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 Chapter 7

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 14, 2013

Notes in red are my additions. Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans can be found here.

A THIRD FRUIT OF JUSTIFICATION FREEDOM FROM THE SERVITUDE OF THE LAW
A Summary of Romans 7:1-6.

The third fruit of justification is liberation from the Law. Already (Rom 5:20) St. Paul had indicated that the Law had only a transitory value, and further on (Rom 6:14-15) he said plainly that we are no longer under the Law. Here he explicitly declares that the Old Law is abrogated, that it no longer obliges; and he proves his statement by citing the example of the matrimonial law. We are dead to the Law, which occasioned sin, in order that we may belong to Christ in newness and holiness of life. But when saying that the Law of Moses ceased, it is necessary to distinguish between its ceremonial observances and burdens, on the one hand, and its moral precepts, on the other. As to these latter, the Law of Moses is eternal and abides in Christianity. The great difficulty and burden of the Law consisted not only in its numerous ceremonies and observances, but especially in this that, while it indicated what was to be done and what to be avoided, it did not give any of the help necessary for the fulfilment of its precepts. It is true, however, that the Patriarchs and all the just of the Old Testament received grace to observe the Law, but this grace came not from the Law; it came only from the living faith which they had in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer to come. And so far as they had this faith, and received the grace consequent upon it, they already pertained to the New Dispensation and Law of the Gospel. But we, says the Apostle, are entirely freed from the servitude of the Old Law, because we are living under the New Law of the Gospel, which not only indicates what we are to do and what we are to avoid, but also gives us the grace necessary to fulfil all its precepts.

Rom 7:1. Know you not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) that the law hath dominion over a man, as long as it liveth?

Know you not, i.e., you certainly do know.

Brethren, i.e., Christians, both Jewish and Gentile. If the first law here meant the Mosaic Law, we could interpret brethren as referring to the Jewish Christians only, or chiefly, at least, as some authors do; but since the second “law” (which hath dominion, etc.) doubtless refers to a law far more general than that of Moses, namely, to a law recognized among the nations, to which St. Paul makes appeal, it seems better to understand the first “law,” as meaning, not the Law of Moses, but a general law known among the Romans and all nations, and consequently to understand “brethren” as referring to all the Christians in Rome. If only Jews were addressed, Paul would have said (verse 5): “When we were under the law”; but, addressing all the Roman Christians, the majority of whom were Gentiles, he has rather said: “When we were in the flesh.”

The law (ο νομος), i.e., the law of marriage recognized by all civilized peoples (Lagrange). The Apostle’s argument is this: According to the recognized law of marriage, a woman is bound to her husband as long as the husband lives, so that she cannot rightly marry another man during her husband’s lifetime, but when her husband is dead, she is free (verses 1-3). But to you, Roman Christians, the Law of Moses is dead; or rather you, although really alive, are mystically dead to it, i.e., it no longer can have any dominion over you. Therefore, you are free from the Law of Moses, that you may belong to the New Law of Christ risen from the dead (Rom 7:4). Note: most modern scholars (rightly, in my opinion) see the reference to law here as meaning specifically the Mosaic Law regarding marriage, not the marriage law of all “civilized people.”

Rom 7:2. For the woman that hath an husband, whilst her husband liveth is bound to the law. But if her husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

A married woman is bound to her husband as long as she or her husband lives, according to the primitive matrimonial law promulgated by God (Gen 2:24), and renewed by our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 5:31, 32; Matt 19:4-9). Marriage renders the wife one flesh with her husband, and hence as long as he lives, she cannot lawfully contract marriage with any other man. But when the husband is dead, the wife is freed from the law that bound her to her husband.

The Greek should be translated: viventi viro alligata est lege, and not as the Vulgate has it (Lagrange).  The Vulgate read viventi viro alligata est legi (“bound by the law to her husband while he lives”). The New Latin Vulgate has  lege in place of legi, thus reading: “while her husband lives (she) is bound by the law”.

