The Divine Lamp

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Archive for February 20th, 2014

Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans Chapter 9

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 20, 2014


With this chapter begins the third section of the Dogmatic Part of this Epistle. In the preceding chapter the Apostle exposed his conception of the Christian life—the life of faith, animated by the Holy Ghost and destined for unfading glory in heaven. The Gospel is the power of God to everyone that believes, to the Jew first, and then to the Greek (Rom 1:16). But how is it, then, it may rightly be asked, that the great majority of the Jews have failed to embrace the Gospel and enter the Church of Christ? This is the problem which engages the Apostle’s attention in the present and in the two following chapters. The Jews were, indeed, the chosen people of God who gave the Redeemer to the world (Rom 9:1-5), and although they have, notwithstanding, been in the main excluded from a part in the Messiah’s redemption, still the divine promises have not failed in their regard (Rom 9:6-29); their rejection is due to their own culpableness, blindness and disobedience (Rom 9:30-x. 21); and even in this the mercy of God has been manifest, for a remnant has been saved already; the Gentiles have profited by Israel’s loss, and all the Jews will find mercy at the end (Rom 11:1-32). These profound reflections are a reason for praising the wisdom and knowledge of God’s inscrutable providence (Rom 11:33-36).


A Summary of Romans 9:1-5~Following upon the exposition of a new system of justification by faith, the glorious life and outcome of which inspired the hymn of triumph that closed the preceding chapter, comes now an expression of sorrow the most profound. St. Paul explains to his Roman readers why his own people have been rejected by God, in spite of all their privileges, and incidentally why he himself turned from them to the Gentile world, in spite of his natural ardent love for them.

1. I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost:

I speak the truthI lie not. These are strong ways, one positive and the other negative, of assuring his readers of the truth of what he is about to say. The Apostle avows that he is acting in union with Christ, conformably to his own conscience, of which the Holy Ghost is the interior principle. Cf. 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Cor 11:31; 2Cor 7:14; 2 Cor 12:6; Gal 1:20.

The before “truth” is not in the Greek.

2. That I have great sadness, and continual sorrow in my heart.

The fact of Israel’s having cut herself off from the Messianic blessings was a continual source of sorrow to St. Paul. Some of the Jews (Acts 21:21) considered the Apostle to be an enemy of their nation, but here he shows the truth and sincerity of his feelings toward them. Sadness expresses mental pain; sorrow is grief in general.

I wished, etc. Better, I could wish (ηυχομην, optarem), if it were possible. The Apostle knew this was not a serious hypothesis, and was expressing himself in the language of sentiment rather than according to cold reasoning (Lagrange); he was giving expression to an impracticable wish.

Anathema from Christ, i.e., to be separated from Christ so as to be deprived of Christianity and of the Messianic benefits. “Anathema” literally means a thing set up to be destroyed; it comes from two Greek words signifying to place apart. To the Jews it meant a person or thing cursed, and therefore fit for destruction (Lev 27:28-29; Deut 7:26; Josh 6:17). With St. Paul it meant cursed of God (Gal 1:89; 1 Cor 12:3; 1 Cor 16:22). According to Cornely, therefore, St. Paul meant to say that, for the sake of his brethren, the Jews, he was willing to be externally separated from Christ forever, and to be condemned to eternal torments, without ceasing, however, to be united to Christ through grace. But as there seems to be nothing in the context to suggest this distinction, and as there is not question of future time, but of the present (ειναι), we think it better to accept for this passage the explanation of Lagrange given above.

Optabam of the Vulgate would better be optarem.

4. Who are Israelites, to whom belongeth the adoption as of children, and the glory, and the testament, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises:

Here the Apostle enumerates the principal prerogatives of the Jews.

Israelites—a title of honor, comprehending all the privileges of the Jews, and given to them because they were descendants of Jacob, to whom God gave the name Israel (Gen 22:29).

The adoption, etc., by which the Israelites had been selected from among all others, to be the people of God (Exodus 4:22; Exodus 19:5; Deut 14:1),—which adoption, however, being only political, was merely a figure of, and therefore far inferior to that which the Christian enjoys through the grace of Christ.

The glory, i.e., the Shechinah, or sensible manifestation of the presence of God in the Tabernacle and in the Temple (Exodus 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10; Ezek 10:11; 2 Macc 1:18, etc.).

The testament. In Greek the plural is used, “the testaments,” i.e., the covenants ( αι διαθηκαι) that were made with Abraham ( Gen 15:18; Gen 17:2, etc.), with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 2:24), and with Moses and the whole people (Exodus 24:7 ff.).

