The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 1:1-7

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 14, 2010

Note: This post contains Father Callan’s commentary on Romans 1:1-7. I’ve prefaced his commentary with his summary of Romans 1:1-15 to help provide context. Text in red, if any, represent my additions.


A Summary of Romans 1:1-15~To begin a letter with a salutation or greeting of the writer to the one written to was an invariable rule in ancient times. Sometimes these inscriptions developed the titles and credentials of the writer; sometimes those of the person or people addressed. St. Paul also observes this custom in his Epistles. The introductory part, however, of the Pauline letters usually consists of two members: the inscription or salutation, and an act of thanksgiving to God for the benefits conferred on the Church to which he is writing. The Introduction to the present Epistle (Rom 1:1-15) is an illustration of this customary opening.

As St. Paul had not been in any sense, either directly or indirectly, the founder of the Church in Rome, and was unknown to the majority of its members, he thought it needful to preface this letter with a most solemn and unusually long inscription (Rom 1:1-7) which would explain to the Roman Christians why he was writing to them, and why he could dare to speak with so much authority. Hence in verse 1 he indicates his Apostolic charge, his duty as a messenger of Christ; in Rom 1:2-4 he directs attention to the dignity and gravity of the Gospel preaching, because of its divine origin and sublime subject-matter; and in Rom 1:5-6 he refers to the universality of his Apostolate which embraces also the Romans. The inscription is terminated (Rom 1:7) with the usual prayer for grace and peace in behalf of those to whom the Epistle is directed.

The second part of the Introduction (Rom 1:8-15) is an act of thankfulness to God for the -faith of the Romans, which was celebrated in all the world (Rom 1:8). Paul’s good will toward them is manifest from his unceasing prayers in their behalf, and from his long cherished desire to see them (Rom 1:9-13). This desire to visit the Roman Christians, he says, came from his vocation, which made him a debtor to all men, and which, consequently, constrained him to wish to preach the Gospel to the Romans also (Rom 1:14-15).


1. Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

The first thing necessary in writing to the Romans—a community which he had not founded—was that Paul should make known his credentials. He therefore states at the outset the divine authority that is behind his Apostolate.

Paul. The Apostle probably assumed this name for the first time in Cyprus when he converted the Proconsul Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7-12), perhaps, as St. Jerome says (in Philem.), in honor of his victory in making so great a convert. St. Thomas and others, however, think he was called both Paul and Saul from his infancy; the latter being his Jewish, and the former his Latin name. As Tarsus, the Apostle’s birth place, was under the Roman Empire, it seems not improbable that he should have been given a Latin, as well as a Jewish name, from the beginning. It seems unlikely (pace St Jerome) that St Paul would have been so ostentatious as to “honor his victory in making so great a convert” as to adopt the name Paulus from the Proconsul Sergius Paulus Gallio.

A servant, i.e., a slave (δοῦλος = doulos) consecrated to the service of Jesus Christ. St. Paul calls himself the servant or slave of Jesus Christ just as the Prophets had styled themselves servants of Yahweh (cf. Amos 3:7; Isa. 42:19; Ezek 32:24, etc.). This is the first time that “servant of Jesus Christ” stands at the head of an Epistle; but it occurs again in Philip1:1; James 1:1; Jude 1; 2 Peter 1:1.

Called to be an apostle, i.e., called by a special vocation (κλητός= klētos) to go and preach the Gospel. The term “apostle” means one sent, as a messenger, a commissioned agent. Thus all the Apostles were messengers sent by Christ to announce the kingdom of God, to proclaim the good tidings of redemption and salvation. St. Paul was equal in dignity to the twelve, because like them, he was called and instructed immediately by Christ Himself (Gal 1:1).

To be an Apostle in the strict sense of the word it was necessary: (a) to have seen Christ in person; (b) to have been immediately chosen and instructed by Him; (c) to have universal authority to teach, preach, establish Churches, etc., subject, of course, to the supreme jurisdiction of the chief of the Apostles; (d) to have the power of miracles as a confirmation of one’s preaching and mission.

