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 1:16-25

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 9, 2011

Text in red, if any, are my additions.


A Summary of Romans 1:16-17~In these two verses St. Paul proposes the theme which he intends to develop in this Epistle, namely, that justification comes from faith in Christ, and not from the works of the Law. Being the Apostle of the Gentiles, and a debtor to all by reason of his vocation, he is not ashamed of the Gospel, but ready to announce it also to the Romans; for it is God’s power for producing salvation everywhere. See Introduction, IX. 2.

16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and to the Greek.

I am not ashamed, etc. Paul assures his readers that, in spite of the learning, riches, power, culture and elegance of Rome, he is not ashamed to preach there the doctrines of the Gospel, which to the pagans were ignorance and foolishness. He will not appeal by the graces of style, but by force of the truths which the Gospel contains. These truths have a divine, compelling force, because they draw their efficacy from God.

The power of God, i.e., the instrument through which God exercises His power to save men, by remitting their sins and giving them grace and eternal life.

To every one that believeth. These words show the universality of the Gospel’s saving force, on condition, of course, that it be accepted and believed, and that its teachings be put into practice. Faith is the foundation and root of all justification, and without it no one can please God and have part in His rewards.

To the Jew first, etc., i.e., the Gospel was first, in order of time, preached to the Jews, who prided themselves on their knowledge of the Scriptures, and then to the Greeks, who boasted of their learning and culture. According to the common interpretation the placing of the Jews first here indicates not only that they heard the Gospel first in order of time, but also that they received it first, in consequence of their privileges and the promises God made to them (cf. Rom 3:1-2; Rom 9:4-5; Rom 11:16-20; Acts 13:46).

The Jews called all Gentiles “Greeks,” and the Greeks considered the Jews, and all who did not speak the Greek tongue, as “barbarians.”

17. For the justice of God is revealed therein, from faith unto faith, as it is written: The just man liveth by faith.

The justice of God, i.e., the justice or justification given by God to man, which has its root and foundation in faith, and renders man holy and pleasing in God’s sight. This justification must be preceded, in the first instance, not by the habit, but by an act of faith.

Is revealed therein, i.e., justification is made manifest through the Gospel, inasmuch as it is a gift of God which before was hidden, but is now made known to the world. Before the Gospel it was not altogether clear just how justification was to be obtained, whether, namely, by faith in the Redeemer to come, or through the observance of the Law of Moses. But now the Gospel has made it entirely plain that justification comes through faith, and is extended to all who believe, be they Jews or Gentiles.

From faith unto faith. These words are variously understood. According to Calmet, Lagrange, etc., they refer to progress in faith. The justice of God is revealed in the Gospel, and takes its beginning in man from faith, as from its root, and increases and develops in faith. Cornely understands the words to refer to the extension of the faith among the believers, in omnes credentes; i.e., the justice of God, manifested through the Gospel, is not restricted to the Jews, but is extended to all those who believe in Christ, of whatever nationality they may be.

It is written, etc., to show that faith, even in the Old Testament, was the source of justification, St. Paul now cites one of the ancient Prophets. The words quoted are from Hab 2:4. Literally they express the manner in which the Jews, under the Chaldeans, should conduct themselves: they should live by faith in the promise of a deliverer (Cyrus) given them by Almighty God; and thus through patient expectation, accompanied by good works, they would at length be freed. Likewise, says the Apostle, applying the spiritual meaning of the Prophet’s words, he who is just by virtue of the faith revealed in the Gospel will, by good works and patient confidence in God’s promises, live and continually increase in faith and spirituality, unto life everlasting. In the application of these words of the Prophet, St. Paul makes the Babylonian captivity a figure of the state of sin, “and the law of the Israelites a symbol of that of good Christians” (Calmet).

The just man liveth by faith. With the Prophet there was question in these words of life granted in recompense of one’s faith; but with St. Paul there is question of the source of man’s justice: faith is the source, i.e., the foundation, of the spiritual life of the just man. Justice comes from faith, and not from the works of the Law, the Apostle means to say (St. Chrys., Cajetan, Lagrange, etc.).

The citation of Habacuc (Habakkuk) is from the Septuagint, although not literal. The Hebrew reads, “in his faithfulness,” instead of “by faith,” but the meaning is the same.

St. Paul in these verses (16, 17) has stated his thesis, that justification comes not from wisdom or learning, nor from the observance of the Law, but from faith.