Rom 7:3. Therefore, whilst her husband liveth, she shall be called an adulteress, if she be with another man: but if her husband be dead, she is delivered from the law of her husband; so that she is not an adulteress, if she be with another man.

St. Paul again shows that there is no dissolution of the matrimonial bond before the death of one of the contracting parties, so much so that any further marriage contracted by either party while both are living would be nothing short of adulterous. What holds good for the woman holds likewise for the man. From the law of her husband is in Greek only “from the law,” but the context clearly shows that the meaning is from the law of her husband.

Rom 7:4. Therefore, my brethren, you also are become dead to the law, by the body of Christ; that you may belong to another, who is risen again from the dead, that we may bring forth fruit to God.

The Christians are become mystically dead to the law. Literally, “Have been made to die,” i.e., the Law has lost all its binding force in their regard. And this emancipation has been effected through the body of Christ, i.e., through the Passion and death of Christ, in which the Christians by Baptism have become mystical participants (Rom 6:2-3, 6; Gal 2:19). Through Baptism the Christians have mystically died with Christ to sin and to the Law, so that they might be free to belong to another, i.e., to Christ risen from the dead and glorified, for the ultimate purpose of producing good works for the glory of God.

Although we cannot put the Law on the same level as sin, still it disappeared with the disappearance of the reign of sin, and the reign of sin was conquered by the death of Christ. With grace commenced the reign of righteousness.

Rom 7:5. For -when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members, to bring forth fruit unto death.

In the flesh, i.e., in a state of sin and disorder, when the old man sin was yet alive (Rom 6:6).

The passions of sins, i.e., the evil disorders of our fallen nature, which were by the law, i.e., which the Law pointed out and made responsible, but did not give the power and help to restrain.

Did work (ενηργειτο) , i.e., were continually operative and did move our members to evil deeds (Rom 6:12, Rom 6:19), the consequence of which was death (Rom 6:21). Cf. Rom 3:9-21.

Rom 7:6. But now we are loosed from the law of death, wherein we were detained; so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

Now through our mystical death with Christ we are liberated from the regime of the Old Law which, by increasing our responsibility, and failing at the same time to give the grace necessary to fulfil its precepts, was the occasion of sin and death to us. And the purpose of the liberation from the Old Law is that we should serve God and justice in newness of spirit, i.e., according to a new principle of life, namely, the grace of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:15; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), and not in the oldness of the letter, i.e., according to the old man of sin subject to the Law of Moses.

THE LAW, ALTHOUGH GOOD IN ITSELF, WAS THE OCCASION OF NEW SINS
A Summary of Romans 7:7-12

In these verses the Apostle discusses the relations which God’s positive law bore to man and sin. He is most probably not discussing his own personal religious experience, either as a Christian or before his conversion, but is rather describing the state of man without grace and with only God’s law to help him in the struggle against sin.

But here at the outset, a difficulty is raised. Paul has just spoken (Rom 7:4) of death to the Law, as he had before (Rom 6:2) spoken of death to sin. One might therefore conclude that sin and the Law were the same thing, i.e., that the Law was something bad in itself and contrary to the will of God. This view Marcion and other heretics afterwards took, although St. Paul here swiftly corrected such a fallacious conclusion by the words “God forbid.” Furthermore, since there seems to be question here not only of the Mosaic Law, but also of all positive divine law or precept (ο νομος . . . της εντολης [the law…the commandment; see Rom 7:7-8])—such as was given to Adam. Noe, Abraham, and all the ancient Patriarch —certain critics, like Julicher, have concluded that St. Paul meant here to reject, at least in principle, all positive divine law. Fr. Prat (La Theologie de Saint Paid, I, p. 320) has even asked, by way of objection, if the argument of St. Paul might not be turned also against the law of grace. If the old positive law, it is objected, was abrogated because it only served to excite concupiscence, and thus increase the number and gravity of men’s sins, why impose any other law on Christians, and so augment their peril, even though they are given more grace to combat sin?