Separated. The Greek Fathers see in this word an allusion to divine predestination, as in Gal1:15. It is more probable, however, to say with the Latin Fathers that the term here simply means that Paul was set apart, or especially chosen and consecrated by God, when he received his revelation to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Everywhere in the New Testament, except Gal 1:15, the term αφωρισμενος (asphorismentos; derived from aphorizō) simply means to set apart from other duties and human relations, to reserve for the Apostolate(Acts 13:2). Father Cornely understands “separated”here to refer to Paul’s preparation by natural and supernatural gifts. It may be that St Paul is here playing with his former status as a Pharisee. The word aphorismenotos-one set apart-is identical in meaning to the Grecianized Hebrew word  Φαρισαῖος = Pharisaios, (i.e., Pharisee) which is itself derived from the Hebrew פּרשׁ = pârâsh. In Philippians 3:5 St Paul describes himself as Being circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. According to the law, a Pharisee. Whatever St Paul’s upbringing and former life may have been, after his experience on the Damascus Road this former Pharisee (separated one)came to realize that God had separated me from (his) mother’s womb and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son…(Gal 1:15-16).

The gospel of God, i.e., the good tidings, of which God is the Author and Revealer through His divine Son, and which are destined to lead man to God. Paul’s call and separation were from God for the purpose of preaching and spreading the Gospel of God.

2. Which he had promised before, by his prophets, in the holy scriptures,

Which he had promised, etc. By these words St. Paul intended to show the Romans that he was not teaching something new or false, but merely announcing the fulfillment of what had been foretold throughout the Old Testament. The entire Old Testament was ordained to the New Testament, and consequently to Christ, the principal subject of the latter. The term prophets here means simply those who announce the future, and embraces all the seers, both great and small, of the Old Testament. The Scriptures are called holy (ἅγιος = hagios) because inspired by God.

3. Concerning his Son, who was made to him of the seed of David, according to the flesh,
4. Who was predestinated the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of sanctification, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead;

Note: Father Callan deals with these two verses together in summary fashion before commenting on them individually. I will reproduce the verses individually after his summary.

These two verses are of very great importance. They cause much difficulty and have been variously interpreted. In them is summed up the whole content of the Gospel preached by St. Paul and foretold by Almighty God,—the object of which Gospel is the Son of God, who, though eternal with the Father, took human nature from the seed of David, and by His powerful Resurrection from the dead, was manifested and constituted, in the eyes of men, the powerful Son of God.

3. Concerning his Son, who was made to him of the seed of David, according to the flesh,

Concerning his Son. This shows that the object of the Gospel was chiefly Christ, as foretold by the Prophets, but more clearly preached by Paul. The words, περι του υιου αυτου, indicate that the Son of God was a Divine Person existing anterior to all time and personally distinct from His Father; while the words, of the seed of David, etc., show that this same Divine Person, existing prior to His incarnation, and personally distinct from His Father, took flesh in time from a descendant of David, and thus, according to His human nature, was made or generated, without the intervention of any man, from Mary, His Blessed Mother, who was of the line and family of David. It was a universal belief among the Jews that the Messiah should be “the Son of David” ; this for them was His most characteristic title (cf. Acts 2:29; Acts 13:34 ff.; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 3:7). From the present verse, therefore, it is clear that the Son of God is distinct from the Father, that He is one person, and that He has two natures, one divine and one human. Cf. Philipp2:6-9. Concerning his Son suggests that the “Son”was pre-existent and distinct from the Father since His  Son was “made to Him of the seed of David”, i.e., in some sense born into a different relationship with the Father. This different relationship  relates to the Son’s undergoing a human birth.

The words to him (Vulg., ei) of this verse are not represented in the Greek.

4. Who was predestinated the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of sanctification, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead;

Our Lord’s Resurrection in time from the dead marked Him in the sight of men as a Divine Person, as the true Son of God.

Who, some think, refers to the seed of David, to the human nature of Christ, which from eternity was predestinated to be the Son of God, inasmuch as it would be united in time with the Person of the Word of God (a Lapide, MacEv., etc.) ; others understand the reference to be to the Second Divine Person, who, on account of His spirit of sanctity, was constituted the Son of God with regard to men, in the capacity of Messiah, and who, after His Resurrection was exalted in His humanity. In other words, after His Resurrection this Second Divine Person was distinguished as the powerful Son of God, or the Son of God as exercising His power by raising Himself from the dead, in opposition to His state of humiliation in the flesh (cf. Cornely, Lagrange). Although, as a Divine Person, Christ was always the Son of God, still it was by His Resurrection from the dead in particular that He was manifested and constituted such before men.

