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 MacEvilly’s Commentary on Romans 8:8-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 17, 2013

This post contains Fr. MacEvilly’s analysis of Romans 8 followed by his commentary on the reading (Rom 8:8-17). I’ve also included his paraphrase of the verses in purple text.

ANALYSIS OF ROMANS 8

In this chapter, after inferring from the foregoing that the baptized have nothing deserving of damnation, except so far as they consent to the motions of concupiscence (verse 1), the Apostle tells us that we are rescued from the dominion of concupiscence by the grace of the Gospel (2, 3, 4.) He shows the different motions and effects of the flesh and of the spirit (4–9). He exhorts us to live according to the spirit, and points out the spiritual and eternal life of both soul and body, resulting from such a course (9–11). He next exhorts us to follow the dictates of the spirit, and to mortify the deeds of the flesh, in order to escape death and obtain life (12, 13)—to act up to our calling as sons of God, and to conform to the spirit of charity and love, which we received, unlike to that of the Jews of old, and by thus acting as sons of God, to secure the Heavenly inheritance, which we shall certainly obtain, on condition, however, of suffering (13–17). Lest this condition should dishearten them, he points out the greatness of God’s inheritance,—so great indeed is it, that he personifies inanimate creatures, and represents them as groaning for this glorious consummation. The very Christians themselves, although in the infancy of the Church, they received the sweet pledge of future glory in the choice gifts of the Holy Ghost, were sighing for it (17–24). The Holy Ghost, besides the assurance he gave them of being sons of God, was also relieving their necessities and prompting them to pray with ineffable ardour of spirit (26, 27). The Apostle encourages them to patient suffering by pointing out to them that they were predestined for these sufferings as the means of their sanctification and future glorification (28–30), and, finally, he excites them to confidence in God (31–38).

COMMENTARY ON ROMANS 8:8-17

Rom 8:8 And they who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Hence those who live according to the flesh, cannot please God, nor can they observe his precepts so as to obtain the justification of the law.

This is the conclusion which the Apostle draws from the preceding verses. His argument is this:—I have said (verse 4), that it is only those, who walk according to the spirit, that can observe God’s law, “for those who walk according to the flesh, mind the things of the flesh (verse 5). But, to mind the things of the flesh is death,” (verse 6). Hence, those who walk according to the flesh cannot please God, which they would do were they to observe his commandments. They cannot please God, any more than rebels, continuing such, can please their lawful sovereign.

Rom 8:9  But you are not in the flesh, but the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

But you, after having been regenerated in Christ by baptism, do not live according to the flesh, but according to the spirit of grace which you received; if this spirit, however, still dwells in you. But if anyone does not preserve the Spirit of Christ, he is no longer a living member of him.

“You are not in the flesh.” You are not subject to the flesh, nor do you follow its desires, but you walk according to the spirit. He addresses those who were baptized. “If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you,” i.e., if he has not departed from you on account of your actual sins, but dwells in you, as in his temples. The bodies of the just are the temples of the Holy Ghost. “Now, if any one hath not the Spirit of Christ,” i.e., if the Holy Ghost, who is the “Spirit of God,” and the “Spirit of Christ,” abide not in a Christian, he is merely a Christian in name, but he is not a living member of the mystical body of Christ.

Rom 8:10  And if Christ be in you, the body indeed is dead, because of sin: but the spirit liveth, because of justification.

But if Christ dwell in you by his spirit, your body is indeed subject to death, as a punishment of sin; but your spirit or soul enjoys the life of grace here on account of justification, and shall live a life of glory hereafter.

 “The body is dead” (is and be are wanting in the original text), i.e., of necessity, liable to death, or, mortal, on account of the sin of Adam, in punishment of which “death entered into this world” (chap. 5) and he says “it is dead,” νεκρον, because it contains within it the seeds of certain death, and is gradually dissolving and approaching its final end. “But the spirit liveth.” (In Greek, τὸ πνευμα ζωη, the spirit is life) that is, the soul lives a spiritual life, “because of justification,” i.e., on account of the justifying graces with which it is adorned, and it shall hereafter live a life of glory, of which grace is the seed.

Rom 8:11  And if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you; he that raised up Jesus Christ, from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies, because of his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

But if the spirit of God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead, dwell in you by justice, this same spirit, that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, shall also vivify and endow with glory and immortality your mortal bodies, on account of their present dignity in being the dwelling-place of his spirit.

Not only will the immortal soul enjoy a glorious immortality, but even the mortal body shall share in and possess the attributes of glory and immortality. “Raised up Jesus Christ.” “Jesus” is wanting in the Greek.

Rom 8:12  Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh.

As, therefore, brethren, we are in the spirit and not in the flesh, and as it is from the spirit that we have received past blessings and hope for greater in future, we are no longer debtors to the flesh, so as to walk or live according to its dictates or allow its dominion over us.

This is the conclusion which the Apostle derives from the foregoing. As it is to the spirit, we owe our spiritual life of grace here, and as it is from it we expect a life of glory hereafter; therefore, we are no longer debtors to the flesh, so as to follow its dictates; it is to the spirit alone that we are indebted. The Apostle personifies the “flesh” here; he supposes it to be a master demanding our service, as he did before regarding “sin.”

Rom 8:13  For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.