The solution given to these difficulties by Lagrange is that St. Paul is not treating in this place of the abrogation of the Mosaic Law, nor is he giving the reason why it was abrogated. The reason for the abrogation of the Law has already been given (Rom 7:4), which was the death of Christ, to which the faithful are associated by Baptism. The present section (Rom 7:7-12), therefore, says the great exegete, is rather “a sincere apology for the Law, which was good, and at the same time, a very clear affirmation that all law was insufficient, because it did not give any power to conquer sin; but, on the contrary, rather afforded sin the occasion to muster force for the destruction of man. The conclusion is not, therefore: The Mosaic Law ought to be abrogated, nor: All divine positive law ought to be abrogated; but: It is foolish to place confidence in any positive law.” “One might even conclude,” he adds, “if one so wishes, that all laws, as laws, have their inconveniences, and that, consequently, it is necessary to trust entirely to grace, and to count upon grace to triumph over the shortcomings of every law that is the occasion of sin” (Ep. aux Rom., h. 1.).

Again the question is asked who is meant by the “I” and the “me” running through these Rom 7:7-12? There are chiefly three different responses to this question: (a) According to St. Augustine (primo modo), St. Chrysostom, and St. Thomas Aquinas, the “I” represents man in general, humanity, before the Law of Moses was given; (b) according to St. Augustine (secundo modo), St. Jerome, Origen, and Cornely, the “I” is a young Israelite who has been instructed in the Law from his infancy; (c) according to Lagrange—modifying the opinion of St. Methodius, Cajetan, and others—the “I” here means man in the state of innocence, or Adam in the terrestrial paradise.

But what is the meaning of sin here? In the first two theories, by “sin” would be meant original sin in its proper sense, or that evil force which comes from original sin, and which we call concupiscence. In the third theory the term would designate sin in general, or sin as a concrete force or power, almost as a person, manifesting itself as original sin and otherwise (Lagrange).

We shall now proceed to explain this difficult section (Rom 7:7-12) in accordance with the third system or theory, which to us seems perhaps best calculated to meet all the difficulties involved. We have, then, three actors to reckon writh: the ancient divine positive law, man in the state of innocence, and sin personified. Cf. Lagrange, h. 1.

Rom 7:7. What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? God forbid. But I do not know sin, but by the law; for I had not known concupiscence, if the law did not say: Thou shalt not covet.

Is the law sin? i.e., was the ancient divine positive law, of which the Law of Moses was the most perfect type, bad in itself, the same as sin, being the cause of sin. St. Paul rejects with indignation such an impious deduction.

But I do not know sin, etc., i.e., man in a state of innocence did not have a practical or experimental knowledge of sin (2 Cor 5:21), although he knew it speculatively. “Sin” means sin personified, in general, as manifested in original and other sins.

But by the law, i.e., by the positive declaration of God. There is here plainly an allusion to the Mosaic Law (Exodus 20:17; Deut 5:21), but the meaning is not necessarily restricted to it. Man would not have known sin, except theoretically, aside from the Law of God. And what is here said of the divine positive law, holds also in its measure, for the natural law which God has written on every human heart.

Concupiscence here means illicit desire in general, as a general cause or source of sin (St. Thomas). The divine positive law given even in paradise forbade not only exterior sinful acts, but also internal unlawful desires (Gen 2:17).

The nesciebam (“I would not have realized”)  of the Vulgate does not so exactly express the Greek as would nescirem (“I would not know”).

Rom 7:8. But sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

But sin, i.e., sin in general, the powerful enemy of man, made use of the commandment, i.e., of God’s positive precept, to excite man’s will. This was true of the serpent of old in the Garden of Eden. According to Cornely and his theory, “sin” here means concupiscence, which, remaining after the remission of original sin, found in the command not to covet (verse 7) an occasion to excite in the young Israelite all manner of evil desires.