Predestinated. The Greek has ορισθεντος, which, according to the Greek Fathers, means declared, manifested; but which is better and more literally rendered by marked out, distinguished, constituted (Cornely, Lagrange). It seems more natural to unite ορισθεντος with Son of God, than with in power; and thus the meaning would be that the Second Divine Person was manifested, or constituted, marked out, by His Resurrection, as the powerful Son of God.

In power, i.e., by the exercise of divine power, especially in the Resurrection.

The spirit of sanctification. Better, “The holiness of his spirit.” By “sanctification” St. Paul means to indicate the sanctity which was proper to Christ as the Son of God, not necessarily the Holy Spirit- The term αγιωσυνης; means sanctity or holiness; St. Paul uses πνευματι αγιω to express the Holy Ghost. Note that the word “spirit” in not capitalized here by modern translations, indicating that the referent is not the Holy Spirit. The term “spirit can have a number of meanings in the Bible; here it refers to the character(distinguishing feature, attribute) of Jesus.

By the resurrection, etc. Since there is question here of an event already accomplished, the allusion seems to be rather to Christ’s own Resurrection (Lagrange) than to the general resurrection of the dead, embracing also that of Christ (Cornely). The Resurrection was the principal miracle by which Christ in the eyes of men was manifested or constituted the powerful Son of God, i.e., the Son of God as exercising divine power in His human nature.

Our Lord Jesus Christ. These words are in apposition with Son of God, as is evident from the Greek, του ορισθεντος υιου θεου (Who was predestinated the Son of God). The title Son of God, as applied to our Saviour, occurs 68 times in St. Paul and about 20 times in the rest of the New Testament.

In the Vulgate, praedestinatus ought to be definitus, and Jesu Christi Domini Nostri should be Jesu Christo Domino Nostro, in apposition with de Filio suo.

5. By whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith, in all nations, for his name;

It is through Christ, the Son of God, risen from the dead that St. Paul received from God the grace and authority to preach the Gospel in all nations.

By whom. Better, “Through whom,” i.e., through Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, who is the agent through whom God dispenses powers to the Apostles.

We have received, etc. Although speaking in the plural, Paul is here referring directly, if not exclusively, to himself, who has been given the special grace and mission to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Rom 15:5; Gal 1:15; Eph 3:8).

For obedience, etc. The purpose of the grace and mission conferred on St. Paul was to lead all nations, i.e., all the Gentiles, to embrace and obey the teachings of the faith of Christ.

For his name, i.e., for the glory of Christ, that also the pagans might know and love Him. The phrase His name, The name, in the Old and in the New Testament, stands for the person (cf. Acts 11:15-16; Acts 21:13).

6. Among whom are you also the called of Jesus Christ:

Among whom, etc. Here the Apostle tells the Romans that they, being largely converts to the faith from paganism, are also embraced in his Apostolate to the Gentile world. This is a proof that most of the Roman Christians when St. Paul wrote his letter were of Gentile origin. The called of Jesus Christ, i.e., a part or portion of the faithful of Christ. There is no question here of the Romans having been called by Christ, as St. Paul was, but only of their belonging to the number of the faithful who are Christ’s by faith in the Gospel.

7. To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

To all, etc. Paul addresses all the Christians at Rome, rich and poor, master and slave, Jew and Gentile. He calls them beloved of God, i.e., objects of God’s favor and love, by which they have been called to the faith of Christ.

Called to be saints, i.e., consecrated in a special manner by their vocation as Christians to the service of God, as belonging to Christ and as participating through grace in His divine life.

Grace . . . peace, etc. This form of well-wishing, which occurs in nearly all the Epistles of St. Paul, is found nowhere before the Apostle, and therefore seems to have been his own creation (Lagrange). Grace, in its proper sense, is a special gift of God by which one is made holy and agreeable in God’s sight, and is rendered a participant of the divine nature, a brother of Christ, and heir to the glory of the Father in heaven. Peace with God insures interior tranquility of mind and soul, and is one of the most precious effects of grace. St. Paul here speaks of these eminent gifts as coming from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, thus placing the latter on a level with the former, but not identifying the two as persons.

3 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 1:1-7”

  1. […] UPDATE: Father Callan on Romans 1:1-7 for the 4th Sunday of Advent. […]

  2. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Romans 1:1-7). […]

  3. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Romans 1:1-7). […]

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