the reason why they should forgive, as the Lord has forgiven you: “Does a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord?” (Sir 28:3); “1 forgave you all that debt because you besought me” (Mt 18:32), and then he continues, “and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”
162. – Then when Paul says, and above all these put on love, he urges them to practice the principal virtues, which perfect the others. Among the virtues, the love of charity holds first place; while among the gifts, wisdom is first. For love is the soul of all the virtues, while wisdom directs them. First, he leads them to the practice of love, and secondly to wisdom (v. 16). First, he urges them to possess the love of charity; secondly, to possess the effects of this love (v. 15).
163. – So Paul says, above all these put on love, which is greater than all the virtues mentioned above, as we find stated in 1 Corinthians (13:13). Above all these, that is, more than all the others, because love is the end of all the virtues: “The end of the commandment is love” (1 Tim 1:5). Or we could say, above all these we should have love, because it is above all the rest: “I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). Love is above all the rest because without it the others are of no value. This love is the seamless tunic mentioned by John (19:23).
The reason we need this love is because it binds everything together in perfect harmony. According to the Gloss, all the virtues perfect man, but love unites them to each other and makes them permanent; and this is why it is said to bind. Or, it is said to bind because it binds of its very nature, for love unites the beloved to the lover: “I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love” (Hos 11:4). He says, perfect, because a thing is perfect when it holds firmly to its ultimate end; and love does this.
164. – Then (v. 15), he urges them to acts of love. He mentions two of these acts, peace and thankfulness, and implies a third, joy. He says, let the peace of Christ [rejoice] in your hearts. An immediate effect of the love of charity is peace, which is, as Augustine comments, that composure or calmness of order produced in a person by God. Love does this, because when one loves another he harmonizes his will with the other: “Great peace have those who love thy law” (Ps 119:165).
He says rejoice, because the effect of this love is joy, and this joy follows peace: “Joy follows those who take counsels of peace” (Prov 12:20). Paul does not merely say “peace,” because there is a peace of this world which God did not come to bring. He says, the peace of Christ, the peace Christ established between God and man. Jesus affirmed this peace: “Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them: Peace to you” (Lk 24:36). And you should have this peace, because it is the peace … to which indeed you were called. “God has called us to peace” (1 Cor 7:15). He adds, in the one body, that is, that you may be in one body. Another effect is thankfulness, and so Paul continues, and be thankful: “The hope of the unthankful will melt away like the winter’s ice” (Wis 16:29).
165. – Next (v. 16), he urges them to acquire wisdom, first, he teaches them about the source of wisdom, and secondly its usefulness.
166. – In order to have true wisdom, one must inquire into its source, and so Paul says, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. “The source of wisdom is God’s word in the highest heaven” (Sir 1:5). Therefore you should draw wisdom from the word of Christ: “That will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples” (Deut 4:6); “He was made our wisdom” (1 Cor 1:30). But some people do not have the Word, and so they do not have wisdom. He says that this wisdom should dwell in us: “Bind them about your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Prov 3:3).
For some, a little of Christ’s word is enough, but the Apostle wants them to have much more; thus he says, let the word of God dwell in you richly: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything” (2 Cor 9:8); “Search for it as for hidden treasures” (Prov 2:4). He adds, in all wisdom, that is, you should want to know everything that pertains to the wisdom of Christ: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27); “The heart of a fool is like a broken jar; it will hold no wisdom” (Sir 21:17) [Vulgate].
167. – This wisdom is useful in three ways: for instruction, for devotion, and for direction.
168. – It instructs us in two ways: first, to know what is true; and so Paul says, as you teach. He is saying, in effect: this wisdom dwells in you so richly that it can teach you all things: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Secondly, this wisdom instructs us to know what is good, and so Paul says, and admonish one another, that is, encourage yourselves to do good things: “To arouse you by way of reminder” (2 Pet 1:1).
169. – Secondly, he mentions its usefulness for devotion, saying, as you sing psalms and hymns. The psalms show the delight of acting well: “Praise him with joy” (Ps 148:2 / 47:1). A hymn is a song of praise: “A hymn for all his saints” (Ps 148:14).
And spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God, because whatever we do, we should relate it to spiritual goods, to the eternal promises, and to the worship of God. And so Paul says, in your hearts, not only with your lips: “I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also” (1 Cor 14:15); “This people draws near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Is 29:13). He adds, with thankfulness, that is, acknowledging the grace of Christ and God’s gifts. The chief songs of the Church are songs of the heart; but they are expressed vocally so as to arouse the songs of the heart, and for the benefit of the simple and uncultured.
170. – He mentions the usefulness of this wisdom in directing our actions when he says, and whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, because even our speaking is a work: “Whether your eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
Some find a difficulty in this statement of Paul: for what he is saying is either a command or a counsel. If it is a command, then whoever does not do this sins; yet a person sins venially when he does not do this; therefore, whoever sins venially sins mortally.
My answer is this: Some say that this is a counsel; but this is not true. Nevertheless, it is not necessary that we refer everything to God in an actual way; it can be done habitually. Whoever acts against the glory of God and his commands, acts against this command. But one who sins venially does not act against this command in an absolute way, because even though he does not refer everything to God in an actual way, he does so habitually. (Source)