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

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Galatians 5:16-25

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 20, 2012

Gal 5:16  I say then: Walk in the spirit: and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

I say then: Walk in the Spirit. The summary, the one aim of the whole of this Epistle, is this: Walk not in the law, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. The root of all your trouble is want of the Spirit: if you had Him, you would shut out as well the legal as the carnal life.

To walk in the Spirit is to order our whole life after the impulse of the Spirit, who inspired us to works of piety, to prayer, faith, charity, and works of mercy. This Spirit the Apostles received abundantly at Pentecost, as did the first Christians, and they added to the gift they then received by loyally following His workings, by labouring and suffering everything, if only they might bring others to Christ, by fiery charity and burning zeal. Whither has fled that Spirit now? Lord Jesus, kindle in us that fire which Thou camest to send on earth, and which Thou didst will to burn vehemently.

Gal 5:17  For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh: For these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would.

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit. From this the Manichæans inferred that man has two souls—one spiritual, which is good and the gift of a good god, and another carnal, which is evil and the gift of an evil god. Some philosophers, too, hold that man has two souls—one sensational, by which he feels, eats, and generates as do the beasts; and another rational, by which he reasons and understands as do the angels; and they depend for this conclusion on the contrary appetites and mental operations found in the same individual.

1. But it is certain that in man there is but one soul, and that a rational one, but which also in a special degree embraces vegetative and sensational powers. Hence, as man has in him both sets of powers, it is no wonder if he experiences contrary appetites, carrying him to diverse objects, and exciting him to action when they are present. In its powers the soul of man is twofold or rather threefold.

2. The word flesh stands by metonymy for that concupiscence which is in the flesh, impressing on it its own ideas and desires.

3. This concupiscence resides not only in the sensitive appetite, but also in the rational, as S. Augustine points out (Conf. viii. 5); for as in the domain of desire, it excites the appetites of hunger and procreation, in the domain of self-protective instinct the passions of envy and hatred, so in the domain of reason it arouses the desire to excel and the spirit of curiosity. All our mental powers are infected by the leaven of original sin, but they are described as the flesh, because the desires of the flesh are those that are most frequently and most violently aroused, and so are the principal part of our desires, and give their name to the whole. Hence the Apostle uses the phrase “works of the flesh,” i.e., of concupiscence, not only for fornication, drunkenness, and revellings, which are strictly fleshly sins, but also for such things as the service of idols and envy, which are strictly sins of the rational part of our nature.

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, because it lusteth for carnal things, and the Spirit against the flesh, because it desires spiritual goods. This warfare is carried on within between the flesh and the Spirit; their forces are marshalled by the Apostle when he says, on the one side (vs 19), The works of the flesh are manifest, which are, &c., and on the other (vs 22), But the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, &c. Prudentius gives a vivid description of this warfare in his Psychomachia, and S. Augustine in his “Confessions” (viii. 11). Cassian (Collat. iv. 11) describes it as follows: “The flesh delights in lust and lasciviousness; the spirit can hardly be brought to acknowledge the existence of these natural desires. The flesh seeks for sleep and food; the spirit is so engaged in fasting and watching that with difficulty it brings itself to consent to the necessities of nature. The flesh would abound in this world’s goods; the spirit is content with the slenderest provision of daily bread. The flesh loves the baths, and troops of flatterers; the spirit rejoices in squalor, and in the silence of the desert. The flesh is fed on honours and praises; the spirit joys in the persecutions and injuries inflicted on it.” See to the motives of grace and of nature depicted by Thomas à Kempis in his “Imitation of Christ” (lib. iii. c. 59), in his own simple but vigorous style.

The Abbot Pamenius, in his “Lives of the Fathers” (vii. 27), rightly describes concupiscence as “an evil will, a devil attacking us;” or, as Abbot Achilles in the same passage puts it, as “a handle of the devil.”

Augustine at one time thought that this warfare was waged in a sinner under the law, not in one living under grace; but he afterwards modified this opinion (Retract. i. 24). It is beyond question that it is found in the Saints, nay, is the more fierce in proportion as they strive to live more spiritually. Accordingly, S. Augustine says (Serm. 43 de Verbis Domini): “The Spirit lusteth against the flesh in good men, not in evil men, who have not the spirit of God for the flesh to lust against.”