The giving of the law, i.e., the Mosaic Law, which regulated the service; i.e., the worship of the true God in antiquity (cf. 2 Macc 6:23).

The promises made to Abraham, and especially those concerning the Messiah, which were contained in the numerous prophecies relative to the Redeemer (cf. Rom 4:13; Gal 3:16).

In the Vulgate testamentum should be plural, testamenta.

5. Whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ, according to the flesh, who is over all things, God blessed for ever. Amen.

The dignity of the Jews because of their origin is now shown. Their ancestors were the fathers, i.e., the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—men beloved of God above all others (Exodus 3:6; Deut 4:37; Acts 7:32).

Of whom is Christ. The greatest of all the dignities of the Jews consisted in the fact that Christ was to come from them, that they were to give the Messiah to the world.

According to the flesh, i.e., as regards the flesh (το κατα σαρκα, quantum attinet ad carnem), namely, according to His human nature.

Who is . . . God, i.e., this Christ, who was of Jewish origin according to His human nature, was also God, the Creator and Ruler over all things, and had, therefore, a divine nature, and hence is blessed for ever.

St. Thomas observes that in this verse four heresies are destroyed: (a) that of the Manicheans, who said that Christ had not a true, but only an apparent body; against which the Apostle here says that Christ was descended from the Jews according to the flesh; (b) that of Valentine who taught that the body of Jesus was not from the common mass of the human race, but had come from heaven; whereas St. Paul here says that according to the flesh Christ was from the Jews; (c) that of Nestorius who held that the son of man was one person, the son of God another person in Christ; against which the Apostle asserts that the same person who was from the Jews according to the flesh was God, the Ruler of all things; (d) that of Arius, who said that Christ was less than the Father and created out of nothing; against which the Apostle insists that Christ was God over all things and that He is blessed forever: only God could be blessed forever.

Certain Rationalists (Julicher, Lipsius, Lochmann, etc.), in order to weaken this clear testimony of the Apostle regarding the Divinity of Christ, have said that a period should be placed after secundum carnem or after omnia, and that the remainder of the verse should be considered as a doxology in praise of God. This opinion, however, cannot be sustained,—(a) because it is opposed to the traditional reading, found in the vast majority of MSS. and in almost all versions; and (b) because it is opposed to the authority of the oldest Fathers, who made use of this very text to prove the Divinity of Christ. Cf. Cornely, h. 1.; Lagrange, h. 1. ; Revue Bib., 1903, pp. 550-57O.


A Summary of Romans 9:6-13~Up to these verses in the present chapter the condition of Israel has been only indirectly stated in Paul’s wish that he might be anathema from Christ for his fellow-Jews, if that was possible. Strange as it may seem, in spite of all their privileges, in spite of the promise made to them, in spite of the fact that Christ took His human nature from among them, it is they who are anathema from Christ. And yet the designs of God cannot be frustrated, neither have they been; for, on the one hand, the designs of God are not restricted to a carnal descent, and on the other hand, some of the Jews have accepted the Gospel. If all the Jews have not embraced the faith, it is because they did not all receive an efficacious call. God, who even in the beginning of Jewish history, drew distinctions within the seed of Abraham, as in the case of Isaac’s children, Jacob and Esau, was not obliged to call all the Jews to the faith, nor of those called, to treat all in the same manner. God chooses men in accordance with His purposes, and this is the first explanation of Israel’s condition.

6. Not as though the word of God hath miscarried. For all are not Israelites that are of Israel:

While St. Paul found no difficulty in that the Law had been abrogated, he could in nowise admit that the word of God to Israel, i.e., the unconditional promise that Israel should be saved by the Messiah, could fail of its fulfillment. In this promise the veracity and fidelity of God were involved. Those who think the incredulity of the Jews has rendered vain the promise of God make the mistake, says the Apostle, of thinking that that promise was made to the carnal descendants of Abraham; they fail to distinguish between those who are Israelites according to the flesh (1 Cor 10:18) and those who are Israelites according to the spirit, the spiritual children of Abraham (Gal 6:16).

Israel, in place of Israelitae of the Vulgate, is more in conformity with the Greek. Hence also, “Israelites” would better be “Israel” in English.

7. Neither are all they that are the seed of Abraham, children; but in Isaac shall thy seed be called:

The thought of the preceding verse is more clearly developed. The Apostle says that not all who are carnally descended from Abraham shall be the inheritors of the promise, but only those who are descendants through Isaac, as Gen 21:12 clearly testifies.