It is a characteristic of our nature that we are often more inclined to those things which are forbidden us. Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupinusque negata . . . quod licet ingratum est, quod non licet arcius urit ( We are always eager for forbidden things, an yearn for what is denied us…What we can have for the asking we never want, to forbid a thing adds ardour to our longing. Ovid, Amor. iii. 4, 17; ii. 19, 3). Thus sin, taking advantage of God’s precept, excited all kinds of desires in our first parents, for the forbidden fruit of paradise. But without the law sin was dead, i.e., when there was no positive law, as for a time in paradise (Gen 2:16), sin was without any force; it was hidden and did not manifest itself, because before the prohibition of the law it did not have occasion to show its power by alluring to forbidden acts. Thus man was “without the law,” for peccans absque
mandato non tenetur lege peccati (“without sin, the command is not forced by the law of sin.” St. Jerome). Cornely, in the second theory explained above, says the period “without the law” means the years of infancy, before the dawn of reason, when sin was “dead,” i.e., had no meaning for the young Israelite. I’m not very sure about the accuracy of my translation of the quote from St Jerome.

There should be no comma after accepta in the Vulgate, and per mandatum should precede peccatum. A comma after mandatum is the preferable construction (Lagrange, Cornely).

Rom 7:9. And I lived some time without the law. But when the commandment came, sin revived,

I lived some time, etc., i.e., before the Law of Moses (St. Thomas); or before the use of reason (Cornely); or more probably before the precept was imposed on Adam in the Garden of Eden (Lagrange). It is true that “commandment” (της εντολης) can signify the Law of Moses, or a precept of the Law, such as the command not to covet; but since there seems to be question of living a real spiritual life before the coming of the commandment, it is difficult to see how this could be reconciled with the facts as they existed from the Deluge to Moses (against the first theory). There is less difficulty in Cornely’s theory, according to which the young Israelite lived a life of grace between the time of circumcision and the moment when the Law began to oblige. In this opinion sin revived would mean that original sin, having been effaced by circumcision, revived in concupiscence as soon as the child attained the use of reason and realized the existence and obligation of the precept, “thou shalt not covet.” In the third theory sin was dead, i.e., was without any force against any positive law, until that law existed, but when the command was given, as in paradise, it revived, i.e., it began to exercise its force, overcame its victim, and man died.

Rom 7:10. And I died. And the commandment that was ordained to life, the same was found to be unto death to me.

The commandment which was given to lead man to sanctity and to life eternal became, through deliberate actual sin on man’s part, the occasion of his fall from grace and of his spiritual death. The cause of this dreadful evil was not the commandment, but the weakness and sinfulness of man.

Rom7:11. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, seduced me, and by it killed me.

See commentary above, on verse 8. The Apostle explains how the commandment, good in itself, became an occasion of death through sin. Here the reference seems to be very clearly to what took place in Eden when Eve was seduced by the serpent (Gen 3:13; 2 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:14).

The punctuation of this verse in the Vulgate is correct, and shows what that of verse 8 should be.

Rom 7:12. Wherefore the law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

The Apostle now responds to the question raised in Rom 7:7. Both the law and the  commandment are holy, i.e., every precept given by God is holy. The law is holy as opposed to religious impurity; it is just, because it rewards the good and punishes the bad; it is good as conducing to sanctity (Euthymius). If the law was the occasion of many sins, that was on account of the weakness and wickedness of man.

Comely understands “law” here to mean the whole Mosaic legislation, and “commandment” to refer to the precept, “thou shalt not covet” (verse 7).

The quidem (μεν “indeed”) of the Vulgate without its corresponding autem (δε “but”, “however”), shows that the thought is incomplete, and that we must understand: “sin, however, is bad.” To clarify: the subject introduced by Quidem (Greek: μεν) usually demands some form of contrast, e.g., the law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good; sin, however is bad.

NOT THE LAW, BUT SIN IS THE CAUSE OF DEATH; THE LAW WAS IMPOTENT IN THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE FLESH AND THE SPIRIT
A Summary of Romans 7:13-25

It is a disputed question whether here or with the following verse, begins a new section, embracing the rest of this chapter. Lagrange and Kuhl (against Cornely, Julicher and others) prefer to begin the section with the present verse, because the prevailing idea which is here introduced is that of death. It has already been made clear that the law was not the cause of sin, but now the question is raised whether it was not the cause of death. This latter inference is rejected as vigorously as was the former one. Sin was the cause of death; and the Apostle in these verses (Rom 7:13-25) describes the force and power of sin, and the impotency of fallen man under the yoke of the law. He shows that while man recognized the justice and sanctity of the law, he was nevertheless, unequal to the struggle which ensued between the flesh and the reason, and was lured to sin, and so succumbed to defeat and to death. Therefore, sin being victor, wielded its dreadful influence against the law itself.