Again, commenting on Psa_76:2. (A.V.), S. Augustine says: “You have to meet an attack not only from the wiles of the devil, but also from within yourself—against your bad habits, against your old evil life, which is ever drawing you to its wonted courses. On the other hand you are held back by the new life, while you still belong to the old. Hence you are lifted up by the joy of the new, you are weighed down by the burden of the old. The war is against yourself; but just where it is irksome to yourself it is pleasing to God, and where it is pleasing to God you gain power to conquer, for He is with you who overcometh all things. Hear what the Apostle saith: ‘With my mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.’ How with the mind? Because your evil life is hateful to you. How with the flesh? Bemuse you are beset by evil suggestions and delights. But from union with God comes victory. In part you go before; in part you follow after. Betake yourself to Him who will lift you up. Being weighed down with the burden of the old man, cry aloud and say: ’0 wretched man that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death, from the burden which is weighing me down’—for the body which is corrupted weigheth down the soul. But why is this warfare permitted to last so long, even till all evil lusts are swallowed up? It is that you may understand that the punishment is in yourself. Your scourge is in yourself, and proceeds from yourself, and therefore your quarrel is against yourself. This is the penalty imposed on any one who rebels against God, that as he would not have peace with God he shall have war within himself. But do you hold your members bound against your evil lusts. If anger, for example, is roused, remain close to God and hold your hand. It will not do more than rise if it finds no weapons. The attack is on the side of anger; the arms, however, are with you; let the attacking force find no arms, and he will soon learn not to rise if he finds that his rising is to no purpose.” Cf. my comments on Rom 7 in fine.

These are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would.  You would wish to be free from the feelings of lust, anger, and gluttony, so as not to be hindered from charity, temperance, chastity, and prayer; and yet you are not free, nor can be free in this life. Or, on the other hand, you would wish to do cheerfully heroic deeds of virtue, but often you cannot, because the flesh is contrary. Anselm well says: “Your lusts do not allow you to do what you wish; do not permit them to do what they wish, and then neither you nor they will attain your ends. Although lusts rise in you, yet they are not consummated if you withhold your consent. In the same way, though there may be in you good works of the Spirit, yet they are not consummated either, because you cannot do them cheerfully and perfectly, while you have the pain of resisting your lusts.”

Gal 5:18  But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.

This anticipates a possible objection of the Galatians that they had apparently only exchanged one yoke for another heavier one, under which they had constantly to fight a tedious and irksome battle. The Apostle replies to this that if they were led by the Spirit they were not the slaves of concupiscence but its masters, and so were not under the law, inasmuch as they kept its provisions not from fear, but by spontaneously doing what it bade, and restraining the motions of concupiscence forbidden by it.

The Galatians were not, says S. Paul, under the law as a compelling force, still less under it as accusing and condemning, but they were under it as binding the conscience. Even so, however, they kept the law of their own accord, and so might be said to be outside the law, or above the law; not under it, but rather under the Spirit. This is why, after enumerating the fruits of the Spirit, he adds, Against such there is no law (vs 23).

Gal 5:19  Now the works of the flesh are manifest: which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury,

Now the works of the flesh are manifest. The works that spring from the flesh, i.e., from concupiscence, as I said in the note to ver. 17.

Fornication. On the works of the flesh in detail, see Jerome, Anselm, and S. Thomas.

Uncleanness. Effeminacy. The effeminate are guilty of mutual pollution, contrary to the instincts of nature.

Luxury. Any wanton, and, according to Jerome, extraordinary form of lust. He adds: “The works of the married even, if not done with delicacy and modesty, as in the sight of God, and if merely for the procreation of children, come under the Apostle’s description of uncleanness and lasciviousness.” This, of course, must be understood of mortal sin; cf., e.g., the act of matrimony is performed otherwise than nature dictates, or if its consummation is purposely prevented; for then both are guilty of mortal sin, excluding them from the Kingdom of heaven. Otherwise lust in the married is only venial.

Gal 5:20  Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects,

Wraths. Anger is the desire for revenge, and is a deadly sin when a bitter revenge is sought, or an object on which to bestow the angry feelings. It is venial only when it is instinctive, or when it aims at some slight revenge. The Apostle, therefore, is dealing here with the various sins enumerated in their highest and extremest form, for it is then only that they exclude from the Kingdom of heaven (ver. 21).

Sects. Greek, αιρεσεις (hairesis = Heresies). Acts of private judgment against the teaching of the Church. These evince great temerity and presumption.

Gal 5:21  Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.

