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 MacEvily’s Commentary on Galatians 5:16-24

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 1, 2012

This post includes Fr. MacEvilly’s  paraphrase of the text he is commenting on. The paraphrase is provided in purple text and follows the actual verse being paraphrased. Text in red are my additions.

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

This, then, I say, and commend to you in a particular manner: live according to the impulse and dictates of the Holy Ghost, and you shall not consent to. or accomplish the desires of the flesh.

I say then.  He uses this emphatic form of expression in order to arrest their attention. Walk in the spirit. As all the precepts were reduced to charity (verse 14), so are all the means of practising this comprehensive and excellent virtue reduced to this one. Walk, i.e., live according to the dictates of God s Spirit, who is the animating principle of Christian life, and you shall not fulfil,; i.e., perform, follow after, or consent to the desires of the flesh, i.e., of corrupt nature, and of the sensual passions of man. The Apostle does not say, you shall not experience the depraved motions of concupiscence, since this is impossible in the present order of things but you shall not fulfil, &c.

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 desires to which the flesh, or concupiscence, impels us, are quite opposed to the desires to which the spirit or grace impels us. They are borne towards objects quite different in their nature (concupiscence makes us wish for carnal, earthly things; but the spirit of grace makes us desire spiritual, heavenly, and eternal things); for, these are mutually opposed to each other, in such a way as that just men often do and suffer certain things against their will.

It is not without cause that he told them to walk in the spirit, and not fulfil the lusts of the flesh: for, the motions of both are quite contrary and opposite. By  the flesh, are meant the disorderly motions of concupiscence that is to say, the disorderly motions of corrupt nature, both in the concupisible and irascible such appetites, as the desires of lust and gluttony in the one, and of envy and anger in the other. The word flesh also includes, the motions of the superior or rational appetite, such as the desires of vain glory, and the rest. This concupiscence, whether it appertains to the superior or inferior appetite, is called the flesh, because the concupiscence of the flesh, it is, that domineers principally over man in his present fallen state. The spirit, refers to the Holy Ghost, who produces in us, holy desires by his grace. So that you do not the things that you would;  ινα μη α εαν θελητε ταυτα ποιητ. The Protestant rendering, that you cannot do, &c., is a corruption of the text (see note below); the consequence of the struggle and opposition between the desires of the corrupt and disorderly  passions of our fallen nature, and the holy desires to which the dictates of the Holy Ghost impel us, is that the most perfect can neither perform all the good, nor avoid all the evil they wish; they cannot avoid the involuntary motions of concupiscence, and the disorderly desires of the superior faculties of the soul. The Greek μη is a qualified negation, unlike the absolute οὐ. Modern translations differ considerably on how to best translate the passage  which, in part, is dictated by how one understands what the phrase εαν θελητε (“that you would,”  “that you do,” etc.) of the passage refers to. See Frank J. Matera’s Notes on Gal 5:17 in his Sacra Pagina Commentary on Galatians.

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

But if you are under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, you are no longer under the law; you arebeyond its threats and menaces, since you voluntarily and spontaneously perform, from motives of love, what the law enjoins with a threat of punishment. Hence, you can set its threats and menaces at defiance.

You are not under the law. The phrase under the law is used in reference to a man who is unable to fulfil the precepts of the Law, and is, therefore, rendered liable to the threats which it holds out against its violators. The law pointed out to man his duties, but of itself it did not furnish him with the necessary means for their fulfilment. By saying, you are not under the law, he shows the inutility of disputes respecting the legal ceremonies.

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

(To obviate any mistake in a matter of such moment, I will recount to you the works of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit). The works to which the flesh, that is to say, the disorderly passions of concupiscence, whether of the superior or inferior appetite, incites us, are manifest viz., all kinds of carnal uncleanness:

He recounts the works to which the flesh, i.e., concupiscence in the sense already explained, incites us. He reckons among them not only the defilements of the flesh, but spiritual sins also, sins proceeding from a superior disorderly appetite, such as sins of heresy, envy, &c. Are manifest; it is well known to all the faithful that they proceed not from the Holy Ghost. Which are  Translates the Greek ατινα εστιν, meaning “to which class belong,”  The meaning then is “to which class belong fornication,” &c.; It is justly observed by Commentators that great prominence is given here by the Apostle to sins of carnal uncleanness; because the Pagans of old regarded such as indifferent in their nature. In the ordinary Greek we have adultery placed before fornication, however, adultery, is rejected by the best critics. Immodesty is not read in the Greek; it has the same meaning with luxury. The sins mentioned in this verse refer to all kinds of impurity. It is remarked by interpreters, that the Apostle groups the different vices enumerated here under four heads: Firstly, impurity, as in this verse; secondly (in verse 20), impiety, as idolatry, witchcrafts  thirdly (verse 21), the vices of the irascible appetite, such as enmitiesmurders; fourthly (also in verse 21), gluttony and drunkenness, &c.