It is further disputed whether St. Paul in these verses is speaking of man not yet regenerated in Jesus Christ through Baptism, or the contrary. The majority of the Fathers and most modern authorities, Catholic and Protestant, hold the first view; while St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and many non-Catholic interpreters prefer the second opinion, namely, that the Apostle is here speaking of man already regenerated by Baptism, but aware of his inability without grace really to fulfil the law of God. The first opinion seems far the more probable, because more conformable to the context. It is admitted by all that, up to the end of Rom 7:12, the Apostle is speaking of unregenerated man, and there seems no sufficient reason for saying that with Rom 7:13 or Rom 7:14 he begins to speak of man regenerated. If the present tense is used, it is only to give added vigor to his words. The aim of the Apostle is to show the powerlessness of the law as a principle of salvation—a powerlessness which made the triumph of sin more evident, and obliged man to have
recourse to the grace of Jesus Christ (Lagrange).

We hold then, that there is question in this section (Rom 7:13-25) of fallen unregenerated man, of sin in general, and of the general positive law of God.

Rom 7:13. Was that then which is good, made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it may appear sin, by that which is good, wrought death in me; that sin, by the commandment, might become sinful above measure.

That then which is good means the positive law or precept of God.

Made death, i.e., did it become the cause of spiritual death, by leading to sin? No, says St. Paul. It has already been explained above (verse 10) that sin was the cause of death; the commandment was only the occasion. But it may rightly be asked why God gave the law or commandment, since He certainly foresaw it was to be the occasion of death. St. Paul replies,—(a) in order that sin might appear sin, i.e., might manifest its own evil nature and be recognized as such; (b) in order that sin might be recognized as something evil above measure, inasmuch as it made use of a good thing, the commandment, for an evil purpose, turning an instrument of life into an instrument of death.

The advantage, therefore, of the law, was this, that it brought out the real nature of sin. Without any law man would have known only theoretically the distinction between good and evil, but the law has made him realize in a practical way that which is good and that which is bad. If the law occasioned the multiplication of sins, it also served to expose the real nature and malice of sin, as something opposed to the will of God and the order of divine providence; and it did, moreover, make man recognize his own weakness and misery, and the powerlessness of the law to save him, thus forcing him to look to grace and to the future Redeemer for salvation (Rom 7:24). We understand sin in this verse as in the verses preceding.

In the Vulgate appareat does not so literally express the Greek as would appareret. The basic meaning of both words is “to become visible,” “appear,” “manifest,” but the second is a bit stronger, better reflecting the force of the Greek, φανη.

Rom 7:14. For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.

We know, etc., i.e., we are all agreed that the law is spiritual, i.e., that God’s positive law, given in the beginning to our first parents, as well as later to Moses, was from above, from God Himself. But I, i.e., fallen man, deprived of grace, am carnal, i.e., dominated by my lower nature, which corrupted by sin seeks the things that are opposed to God.

Sold under sin, i.e., become the slave of sin, obeying the behests of sin.

It is to be observed that the Apostle says here the law is spiritual (πνευματικος), whereas in Rom 7:6 he spoke of the “oldness” of its “letter.” Answer: The Apostle is not bound to observe the same terminology in speaking of different aspects of the law. This lack of uniformity or consistency of style will be further explained, if we hold that in verse 6 he is speaking of the Mosaic Law, but here of the positive law of God in general.

Rom 7:15. For that which I work, I understand not. For I do not that good which I will; but the evil which I hate, that I do.

