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

Bernardin de Piconio’s Commentary on Galatians 1

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 27, 2012

Chapter 1. In this chapter the Apostle emphatically declares, in opposition to his unworthy antagonists in Galatia, that his Apostolical mission was derived directly from Jesus Christ: and pronounces an anathema against those who endeavoured to pervert the truth of Christ’s Gospel.

Gal 1:1. Paul, Apostle not from men, nor through man; but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.

Apostle, not from men, nor through man. Saint Paul’s commission as a divine teacher was not derived from human authority, like that of his opponents, who could advance no other claim than their own appointment of themselves; but derived originally from God. It did not come to him through any human agency whatever, as did the appointment of St. Matthias, who was chosen to a place in the Apostolic College by the other Apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; and as is the case with all the prelates and pastors of the Church who have exercised their office since. It was derived from God the Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord, not in his mortal life, but after his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, seated at God’s right hand and reigning in glory and the exercise of divine omnipotence. The commission of the pastors of the Church now is divine as to its origin, but human as regards the means of its communication. This was not the case with Saint Paul, or the other Apostles.

Gal 1:2. And all the brethren who are with me, to the Churches of Galatia:

And all the brethren with me. The whole Church of Rome, assuming this Epistle to have been written there. Saint Chrysostom notes that whereas in other Epistles Saint Paul gives his own name only, or with one or two others, he here joins with him all the Christians who were with him, the dangerous tendency of the errors he had to oppose, and the peril of the salvation of the Galatians, requiring a more formal demonstration than usual. He addresses all the Churches of Galatia collectively, because they were all infected with these errors. And he omits the usual designation, beloved or holy; his object being to warn them that they were in danger of losing, if they had not already lost, their faith.

Gal 1:3. Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace to you, the source of spiritual good; and peace, either the repose of the mind in faith, or as St. Augustine thinks, reconciliation with God. The Father is the originating, the Son the meritorious, cause of grace and of peace.

Gal 1:4. Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from the present wicked world, according to the will of our God and Father,

Christ became the meritorious cause of grace and peace to us, by becoming the victim of our sins . This statement has an important bearing on the argument which follows, which goes to show that divine grace and the peace of the soul with God are not attainable by compliance with the law of Moses, nor can such compliance in any way aid in effecting it. Grace and peace are from our Lord Jesus Christ, because he gave himself for our sins.

Saint John tells us that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the power of the devil (1 John 5:19). But the world is not evil in itself, or by any fault of its Creator; the evil that is in it comes from the sins of men. Our deliverance from this present evil world is the effects of Christ’s death, but it may be effected without the necessity of withdrawing us from God’s visible creation, by taking away sin. This Christ did freely and voluntarily, but in accordance with the will of God, his Father by nature, ours by grace.

Gal 1:5. To whom is glory for ever and ever. Amen.

To whom be the glory for ever. There is no verb in this sentence in the Greek, and the article is prefixed to the word glory. The Vulgate reads Cui est gloria.

Gal 1:6. I wonder that thus so quickly you are removing from him who called you into the grace of Christ, into another Gospel.

The Apostle, without further preface, plunges at once into his subject, expressing his horror and surprise at the change which had come, in so short a time, over the faith of the Galatians. The word thus is not in the Greek, and Erasmus says the phrase is absurd, but he acknowledges that it is so read by Tertullian and Saint Augustine, as it is also by Ambrose. I wonder: I cannot conceive how it has happened. That thus, after you have received God’s grace, done such good works, suffered so much for Christ: and so quickly, you are removing. Not removed. The use of the present tense is very noticeable, indicating that the apostasy he feared had not actually taken place, or at least was not general, though there was imminent danger of it. From the faith and service of Almighty God, who has called you into the grace of Christ, the communion of the Catholic Church, justification, sanctification, salvation, you are turning to another Gospel. Thus their perversion was nothing less than apostasy from God and Christ.