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

Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects,

Idolatry probably refers to their eating meats offered to idols, either with an erroneous conscience, or in circumstances calculated to give scandal. (See 1 Cor 11:11~Fly from the service of idols, and also 1 Cor 11:7~neither become ye idolaters).

Witchcrafts-all compacts or communication with the devil, whereby our neighbour is injured. The Greek word for witchcrafts, φαρμακεια, conveys, that charms or drugs were employed for the injurious effect. Enmities, deep feelings of hatred. Contentions: verbal wranglings and disputes, having for object superiority in argument rather than the vindication of truth. Emulations:  the inordinate seeking of self pre-eminence, or the sorrow arising from the privation of the goods possessed by another. Wraths: strong, furious desires of vengeance. Quarrels:  the contentious disposition to fight with every one. Dissensions: differences existing between neighbours, or between those closely allied to us whether by ties of nature or grace. Sects: in Greek, αιρεσεις, heresies), refer to disputes in religiousdoctrine, or rather opinions opposed to sound doctrine, in which sense the word is used. (1 Corinthians 11:19).

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.

Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and the like, regarding which I now tell you beforehand, as I have told you already, that the men who are guilty of them shall never obtain a share in the inheritance of God’s kingdom.

Envies: sorrow arising from our neighbour’s prosperity. It differs from emulation; (verse 20), thus: emulation is the sorrow arising from our being deprived of a certain good possessed by others; whereas envy is the sorrow arising from our neighbour s possessing it; envy would wish the good never to have existed. Murders: the Greek φονοι is wanting in the Codex Vaticanus, but supported by MSS. generally.

Drunkenness refers to the excessive indulgence in inebriating drinks, whether attended with a deprivation of reason or not, vae qui potentes estis ad bibendum vinum et viri fortes ad miscendam ebrietatem  (“Woe to you that are mighty to drink wine, and stout men at drunkenness” Isaiah 5:22). Revellings: excess in eating, and inordinate desires of gluttony, spending too much time in feasting, &c.

I foretold you, i.e., I tell you before the day of judgment arrives. It is to be remarked that some of the foregoing sins admit of levity of matter, and must be aggravated by circumstances in order to be mortal. It is, moreover, deserving of remark, that most of them are spiritual sins, which, it is to be feared, are seldom scrupled as they deserve.

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity,

But the works which the spirit produces in us by his grace, as means of securing god’s inheritance, are, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity.

The fruit of the Spirit: so called, because the Holy Ghost is their principal author. It is to be borne in mind, that three of the fruits of the Spirit expressed in the Vulgate are wanting in the Greek. This is accounted for by many on the supposition, that different translators gave different meanings to some of the Greek words. The same Greek word, μακροθυμια (verse 22), was rendered patience, longanimity. Another, πραοτης (verse 23), was rendered modesty, mildness; and another, εγκρατεια (23), continency, chastity. All these were inserted in the Vulgate; and hence, we have three words more than are to be found in the Greek. Charity: is the great source from which the other virtues flow. Joy: the pleasure arising from the good of our neighbour, opposed to envy and emulation. Peace: the tranquillity of soul arising from the testimony of a good conscience, opposed to enmities. Patience, longanimity, are both expressed by one word in the Greek, and mean, the spirit of enduring adversity, and bearing with the defects of others. Benignity: that amiable sweetness of temper, and of accommodation to the disposition of others, opposed to contentions, quarrelsGoodness: the benevolent desire of doing good and serving all, opposed to homicides and witchcrafts. Mildness, modesty: These two have but one corresponding word in the Greek, and mean, that tractable evenness of temper which avoids all extremes of conduct.

Gal 5:23  Mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law.

Mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against the persons practising these, the law has no effect. They require no penal enactments to induce them to perform their duties; hence, they are not under the law, but far beyond the reach of its threats and menaces.

Faith: honourable fidelity in the fulfilment of promises and contracts. Continency, chastity: these also have but one corresponding word in the Greek; they mean the spirit of temperance and moderation in desires, opposed to the vices of lust and gluttony. Against such there is no law, i.e., over the persons who practise these virtues, the law can exercise no dominion. They can set its threats and menaces at defiance. These latter words have the same meaning as the words, verse 18~you are not under the law.(See 1 Tim 1:19).

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

But they who truly discharge the duties of their Christian profession, have mortified in themselves this carnal concupiscence which wars against the Spirit, with its passions and wicked desires.

And they that are Christ’s. In the chief MSS. it is, “they that are of Christ
Jesus,” have crucified, that is, mortified their corrupt desires; he says, crucified, in allusion to the death of Christ, which was the model of ourdeath to the passions. Their flesh, the Greek has, την σαρκα, the flesh.


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