A Summary of Romans 1:18-23~Having asserted that justification comes only through faith, the Apostle here proceeds to indicate that both Gentiles and Jews have grievously sinned, and are therefore in need of redemption (Rom 1:18-3:20); this redemption can now be obtained through faith in Christ (Rom 3:21-4:25).

In the present section St. Paul points out the sinfulness of the pagans. They could have known God, and did know Him, to some extent; but they failed to render Him the homage which was His due, with the result that the notion of Him which they had through human reason became obscured, and they turned in their wickedness to dumb idols.

18. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice:

For (γάρ = gar) indicates the reason why a revelation of the “justice of God” was necessary. Some, however, think that γάρ does not here denote a strict consequence, but rather a mild opposition (Lagrange). The threefold use of γάρ in verses16, 17 and 18 establishes a close connection between the content of those verses. According to Shedd, γάρ [“for] “introduces the reason why God has revealed the δικαιοσυνη [= righteousness] spoken of: namely, because he had previously revealed his ὀργή [orgē = wrath]. This shows that mercy is meaningless except in relation to justice, and that the attempt, in theology, to retain the doctrine of the divine love, without the doctrine of the divine wrath, is illogical.” (Text in brackets [] my additions to the quote from Shedd).  For some reason that escapes me, the Protestant NIV Bible simply eliminates the word, beginning the verse with The wrath of God.  James Moffatt and C.H. Dodd insist on taking γάρ as an adversative (But the wrath of God); a usage it rarely has. On cannot introduce a dichotomy between God’s Justice and his wrath, they are “two sides of the same coin” (Frank J.Matera).  But if our injustice commend the justice of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust, who executeth wrath?  (I speak according to man.) God forbid! Otherwise how shall God judge this world?  For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie, unto his glory, why am I also yet judged as a sinner?  And not rather (as we are slandered and as some affirm that we say) let us do evil that there may come good? Whose damnation is just (Rom 3:5-8).

The wrath of God is revealed, etc., is understood by older critics to refer to the anger which God will display at the Last Judgment. Cornely and other modern authorities understand it of anger already manifested. Doubtless it is to be understood of anger already displayed, the full and final issue of which, however, will be felt only at the Last Judgment. The Greek word αποκαλυπτεται (is revealed) is a present indicative middle. In other words, it denotes action already in progress (present indicative). the wrath of God is already  being manifested.

Wrath is attributed to God anthropomorphically, and means here nothing more than a manifestation of His justice (2 Sam 19:2; Neh 1:6). Without doubt God will at the Last Judgment manifest His justice towards all sinners in ways unseen and unrealized here below. St. Paul often speaks of God’s wrath in the eschatological sense (Rom 2:5; 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10, etc.), but it is evident from the present tense of the verb here, αποκαλυπτεται (is revealed), and from the context, that the Apostle is now speaking of wrath which God has already exercised on the Gentiles. Father Callan’s reference to the context is a reference to Rom 1:24, Rom 1:26 and Rom 1:28 and the phrase “God gave them up”.

Is revealed from heaven, i.e., God’s judgments on the sins of the Gentiles are sent out, so to say, from the place of His dwelling, from the seat of His presence.

Ungodliness means impiety, as opposed to the virtue of religion, which renders to God His due.

Injustice expresses more openly what is also implied in “ungodliness”; for to fail in piety is likewise to fail in justice to God. Both words refer to the injustice, immorality and other sins of the Gentiles.

The pagans are said to detain (κατεχοντων) the truth of God, etc., inasmuch as their state of injustice and sin excluded possession of the truth, and kept it, as it were, locked up from them. Truth and injustice are opposing forces; and as there is question here  of religious or moral truth, the former (i.e., truth) is said to be excluded, kept away, enslaved (κατεχοντων) by the latter.

Of God is not in the Greek; hence Dei after veritatem of the Vulgate should be omitted.

19. Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them.

In this verse St. Paul says that a natural knowledge of God, of His existence and of some of His attributes, to which unimpeded human reason can always attain, was possible to the pagans; and thence it follows that, had they rendered to God, as they could and should have known Him, the homage that was His due, they would have received further help from Him to enable them to lead moral lives and thus attain salvation. The words to το γνωστον (is known) of this verse mean the objective notion or knowledge of God, which man is able to acquire from the visible universe, notitia Dei objective sumpta; γνωστον is always used in this sense in the New Testament.