Gal 1:7. Which is not another; unless there are some, who trouble you, and wish to change the Gospel of Christ.

Which is not a Gospel at all, for there is but one. Those who trouble you are trying to subvert, overthrow, and destroy the Gospel of Christ. This is in reality their design and enterprise, though they disguise and conceal it by calling what they teach, the faith of Christ. The false teachers of heresy then, as false teachers of heresy always do, called the mixture of Judaism and Christianity which they had invented, and were endeavouring to get the Galatians to accept, by the name of the Christian religion. This, says Saint Chrysostom, was their craft and deceit. The nature and characteristic of the Christian faith is salvation by faith in Christ. To teach the necessity of circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic institutions, is wholly to change its nature, and subvert and overthrow the Gospel of Christ. It was not another Gospel, but it was a new religion.

Gal 1:8. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a Gospel to you beyond that which we have preached to you; let him be anathema.
Gal 1:9. As we have already said, I now also say again; if any shall have preached a Gospel to you beside that you received; let him be anathema.

The heretics falsely cited the names of St. Peter, St. John, and St. James, as supporting their error. St. Paul does not name these Apostles, but by saying an angel from heaven, as St. Chrysostom observes, he includes all authority and knowledge of celestial things, while by including himself in the anathema, in case he changed his opinions, he also includes every earthly friendship, influence, and relation. The Gospel he taught them was true, and all the Angels, Apostles, and political leaders in God’s universe, could not shake its truth. Lest he should be thought to have made this statement, which certainly is a startling one, hastily and without consideration, he deliberately repeats it in the same words. The Greek  παρ ο is rendered in the Vulgate by præter and præterquam, but its meaning is different from, or inconsistent with. Further and completer instruction on the lines already laid down is not a subject of anathema, and as St. Augustine observes, the Apostle himself expressed a wish to visit the Thessalonians to supply what was wanting to their faith (1 Thess 2:17, 1 Thess 3:1-2). Heretics have distorted what Saint Paul says to the Galatians, as if it conveyed an anathema agamst the decrees of Popes and Councils, as being an addition to the faith taught by the Apostles. But the decrees of Popes and Councils, while they explain the faith, do not cross its borders; and while they teach explicitly what Scripture teaches implicitly, they contain nothing opposed to it. If the Catholic Faith in St. Paul’s days was so certain that he does not hesitate to anathematize the whole College of the Apostles, and the Angels of heaven, if they taught anything contrary to it; it is even more certain now, confirmed by the tradition of so many centuries, the innumerable miracles wrought by God in support of it, and the general consent and agreement of mankind.

Gal 1:10. For am I now trying to persuade men, or God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I still pleased men I should not be Christ’s servant.

St. Paul is sensible that the anathema he has just pronounced will give great offence in Galatia. But he does not shrink. What I have said, is said because it is God’s truth: I am quite indifferent what men may think of it. If my object in life was to please men, I should be at this moment the leader of the Jews; perhaps their king. A servant of Christ, I should never have become. St. Chrysostom says: I am not bidding for a leader’s place, nor seeking disciples, nor ambitious of your praise. I seek to please God, not men; and if I sought to please men, I should still be a persecutor of the Church of God. There is undoubtedly here a reflection on his opponents, whose judaizing tendency was adopted in the hope of conciliating the favour and support of Jews, still politically powerful in Western Asia. The Jewish religion was at that time tolerated and fostered by the Roman laws, whereas there were many indications and threatenings of the coming persecution of the Christian Church, which broke out a few years later; and the Judaizers sought to obtain in advance the protection and support of Jews. They endeavoured to persuade the Jews to countenance them; to please them by advocating the ceremonies of their law. Saint Paul sought to please God, by courageous adherence to his truth.