Seed (σπερμα = sperma) in the first part of this verse means carnal descendants; in the second part it indicates the descendants that inherit the blessings of the promise. Ishmael was a type of the first; Isaac of the second.

Children (τεκνα = tekna), an endearing term, are those descendants of Abraham who are recognized by God as the legitimate heirs of the promises made to the Patriarchs.

8. That is to say, not they that are the children of the flesh, are the children of God; but they, that are the children of the promise, are accounted for the seed.

The preceding verse (7) is explained here.

Not . . . the children of the flesh, etc., i.e., they are not the children of God, and the consequent heirs of the promise, that are descended carnally from Abraham, as Ishmael was; but those are the heirs that, like Isaac, are the children of the promise; those, namely, who, being united to Christ through faith, have imitated the virtues of Abraham, and have thereby become his true descendants and the heirs of the promise (Gal 3:26). People do not become the children of God because of their natural origin, but only by God’s free choice in advance, as in the case of the election of Isaac. Isaac was called the child of promise (Gal 4:23, 29), because he was born of Abraham and Sara in their old age by virtue of the promise God made to them.

It is to be noted that the words of Genesis regarding Isaac in the preceding verse, as well as the quotations about Jacob and Esau in the verses that follow, have direct reference to temporal blessings; but the Apostle is here making use of them in their typical meaning. He wishes to say that just as God, of His own free choice, bestowed temporal blessings on Isaac in consequence of Isaac’s being the child of promise, rather than on Ishmael, who was descended from Abraham only in a carnal and natural way; so will He likewise bestow His spiritual blessings of grace and justification on those who are the children of Abraham by reason of their faith, rather than by reason of mere carnal descent. Faith, and not carnal descent, establishes the true relationship between Abraham and his children.

9. For this is the word of promise : According to this time will I come; and Sara shall have a son.

This verse explains how Isaac was the child of promise. When Abraham and Sara were old and could not naturally expect to have a child, God promised them through His angel (Gen 18:10-14) that in about a year’s time they would have a son. Isaac was therefore the result of a miracle, rather than a child of the flesh.

According to this time, i.e., in about one year.

10. And not only she. But when Rebecca also had conceived at once, of Isaac our father.

The Apostle gives a second example (Rom 9:10-13) which proves still more clearly the liberty of God’s elections, since there is question now of the same mother and her twins by the same father. She is not in the Greek, which reads: “Not only (this), but also Rebecca,” etc. The Apostle wishes to point out from the case of Rebecca (Gen 25:23) that God, in giving privileges and blessings to men, has no regard either for the conditions of their birth or for their personal merits. Thus we see that, of two sons, twins, conceived at once, i.e., at the same time by the same father and of the same mother, one was chosen, the other rejected by God before they saw the light of day (Rom 9:11). Hence it follows that the promise of God was not made to all the carnal descendants of Abraham, and so it is not to be wondered at that many Jews remain in their incredulity and do not have part in the promised blessings.

The ilia of the Vulgate should be omitted, according to the Greek.

11. For when the children were not yet born, nor had done any good or evil (that the purpose of God, according to election, might stand),
12. Not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said to her: The elder shall serve the younger.

In these verses the Apostle shows that God, guided solely by His gratuitous election, freely chooses people to do His will; and that, consequently, just as, irrespective of the personal merits of Jacob and Esau, He chose the former on whom to bestow all kinds of temporal blessings, and rejected the latter; so has He gratuitously decreed to bestow on the Gentiles, typified by Jacob, the spiritual blessings of justification and of the Gospel, and exclude the Jews, as a race, typified by Esau, from a participation in those blessings.

When the children were not yet born (11). The subject of γεννηθεντων (gennethenton) is evidently Jacob and Esau in the womb of their mother.

Nor had done any good, etc., i.e., before any chance of merit or demerit on their part, God preferred Jacob and made him the object of future blessings, in spite of the fact that Esau was the first-born, and as such would seem to enjoy some special rights to those blessings. But Esau, as a matter of fact, as if in fulfillment of the divine decree, sold his rights as firstborn to Jacob, and this latter obtained the blessing of his father Isaac and was made heir in place of his brother. The Edomites, the descendants of Esau, were consequently made subject to and were dominated by the Israelites, who were descended from Jacob (2 Sam 8:13). These words of the Apostle are a refutation of the Pelagian heresy which said that grace is given by God in view of antecedent merits.

That the purpose, etc., i.e., the eternal decree of God to reject Esau and call Jacob to the inheritance of temporal blessings.