Revellings. This seems to teach that immoderate indulgence in the pleasures of the table is a mortal sin, as it excludes from the Kingdom of heaven. On this I remark that some Theologians hold from this verse that gluttony and lust are mortal sins, not only if they impair the use of reason, but if they be excessive. They rely on the case of the rich man in the parable, who was condemned, not because he was a drunkard, but because he fared sumptuously every day; on the words of Isaiah (Isa 5:22), where woe, i.e., eternal damnation, is threatened against those who are mighty to drink strong drink; on the fact that excess in eating may be more than bestial; and they ask why should gluttony, so degrading to reason as it is, not be a mortal sin, if pollution is.

But the common opinion of doctors is in favour of a milder view, viz., that excess in eating is not a deadly sin, except when it seriously impairs the health, or causes some disease; or when a man eats with the object of vomiting, so as to commence again—and even this some hold to be not a deadly sin.

1. Note that revelings represents the Greek word κω̃μοι, which stands for the lascivious words and actions of drunkards, for obscene songs, dances, and kisses. Hence Bacchus is called Comus, and κωμάζειν is to revel, or to be wanton. Cf. notes to Rom_13:13.
2. If the word is to be understood of banquetings, then it must be also understood of them in their most extreme and finished form, when men sit at table till they are overcome with excess. Cf. Isa_28:8. As in the preceding words the Apostle subjoins variance to wrath, and heresies to seditions, and murders to envyings, so here he subjoins revellings to drunkenness, the second member in each case showing what the first tends to end in. Cf. Prov 23:20.

1. As to the opinions referred to above, I remark as follows. (a) to fare sumptuously is by itself a venial sin, and becomes mortal only when it leads to vomiting and similar excesses. (b) It also becomes a mortal sinner per accidens, i.e., when it is united to drunkenness, lust, slander, cruelty, and contempt for the poor. This last was the sin of Dives.

2. The denunciation of Isa 5:22 is directed against those who mix their drinks so as to make them more intoxicating, and who make a point of making themselves and their guests drunken, and think their hospitality disgraced if they fail in this.

3. Undoubtedly gluttony is a base thing in itself, but so are all our bodily functions; but they are not entirely contrary to right reason, unless indeed they deprive reason of its power to act. The case is different with aberrations of the generative powers. The act of copulation is ordained for a special end, and in its proper method. To defeat this, or to elude the end, is to go contrary to the workings of God, and is therefore a deadly sin.

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity,
Gal 5:23  Mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law.

But the fruit of the Spirit is charity. The works of the Spirit are opposed to the works of the flesh, i.e., those works which are performed through the influence of the Holy Spirit, by which we merit that kingdom from which the works of the flesh exclude those who do them.

Observe that these fruits are different dispositions, or rather acts, of the different virtues—the acts that the virtues beget in the soul, such as joy and peace. Observe, too, that the Apostle does not give a complete catalogue of all these fruits, but only of the more conspicuous ones, and of such as are opposed to the works of the flesh just specified. And in the third place, notice that the first fruit of the Spirit is charity, it being the parent of all the rest.

Joy. The joy which springs from a clear conscience, one free from guilt and from mental disturbances. A contented mind is a perpetual feast. Cyprian (lib. de Disciplinâ et Bono Pudicitiæ) says “The greatest pleasure is to have conquered pleasure; and there is no greater victory than that that is obtained over our lusts.” On the other hand, the fruit of concupiscence is grief and sorrow. As Chrysostom says (Hom. 13 in Acts), “impure pleasure is like that obtained by a scrofulous man when he scratches himself. For to this pleasure, so short-lived, there succeeds a more enduring pain.”

Peace. The peace, says Jerome, enjoyed by the mind that is free from all passions. The pure mind, undisturbed by fear of punishments, or remorse for past sins, is in friendship with God, enjoys a wonderful calmness, and inspires its tranquillity into others, so that, as much as possible, it lives at peace with all men. This is a peace that passeth all understanding (Phil 4:7); and even if holy living brought no other reward than this, it yet would be quite sufficient of itself to stir us up to endure all sufferings, and undergo all labours.

Patience. To have peace with ourselves and with others, we have need of patience to bear cheerfully every ill, especially those arising from the rough, haughty, or peevish tempers of others.

Benignity. A man may be good and generous, and yet lack that courtesy and gentleness in word and deed which is one token of holiness. Cf. Wisd. 7:22. Hence the common people are wont to gauge a man’s holiness by his gentle courtesy, and to suffer themselves to be guided in their actions by one who shows this fruit of the Spirit.