It is impossible to serve God and man. The bride cannot have two husbands, nor the servant two laws. God made the soul of man for himself, and admits no rival. Unum uni, una uni, was the exclamation of the ecstatic brother Aegidius, the companion of St. Francis. One heart for God, one bride for Christ. At the same time, while to please man for man’s sake is sin, to please man for God’s sake is charity. Let every one please his neighbour (Rom 15:2). I please all, in all thing (1 Cor 10:33). Man, says St. Augustine, does not please to any good purpose, unless it is for God’s sake, and that he may be pleased and glorified, in hope that his grace may be accorded by human ministry and agency. For in this case it is not man, but God, that pleases.

Gal 1:11. For I make it known to you brethren, of the Gospel which was preached by me, that it is not according to man.
Gal 1:12. For neither did I receive it from man, nor learned it: but through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The remainder of this chapter is addressed to the slander of his opponents, that he was not really an Apostle of Christ. I tell you, and wish all to know, that my Gospel is neither human in its origin, nor taught to me by men, but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ our Lord, in person. This revelation was begun at Saint Paul’s conversion, and carried out in further detail in visions during his prolonged retirement in Arabia or at Tarsus.

Gal 1:13. For you have heard of my conversation at one time in Judaism; that above measure I persecuted the Church of God, and fought against her;
Gal 1:14. And made progress in Judaism above many my contemporaries in age, in my nation, being more abundantly jealous of the traditions of my fathers.

I am no novice or tyro in the religion of the Jews, and am better acquainted with it, more thoroughly understand its bearings, its teaching, its inner significance, than those who are now persuading you to embrace it. The outline of my career and history cannot be unknown to you. And he goes on to remind them how, with the whole energy of his fiery nature, and acute intellect, and pure and ardent love of all that is spiritual and true, he studied the Jewish law, under its most accomplished teachers, until he was thirty years old, and was urged, by his profound conviction of its divinity and truth, to seek to root out and overthrow the faith of Jesus Christ, as being in opposition, as he conceived to the will of God; which he doubtless believed to be, the restitution of the kingdom of Juda, and its deliverance from the Roman power. And both in zeal against Christ, who had advocated submission to the Roman power, and in intimate acquaintance with the institutions and religious belief of his own nation, he confessedly distanced all competitors of his age and generation.

Gal 1:15. But when it pleased him who set me apart from the womb of my mother, and called me by his grace:

In spite of this inauspicious commencement of his career, God had nevertheless separated and set him apart, even when he was in his mother’s womb, and appointed him his herald, minister, and servant, like the Prophet Jeremias (Jer 1:5). In due time God was pleased to accomplish what he had thus fore-ordained, and called me by His grace, revealing his Son to him, that he might in turn reveal Him to the nations. St. Jerome thinks the revelation here referred to took place on the road to Damascus. St. Thomas thinks it was made, at least partly, during the following three days; others consider that it was subsequent to the visit of Ananias and baptism of St. Thomas.

Gal 1:16. To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the nations: at once I did not rest in flesh and blood.
Gal 1:17. Nor did I go to Jerusalem to the Apostles who were appointed before me: but I went away into Arabia; and again returned to Damascus:

I rested not in flesh and blood. The Greek: I consulted not with flesh and blood. The Syriac: I made it not known to flesh and blood. The Arabic has the same meaning. I began to preach Christ at once, without asking permission of any one (Acts 9:20). By flesh and blood, says St. Chrysostom, he means the Apostles; or if any one prefers to think he means all mankind, I shall not contradict. I did not go to Jerusalem to consult with Peter, John, and James, who were there at that time.

Damascus was at that period the capital of the kingdom of Arabia Petrsea, and the Apostle, when he says he went into Arabia, doubtless means that he preached Christ in the neighbouring country, for three years. This is not mentioned by St. Luke in the Acts, possibly because it was not attended by any remarkable occurrence. St. Luke only says that after many days, that is three years, St. Paul left the country and proceeded to Jerusalem.

Gal 1:18. Then after three years I came to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.

