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 Galatians 5:1, 13-18

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 24, 2013

1. Stand fast, and be not held again under the yoke of bondage.

Stand fast, i.e., in the liberty of the Gospel, as opposed to the slavery of your former condition in paganism and under the Law.


A Summary of Galatians 5:13-15~The Galatians were called to freedom, but they must not abuse their happy state. Rather, let them seek that higher servitude which consists in serving one another; for charity is the fulfillment of the Law.

13. For you, brethren, have been called unto liberty : only make not liberty an occasion to the flesh, but by charity of the spirit serve one another.

St. Paul in this verse wishes to define the liberty which Christ has purchased for us and which is referred to in 5:1.

Unto liberty, i.e., freedom from the ceremonial observances of the Mosaic Law, as well as the temporal penalties by which that Law gave sanction to its moral precepts. The Galatians, like all Christians, were called to Christianity that they might live in freedom; but they must not make their liberty an occasion or pretext to indulge the flesh, i.e., the lower tendencies and instincts of corrupt human nature (cf. Rom 8:4 ff.), always disposed to satisfy itself in self-seeking and egoism. To such a spirit the Apostle opposes charity, and tells his readers to be servants (δουλευετε) one of another.

The words of the spirit (Vulg., Spiritus) are not found in the best MSS. They are doubtless a gloss added to the text to make it clear that the charity in question is the supernatural virtue by which we love God first, and our neighbor for God’s sake.

14. For all the law is fulfilled in one word : Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

All the law, i.e., the whole Law with all its precepts. The Galatians were anxious to receive circumcision in order to fulfil the Law, but charity fulfils every law, human and divine. The moral life is regulated by the Decalogue, and the Decalogue is summed up in the love of one’s neighbor. St. Paul here, as in Rom 13:8-10, is presupposing the love of God as the foundation of the whole Christian life.

15. But if you bite and devour one another: take heed you be not consumed one of another.

St. Paul warns the Galatians that if, like wild beasts, they bite and tear one another asunder, they will completely ruin their Christian community. He refers to their religious disputes and dissensions which seem to have engendered real hatred among them. Perhaps the Apostle is referring to disorders which will develop, if they do not be careful to check beginnings, although St. Chrysostom thinks he is speaking of conditions actually existing at the time.


SummaryThe Apostle tells the Galatians that their disputes and contentions are signs that they are living according to the flesh. The flesh and its lower instincts are contrary to life by the spirit. If we walk by the latter, we shall not obey the former; neither shall we be under the Law. The opposition between the flesh and the spirit is manifest from the works of the one and the fruits of the other.

16. I say then, walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.

See on Rom 8:4, 5. St. Paul now commences to explain what is meant by liberty, spoken of in verse 13.

The spirit. The reference here is perhaps not immediately to the Holy Ghost, but rather to the life of grace in man. “By the flesh he (the Apostle) means the inclination of the mind to the worse; by the spirit, the indwelling grace” (Theodoret).

Lusts is singular in Greek; it means the depraved inclinations of the lower nature.

The Spiritus of the Vulgate should be spiritus; and desideria should be desiderium, to agree with the Greek.

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.

This verse is not a summary of Rom 7:15 ff., as Protestant scholars contend. In Romans there is question of man’s natural faculties and powers prior to faith and Baptism; while here, faith is presupposed, and grace is active in the soul. Concupiscence is not extinguished by Baptism, and hence even in the life of grace the lower nature more or less constantly rises against the spiritual principle in man.

So that, etc. The Greek ἵνα (hina) here is not easy to explain. It is taken by Comely in a final sense, as if Paul wished to show that in each case the choice depends on one’s own will. Lagrange finds this explanation very good, except that it is almost diametrically contrary to the Greek text of the present verse. Therefore he prefers to give ἵνα  a consecutive meaning, since there is question of a result or consequence. Hence the sense would be: Man does not do what, according to simple velleity, he would like to do. If he follows the spirit, he has only velleity of the flesh; contrariwise, if he obeys the flesh, he has only an inefficacious wish to follow the spirit. In either case man does not yield to his inclinations in their entirety.

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

If the Christian is guided by the principle of his higher life, by grace, which is superadded to his rational nature, he is no longer under the Law, but is an adopted son of God.

If you are led, etc., i.e., if you live according to the life of grace which you have received in Baptism, you are nowise under the terrors, the threats, and the penalties of the Law. Here, as in the preceding verse, spirit means grace rather than the Holy Ghost.

19. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury,

Now δέ (de) is explicative, not adversative. It is not difficult to determine whether we are living according to the spirit or according to the flesh; for the works of the latter (verses 19-21), as well as the fruits of the former (verses 22, 23), are manifest, and this without the aid of the Law to make us aware of them.

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