Goodness. A disposition to do kindnesses to others, goodness being much the same as beneficence. Jerome says that Zeno defines this latter thus: “Goodness is a virtue which does good to others, or a virtue from which usefulness to others springs, or a disposition which makes a man the benefactor of his fellows.” This is an evident token of the Holy Spirit, and was most manifest in Christ. Cf. Act_10:38: If you have His Spirit, do harm to no one, do good to all.

Meekness. One, says Anselm, that is tractable, versatile, not self-opinionated; as opposed to one who is headstrong, who will bear no yoke, who is prompt to revenge an injury, and give blow for blow.

Faith. This, says Jerome, is a theological virtue, opposed to heresy, which makes us believe all that we ought to believe, even when opposed to nature, sense, and reason. But this faith is not so much a fruit of spiritual grace as its root and beginning. Accordingly, Anselm’s explanation is better, who says that faith is loyal adherence to our promises, as opposed to dishonesty and lying. As the Holy Spirit is :steadfast, certain, sure [Wisd. vii. 23], He makes His followers, like Himself, faithful and true. Or, thirdly, faith here may be taken for the disposition to believe what others say, for the spirit that is free from suspicion and distrust, for that charity which believeth all things, for the candid, open, and receptive mind.

Modesty. Modesty is the virtue which imposes a mode or rule to all external actions, and controls our speech, laughter, sport. It proceeds from the inward power we have to control our passions. Ambrose (0ffic. i. 18) says. “According to our external actions the hidden man of the heart is judged. From them he is declared to be light, or boastful, or heady, or earnest, or firm, or pure, or of good judgment.” Cf. also Ecclus. 19:27. Hence S. Augustine’s counsel (Reg. 3): “In all your actions let there be nothing to offend the eyes of any one, but only what becometh holiness.”

Continence. Abstinence, says Vatablus, from food and drink, or, as Anselm says, continence, i.e., abstinence from lust. Continence differs from chastity, as war differs from peace. Hence continence is in the militant stage, and is but chastity inchoate. But it would be better to take temperance, with Aristotle, as a general virtuous habit of the soul, restraining man from all lusts and passions.  S. Jerome says: “Temperance has to do not only with sexual appetite, but also with food and drink, with anger, and menial disturbance, and the love of detraction. There is this difference between modesty and temperance, that the former is found in the perfect, of whom the Saviour says, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,’ just as He says of Himself’, ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.’ But temperance is found in those that are in the way of virtue, who have not yet arrived at the goal; in whose minds impure thought and desires arise, but only to be checked; whose souls are polluted, but not overcome; in whom act does not follow evil suggestion. It is not enough, however, that the desires should be under the power of temperance; it must rule also over the three other emotions of sorrow, joy, and fear.”

N.B.—The Greek MSS. here are imperfect, and want the word for modesty, and hence give only nine fruits of the Spirit, in which they are followed by Augustine and Jerome. On these fruits of the Spirit, see the remarks of S. Thomas in the Secunda Secundæ, of his Summa, where he deals with them in detail.

Against such there is no law. There is no law to condemn those who show these fruits of the Spirit, and accordingly those who are led by the Spirit are not under the law, as was said in ver. 18.

Gal 5:24  And they that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences.

And they that are Christ’s, &c. This sets out the preceding antithesis between the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit. Two armies are ranged in battle array; but Christ’s soldier crucifies his flesh with its affections and lusts, and not only these, but by fastings, hair-shirts, labours, and penances, he crucifies the corrupt flesh itself, as being the seed-ground of lust. So Anselm; but it is, better to take flesh, not properly, but as standing for the concupiscence residing in the flesh, as in ver. 17. Those who are led by the Spirit of Christ have crucified their lust, their corrupt nature with its vicious tendencies and actual vices. “They have subdued it,” says S. Augustine, “out of that holy fear which abideth for ever, which makes us afraid of offending Him whom we love with all our heart and soul and mind.”

Note that concupiscence here is, as it were, a soul: its vices are its faculties; its concupiscences are its acts. Christians crucify these, i.e., crush them with such pain as that endured by Christ when He was crucified. This they do (a) by the fear of hell and of God; (b) by reason, and a constant will, and a firm purpose of pleasing God; (c) by a vigilant watch over their eyes and their senses; (d) by prayer; and (e) by fastings, watchings, and other acts of austerity.

Gal 5:25  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

If we live in the Spirit. If we have this inward life of grace, let us live outwardly as the Spirit dictates. The Greek word used here denotes to follow a settled plan or order. Cf. notes to chap iv. 25. But according to Chrysostom and Theophylact, it is an exhortation to follow the rule of the Spirit of Christ, and not deviate into the ways of Judaism.

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