Now the Apostle speaks in terms that amount almost to an exaggeration. He says that man is an enigma, he cannot understand him, or, at least, his works and actions. Man’s nature was not altogether corrupted by original sin, and hence even without grace he can know and love moral good and distinguish it from moral evil in many instances; but when it comes to the actual doing of the one and the avoiding of the other frequently he finds himself bereft of the necessary power. Often he would do the good which he likes, but he has not the power; often likewise he would avoid the evil which he hates, but he has not the power.

It is evident that I will and I hate here refer merely to simple velleity; whereas I do not and I do are external actions which, proceeding from an absolute will that has overcome velleity, are imputable to the agent. Velleity designates the weakest level of volition; a mere wish, urge or inclination not strong enough to lead to action.

The human situation here described by St. Paul can be as well understood as referring to the period before the Law of Moses as after that period. Just as the Mosaic Law indicated for the Jews the good to be done and the evil to be avoided, but gave no help for the execution of its mandates, so likewise did the natural law unobscured show the pagans what they should do, and what they should not do, without, however, giving them the necessary help to put into practice its promptings. The Gentiles as well as the Jews felt the conflict between their lower and their higher nature. Hence Ovid wrote: Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor ( I see and approve of the better course, but I chose the worse. Metam. VII. 20, 21). Similarly speaks Epictetus of the transgressor: Quod vult non facit, et facit quod non vult (He who does not escape what he wills to avoid is miserable. Enchir. II. 26).

The bonum and malum  (good and evil) of the Vulgate are not in the Greek; they are a gloss, evidently implied in the context. The same is to be said of good and of evil in our English version.

Rom7:16. If then I do that which I will not, I consent to the law, that it is good.

If that which I feel I ought not to do, because it is evil, is forbidden by the law, my feeling is a testimony that the law is good and holy; my mind and my conscience are a witness that the law is good.

Rom 7:17. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

Since the higher part of man desires to conform to God’s law and do that which is right and good, while his lower nature makes it often impossible for him to observe the law in practice, St. Paul concludes that there are in man two principles: the I that would obey the law and do good, and sin that prevails over man’s superior nature and produces evil. The Apostle speaks as if man in his unregenerated state were really possessed by an evil spirit, but he is only again personifying the sin which came into the world with Adam, which is inherited by all of Adam’s descendants and which tyrannizes over man, ever inclining him to violate the law of God (Lagrange). St. Paul is not here wishing to deny or to diminish man’s culpability; neither is he fixing the degree of responsibility which underlies those violent movements of passion that lead to sin, and are often the consequences of sin. He wishes only to make known both the state of misery in which man finds himself under the slavery of sin, and the cause which makes him do that which he knows is evil and which he hates. This cause, he says, is sin—sin personified, which entered the world with the fall of Adam and ever remains, infecting human nature.

Rom 7:18. For I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good. For to will, is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good, I find not.

Here St. Paul says clearly that it is a fact of experience that there are in man two forces, equivalent in a certain sense to two persons : the one which is devoid of good and is the slave of sin, namely, the flesh, which does evil; the other, the interior man (verse 20), the reason (Rom 7:23), which, with an imperfect and inefficacious will, wishes to do good, but is unable to accomplish it. There dwells not in the flesh a principle of good that can combat sin, because the flesh is the slave of sin; and the intelligence, the reason, the judgment of conscience desires to do good, but is overpowered by the forces that incline to evil. The dualism is, therefore, between the flesh enslaved by sin, and the reason or intelligence which perceives the good; it is not between the soul and the body.

Here, as well as in Rom 7:19-20, I will and I will not express mere velleity or inefficacious volition; whereas I do means a complete voluntary act, although not necessarily manifested externally.

In the Vulgate perficere, which signifies a complete moral act, whether internal or external, should rather be operari (κατεργαζεσθαι: “To work fully.” Translated as “accomplish” above). Perficere means “to accomplish,” “to do thoroughly”, “perfect”, “complete”. Operari means “work,” “labor”.

Invenio (“find”, “discover”) is not represented in the Greek MSS., which read: (ευρισκω, Latin: velle-”to be willing”). Velle adjacet mihi, perficere autem bonum non (“For to will is present with me: but to accomplish that which is good– not”). The words I find should be omitted therefore.