Is manifest, etc., i.e., is clear to them, made manifest externally among them. The Gentiles had before them that clear knowledge of God which is possible to man through the natural light of reason operating on the visible world around him (St. Thomas).

20. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.

The Apostle wisely addresses to the Gentiles first an argument from the natural order. The nature and attributes of God are called invisible things because they are not naturally perceptible as they are in themselves; but, by reason of things created and naturally visible, human reason has been able from the beginning of the world to rise to a knowledge of the existence of those things which it otherwise could not know, and which are at all times invisible to the senses (Council. Vat., Sess. III. cap. 2). Ever since there was a created mind capable of reflecting on the visible universe, therefore, it has been possible for man to rise to a knowledge of the existence of a Creator.

Naturally the first attribute of the Creator, which would be suggested to man’s mind, would be that of power; and upon further reflection it would be clear that such power could reside only in divinity. Hence the Gentiles were inexcusable in not knowing the existence of some of the attributes of the one true God, and in not rendering to Him the homage which was His by right.

21. Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God, or given thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Because (διότι = dioti) shows the connection with the preceding verse and introduces a development of the theme therein stated. St. Paul now goes on to explain why the pagans were inexcusable. Not because they had a perfect and explicit knowledge of God, and then refused to pay Him due honor and worship; but because they could have had sufficient notion of His existence and nature not to be guilty of the ignorance with which they are here reproached. Hence St. Thomas says that the first fault of the Gentiles was one of ignorance. Had they made proper use of the first knowledge which they had of God, they would have progressed to further understanding of Him, and would have recognized Him as God; they would have worshipped His supreme majesty, and rendered to Him honor and thanks as the Master and source of all good and blessings. But, having wilfully paralyzed the first help and obscured the first light that was given them, they were plunged into deeper darkness and error, with the result that, instead of thanking God as the cause of benefits, they potius suo ingenio et virtuti suae bona sua adscribebant (St. Thomas).

Heart here represents all of man’s higher faculties, both volitional and intellectual.

22. For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.

This verse does not explain what precedes, but rather indicates the supreme degree of error into which the pagans had fallen. The words are general and embrace not only philosophers, but all the Gentiles, represented by the most cultivated people.

For (Vulgate, enim) is not represented in the Greek.

23. And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts, and of creeping things.

So far in their perversity and ignorance did the pagans go that they paid to mere creatures, such as men, birds, beasts, and reptiles,—nay, even to the images and representations of these things, the honor and worship which is due to the eternal God alone. The folly of the Gentiles was in their conception of the Deity, whom they came to regard as represented by created and material objects; and their false notions begot a false worship.

The likeness of the image, i.e., the image which represented such things as man, birds, beasts and the like. Among the Greeks and Romans idols had the figure of a man, but among the Egyptians they took the form of animals.


A Summary of Romans 1:24-32~Moral disorders follow upon religious error as a chastisement.  They who dishonored God were consequently permitted to dishonor themselves. First they degraded their own bodies by impurities; then they turned to sins against nature; and finally they were given up to a reprobate sense, plunging into every kind of sin, thus meriting the punishment of eternal death.

24. Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves.

God gave them up, etc., i.e., God in just punishment of their perversity withdrew grace from the pagans, and thus permitted them to fall into hateful and disgraceful sins (St. Aug., Serm. LVII. 9). That which was most noble in them, their reason, became the slave of their sensual passions. This judgment of God, however, was not definitive, because, according to St. Paul himself, the fallen Gentiles could rise again through the grace of Christ; neither does it mean that every individual among the pagans was a reprobate. On the contrary, we know that the grace of Christ’s death reached out beyond the saints of the chosen people and touched some of the Gentiles also, as is recognized by the Apostle in Rom 2:14-16.

25. Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Who changed the truth of God, etc. Better, “Seeing that they changed,” etc. This can be understood in two ways, according to St. Thomas: (a) Either that, in their perversity, they changed the true knowledge which they had received from God into false doctrines; or (b) that they attributed the nature of the Divinity, which is truth itself, to an idol, which is a lie, inasmuch as it is not God. The Prophets often spoke of idols as lies (Isa 44:20; Jer 13:25; Jer 16:19). The first meaning is preferred by Toletus, Lipsius, Lagrange, etc.; the second by Cornely, Godet, etc.

3 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 1:16-25”

  1. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Romans 1:16-25). […]

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  3. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 1:16-25. On site. On all of chapter 1. […]

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