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 6:19-23

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 27, 2011

This post contains Fr. Callan’s summary of Romans 6:12-23 to help provide context. His notes on the reading then follow.


After having spoken so forcefully about the exalted life of Christians who, through Baptism, have died to sin and risen to holiness of life with the risen Christ, the Apostle now takes care to exhort his readers to be ever on their guard against their enemy, sin, lest, resting too confidently in their new estate of grace, they become careless, and again falling under its sway, become subject to its tyrannical dominion. They can now avoid sin, because they are living under grace. Let no one think that, being freed from the slavery of the Law, we now may sin with impunity. On the contrary, as before we served sin unto death, so now we should serve justice unto life eternal.

19. I speak an human thing, because of the infirmity of your flesh. For as you have yielded your members to serve uncleanness and iniquity, unto iniquity; so now yield your members to serve justice, unto sanctification.

Here Paul explains how Christians are to serve justice. The first part of the verse, down to for, is a kind of parenthesis, of which there are two chief interpretations. According to the first, which is that of most Catholics, St. Paul says that the precept he is about to give his readers, the Christians, is merely human, i.e., light, easy to obey, namely, that for the future they should use their members in doing for justice at least as much as they had done in the past for sin. Hence this precept is called “human,” as being accommodated to the human weakness of the faithful. According to the second interpretation, which is that of a few Catholics and most modern non-Catholic authorities, Paul says that when speaking before of the servitude of justice, he spoke in a human way, in order to accommodate himself to the intellectual capabilities of the Romans who could not yet comprehend this great truth that to serve God is really to reign.

The second part of this verse, which begins with for (γαρ), connects what follows with verse 18, and explains what is meant by being servants of justice. As the Romans, before their conversion, had been slaves to impurity and immorality of all kinds, they are now exhorted to become servants of “justice” unto sanctification.

20. For when you were the servants of sin, you were free men to justice.

When the Romans were the slaves of sin, they were free men to justice, better, they “were free as regards justice,” i.e., they paid no attention to justice, but gave themselves entirely up to sin. This freedom, or rather, neglect of their own righteousness, however, did not excuse the Romans from responsibility. Sin and justice are here represented as rival masters; while serving one, it was impossible to serve the other.

21. What fruit therefore had you then in those things, of which you are now ashamed? For the end of them is death.

What fruit, etc., i.e., what result had you then in the evil satisfactions of your sins? The answer understood is, none; or, only those evil fruits of which you are now ashamed, because they lead to death, temporal and eternal. According to some of the best critical editions of the Greek text the interrogation point should be after then, thus: “What fruit had you then? That of which you are now ashamed” (Theodoret).

22. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting.

The fruits, therefore, of the sins of the Romans were two—shame and death; but now, being free from sin, and become servants of justice, they should produce the fruits of good works, which are personal sanctification and, in the end, life eternal.

23. For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, life everlasting, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The wages. The Greek word for “wages,” οψωνια, properly signifies that pay which is due a soldier for his sustenance, to which, therefore, the soldier has a strict right. Throughout St. Paul has been representing sin as a cruel master who gives death eternal as pay to the soldiers, i.e., to the sinners, who serve him. In contrast to this one might have expected the Apostle to say that the wages, or pay of justice is life eternal; but he has rather said that the grace of God is life eternal, i.e., life eternal is the recompense of the grace of God, or of our works which proceed from the grace of God. In other words, sin merits eternal death, but our good works of themselves cannot merit eternal life; this latter is due to the gratuitous grace of God, which is the source of our good works that merit eternal life. Our good works are the result of grace, and life eternal is given in reward for the good works which grace produces in us. This is why St. Paul calls life everlasting “the grace of  God,” i.e., the result, or effect, or reward of God’s grace; and this is all given in Christ Jesus, etc., i.e., through Christ, our Redeemer and Mediator, the source of all graces; or in Christ, in quantum in ipso sumus per fidem et caritatem (St. Thomas).

From the foregoing it must not be concluded that the Christian may be indifferent in his actions and works, trusting all to the grace of God. Through Baptism he is initiated into the service of God. Therefore he must use his members as faithfully in serving justice, as aforetime he did in serving sin (verses 18-20), and thus assisted by the grace which God will give him, he will procure his sanctification and eternal salvation.


5 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 6:19-23”

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