For, if you live according to the desires of the flesh, you shall die a spiritual death here which is the precursor of an eternal death hereafter. But if by the spiritual fervour infused into you by the Holy Ghost, you mortify the vicious desires and corrupt inclinations of the flesh, you shall live both a life of grace here and of glory hereafter.

This is an additional reason why we should serve not the flesh, but the spirit (by serving one we renounce the other); it is derived from the consequences of our service in both cases. “You mortify the deeds of the flesh.” In Greek, τοῦ σώματος (of the body), that is, kill within you those risings of corrupt passions, in subduing which are felt the pains of death.

Rom 8:14  For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

For, whosoever are efficaciously moved by the Holy Ghost, and under his influence mortify the flesh and live a spiritual life, they are truly sons of God, and will, therefore, enjoy the inheritance of life eternal.

This is a proof of the foregoing, viz., that by mortifying the deeds of the flesh “they shall live;” because, by acting up to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, they become “sons of God,” and as “sons of God,” they are his “heirs” (verse 17), i.e., they shall enjoy the never-ending inheritance of eternal life. Therefore, “they shall live” (verse 13). The Apostle supposes them to be baptized, as a condition of this divine filiation. The word “led,” implies only moral impulse, which by our own free will we might resist; it involves no loss of human liberty; for, in the preceding the Apostle supposes human liberty, when he speaks of “mortifying the deeds of the flesh,” &c. The same is observable, Phil. 11, 12, 13, where, after speaking of the operation of God, he tells them to “work out their salvation,” &c.

Rom 8:15  For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear: but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).

That you are the sons of God is clear from the spirit you received in baptism, for you have not received under the new dispensation, as the Jews did in the promulgation of the old on Sinai, the spirit of servitude, to inspire you with fear, but you have received the spirit of charity and loveadopting you as sons, under the influence of which, you freely and confidently call on God, or the entire Blessed Trinity, as the common Father of all the faithful, both Jews and Gentiles.

In this verse, he shows from the spirit they received that they are sons of God; or, perhaps, in it is conveyed an additional motive for them to walk according to the spirit, viz., in order to correspond with the spirit they received. “You have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear” (in Greek, εἴς φόβον, unto fear). He evidently refers to the spirit of fear which the Jews received on Sinai, and which was given them as a gift of the Holy Ghost, in order to deter them from violating God’s commandments. Ut probaret vos, venit Deus, et ut terror illius esset in vobis.—Exodus, 20. Although the fear proceeded from the Holy Ghost, the servility of the fear came from themselves. The graces whereby the Jews of old were justified, belonged not to the Old Law as such, but to the New Covenant. “But you have received the spirit of the adoption of sons.” He contrasts this latter gift of the Holy Ghost with the former gift, which it far excelled. “The spirit of adoption of sons,” the spirit of love, the sanctifying grace of the Holy Ghost, by which we are become the adopted sons of God, and under the influence of which we confidently and freely call God Father. “Whereby we cry Abba (Father).” The more probable reason why the Apostle repeats the word “Father,” in Hebrew, “Abba,” and in Greek πατηρ, is to show that God is the common Father of all the believers, whether Jews, in whose language “Abba” means “Father;” or Gentiles, who call him πατηρ.

Rom 8:16  For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God.

And this same spirit of God, whom we have received, bears testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God.

This same spirit, by whose influence “we cry out Abba, &c.,” by this filial affection whereby he inspires us to utter such a cry, “testifies together with our spirit,” (this is the meaning of the Greek word συμμαρτυρει), in other words, confirms the testimony of our spirit, “that we are sons of God.” The compound verb in the Greek may simply mean, to testify, as in Paraphrase. Verses 15, 16 are to be read within a parenthesis, and verse 17 immediately connected with verse 14. For in verse 15 there is given, incidentally, one proof of verse 14, viz., calling God Father; and in verse 16 another, viz., the testimony of the Holy Ghost.

OBJECTION.—Does it not follow, then, that each man is absolutely certain of his salvation?

RESP.—By no means. If we give the words, “giveth testimony,” the full meaning of the compound Greek word, συμμαρτυρει; in Latin, contestatur, all that would follow is, that the Holy Ghost confirms our own testimony, that we are the sons of God, by inspiring us to repeat the prayer in which we address God as our Father. This would certainly convey no absolute certainly of faith on the subject; or, as the Council of Trent describes, “certitudo fidei, cui non potest subesse falsum.”—(SS. vi., ch. ix.) If the words be understood in a simple form, all that would follow is, that we arrive at a moral, or rather conjectural certainty from the signs which come from the Holy Ghost—viz., horror of sin, love of virtue, peace and tranquillity of conscience, &c. Besides, the Apostle does not say that the Holy Ghost tells every individual by a revelation, that he is the son of God. This would be opposed to the clear order of his Providence, in which “no one knows whether he be worthy of love or hatred,” and to the command, “to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.”

Rom 8:17  And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

But, if we are the sons of God, we are therefore, his heirs, that is to say, we are heirs of God, as his sons, and co-heirs of Christ, as his brethren. It is on condition, however, that we suffer with him, and in the same spirit with him, that we shall be partners in his glory.

God has wished that his children should have, besides the title of inheritance, the title of merit also, to eternal life. “Yet so, if we suffer with him,” the very adoption on which the title of inheritance is founded, is the reward of merit. While infants can only have the title of inheritance, adults must have the twofold title of inheritance and merit.

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