I came to Jerusalem to see Peter. The Greek word is ιστορησαι, to seek or make his acquaintance; not to learn from him, says St. Jerome, but to pay honour to the first of the Apostles. Saint Chrysostom says the same. Ambrose observes that it was reasonable he should wish to see Peter, not to be taught by him, because he had been taught already by the same authority who instructed Peter, but from respect to his Apostolic office, and to inform him of the wonderful gifts and extraordinary mission he had received. He adds that he remained with Peter fifteen days, which is a proof that he could not have learned from him the religion of Christ, the time being insufficient.

Gal 1:19. But I saw no other of the Apostles, except James, the brother of the Lord.

I saw no other of the Apostles, none of whom, possibly, were at that time at Jerusalem: except Saint James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, the brother of our Lord, that is, his cousin, being the son of Mary, the wife of Cleophas, sister of the Blessed Virgin. Saint Luke’s account of this visit to Jerusalem, in the Acts of the Apostles, is very circumstantial, and is given Acts 9:26—30. His life being in danger, he was, by the intervention of the Christians of Jerusalem, shipped off to Tarsus, his native place, where he remained for some years, with his family and friends.

Gal 1:20. And what I write to you, behold before God, that I do not lie.
Gal 1:21. Then I came into the parts of Syria and Cilicia.
Gal 1:22. And I was unknown by face to the Churches of Judea which were in Christ.
Gal 1:23. But this much they had heard, that he who formerly persecuted us, now preaches the faith which once he fought against.
Gal 1:24. And in me they glorified God.

Before God, I lie not. So many false statements regarding the Apostle’s life and history had been maliciously circulated among the Galatians, that he evidently considers they would have some difficulty in believing him, and accordingly thinks it necessary to confirm his own statement with an oath.

Tarsus was in Cilicia, and parts of Syria were in its immediate neighbourhood. If the conversion of St. Paul took place a.d. 31, the earliest convenient date, he must have remained nine years in this comparative retirement. He could not have met there any of the Apostles, from whom he might have received instruction; neither did he receive it from the Christians of Judea, by whom the heretics declared he must have been taught the necessity of circumcision and of the observance of the law, for he only remained a few days in their country, and they were not even personally acquainted with him. But they knew him only too well by reputation, as the most violent and dangerous adversary they ever had, and his marvellous conversion from a persecutor into a preacher of the faith he once assailed, filled them with astonishment and gratitude to God.

Corollary of Piety

I wonder, the Apostle says, that you are changing so soon from the grace of God to another Gospel. The same phenomenon encounters us every day, and is just as wonderful, extraordinary, and unaccountable as ever. In early youth, in the flower of their age, with all the teaching of the Church, to which they listened in childhood, fresh in their memory, all the impressions of love to God, the aspirations after heaven, of which they were once conscious, not yet faded from their heart, how many turn aside from the communion of the Catholic Church of Christ, to follow another Gospel—the pleasures, the vanities, the ambitions of the world, the cavils of unbelievers, the sophistries of heretics, the sneer of the ungodly, the snares of Satan, which they renounced in their baptism! This is worse than the apostasy of the Galatians; for the Galatians wandered into Judaism, but at any rate they had never renounced it. We renounce the Gospel of the devil, and return to it as soon as we are old enough to act for ourselves. It is a double treason, for we abandon Jesus, to whose service we were solemnly devoted; and we return to the standard of the devil, whose service we have solemnly abjured. Truly we may wonder: for what are the hopes this new Gospel sets before us? A few years of pleasure, of amusement, of success, perhaps renown, and these chequered by disappointment, saddened by sorrow, poisoned by remorse. Then the bitter dregs of the cup, of which the sweetness is all gone; the dreary retrospect of a wasted life; the gloomy prospect of a future that is endless, and without hope. This is no Gospel; and the only Messenger who ever brought good news from heaven to this earth of ours, since it became the prison house of sin, was He who brought us the glad tidings of God’s forgiveness, and his grace, for this mortal life, and joy eternal in his presence in the life to come.

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