Rom 7:19. For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do.

See commentary above, on verse 15. The Apostle is not denying free will, nor saying that man is necessitated to evil; he is merely saying that man disapproves of the evil he does and would like to do good.

Rom 7:20. Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

The conclusion of verse 17 is here repeated. If man does evil which he hates and wishes not to do, it is no longer he, but sin within him, that does the evil. Yet man is responsible (see above, on verses 15, 17, 18).

Rom 7:21. I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with me.

Judging from what was said in the preceding verses, which is unregenerated man’s daily experience, St. Paul draws this psychological conclusion or explanation, that there is in man another law, the law of sin (verse 23), fighting against the reason and the judgment of conscience, and leading man into sin. The law (τον νομο) here does not mean the Law of Moses (Cornely, Lagrange), nor any law other than a constant rule of action, a natural tendency, the law of man’s condition (verses 23, 25), which, when man wishes to do good, ever inclines him to evil and to sin.

The Fathers and ancient exegetes understood “law” here, with the article in Greek, to mean the Mosaic Law; but this view cannot well be sustained and has been rejected by nearly all modern interpreters, Catholic and non-Catholic, except Zahn. Cf. Cornely, h. l.

Rom 7:22. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man:
Rom 7:23. But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members.

Man in his unregenerated state, considered according to the inward man, i.e., according to his nobler part, his reason, is delighted with the law of God, because he knows that it is good and holy, but according to the law of the flesh or of sin, which has its seat in his material members, and which fights against the law of reason, he is drawn away from the law of God and led like a slave to evil. Man here is spoken of as captivated, i.e., enslaved by sin, and hence he is surely in an unregenerated state. Captivating, however, means only moving man to sin, not forcing him to consent,— motione non consensione (“to move, not consent” St. Aug., 2 Ep. contra Pelag., cap. 10

The term “law” (νόμος) occurs four times in these two verses. The more common opinion considers the law of God and the law of the mind as one; and, likewise, another law and the law of sin as one. Kuhl, however, following the opinion of St. Jerome, holds that there are here four distinct laws: the law of God and the law of sin, which are exterior to man, and the law of the mind and the law of the flesh, or that other law, which are within him. But as St. Paul is at present considering man only as he finds him, in the state of original sin with its consequences, he is really speaking of only three distinct laws; for the law of the members, or of the flesh, is in reality the law of sin in fallen man (Lagrange).

In verse 23 repugnantem legi does not so well express  αντιστρατευομενον as would militantem adversus legem. The first phrase is used in the Vulgate and means “repugnant to the law.” The second means “fighting against the law” and is the translation employed by the Douay-Rheims: But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind and captivating me in the law of sin that is in my members.

Rom 7:24. Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Unregenerated man, feeling his enslavement to sin, cries out almost in despair for help from God to be delivered from the body in which dwells sin, the cause of death. He does not ask to be freed from his mortal body, but only from the body inasmuch as it is the slave of sin, and so destined to temporal and eternal death (Cornely). In other words, he asks to be delivered from sin, which resides in his members, in such a way that his body will no longer be the seat of that evil power which leads both body and soul to death temporal and eternal.

Rom 7:25. The grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with the mind serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin.

To the foregoing question the Apostle gives a reply that comes directly from his fervid heart. That which will deliver man from the tyranny of sin is not the power of his mind or reason, not the positive law of God, whether Mosaic or other, but the grace of God communicated to man through the merits of Jesus Christ. Then resuming all that has preceded, he concludes by insisting on the unity of man, in whom, however, there exist contrary tendencies, one inclining to the law of God, the other leading to sin.

The first part of the verse is differently read in the MSS. The reading of the Vulgate and of the Itala is supported by only a few rare MSS. The reading preferred by Tischendorf, Nestle and Lagrange is χαρις τω θεω. Hence the translation of the critical reading would be gratia Deo, “thanks be to God“, instead of gratia Dei, “the grace of God“. This latter translation would require the genitive, whereas the Greek has the dative case, (cf. 1 Cor 15:57, for a similar passage).

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