According to election. This eternal decree of God has its reason not in the present or future merits of those who are called, but only in the free and gratuitous choice of God.

Not of works, etc., i.e., not out of regard for anyone’s works or merits, but solely of him that calleth, i.e., through the grace of God who calls.

The elder shall serve (12), etc. This reference is to Gen 25:23. When Rebecca felt the infants struggling in her womb, she sought an explanation of the incident from the Lord, and she was told that she “had two nations in her womb,” and that the elder, i.e., the descendants of the elder (the Edomites) would be subject to those of the younger, namely, the Israelites. This divine prediction was literally verified in the time of David (2 Sam 8:13). The mystical application of these words by St. Paul is evident.

Nearly all modern exegetes omit the parentheses of verse 11.

13. As it is written: Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.

Jacob I have loved, etc. Here St. Paul cites the Prophet Malach1:2 to show the reason why God chose Jacob rather than Esau. He freely loved the former and hated the latter, and this is the sole reason why He forechose and predestined the one for future blessings, and rejected the other. The words of Malachi, like those of Gen 25:23, refer both to the persons of Jacob and Esau and to the peoples that descended from them, i.e., to the Israelites who descended from Jacob, and to the Edomites who descended from Esau; and by quoting the Prophet’s words St. Paul shows that the actual course of history verified the statement made to Rebecca. Therefore, concludes the Apostle, just as the choice of Jacob was due solely to the love and freedom of God, so also is the call to the faith a free gift of God’s love, not dependent on conditions of birth or personal merits. This same freedom on the part of God explains why many of the Jews, although descendants of Jacob, are excluded from a participation in the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom. God chooses whom He will to carry out His purposes, and His plans do not fail because of the failure of individuals.

Esau I have hated. God loves all things that He makes, and consequently He loves all human beings, inasmuch as He confers on all some benefits of nature and of grace, but not in the sense that He confers on all the same measure of blessings. Accordingly God, in His eternal wisdom and justice, does not give to all the efficacious call to the faith and the reward of eternal life; He is thus said to hate those whom He excludes from the prize of eternal life, and to love in a special manner those on whom He confers it. These latter God predestines to glory, the former He reprobates. There is this vast difference, however, between predestination and reprobation that, while both are eternal and unchangeable in God, predestination implies on God’s part the preparation of merits in virtue of which glory is afterwards conferred; whereas reprobation does not suppose that God prearranged sins on account of which one is condemned to eternal punishment. Hence it follows that God’s foreknowledge of merits cannot be the cause of predestination, since merits are rather the consequence of predestination. But positive reprobation, on the contrary, which implies not only exclusion from glory, but the infliction of eternal pain, does not take place until after the permission and prevision of sins. God will punish the wicked for the sins which they themselves commit, in which He has no part; and He will reward the just on account of the merits which they possess, not alone of themselves, but through the help of His grace: “Destruction is thy own, O Israel: thy help is only in me” (Hosea 13:9) (Sales, Martini).

God, therefore, far from regulating His choice by the dispositions of persons, is guided rather by His own hidden purposes, and by His consequent personal sentiments of love or of hate; before the birth of the twins, He loved one and hated the other of His own free choice. This hatred of God, anterior to all foreseen demerits, has something awful about it, which Cornely feels forced to mitigate by softening the sense of εμισησα (emisesa “hated”) so as to mean “to love less” or “to neglect.” But whatever may be said of the texts cited (Gen 29:30-31; Luke 14:26; Deut. 21:15-17; Judges 14:16; Prov 14:20), the text of Malachi says plainly that God detested Esau, representing the Edomites, as His subsequent conduct toward that people proved. It would be necessary, therefore, in Cornely’s view, to suppose that St. Paul set aside the sense of the text of Malachi, either by eliminating all allusion to the history of the peoples represented by Esau and Jacob, or by distinguishing between the sentiments which God entertained toward these peoples, on the one hand, and their unborn ancestors, on the other—suppositions which cannot be sustained (cf. Lagrange, h. 1.).

Whichever view we take of εμισησα (emisesa “hated”) here, whether we say that God really hated Esau before he was born, or only that He neglected him, or loved him less than Jacob, we must remember that St. Paul is quoting Old Testament language,—language natural and familiar to the Jews, but essentially severe in its tone, and oftentimes shocking to ears attuned to the mildness and mercy of Christian words. Furthermore, in trying to understand the mysteries of divine election and reprobation it makes little difference in fact whether we say that God hates, or merely neglects or loves less the reprobate, since the final outcome is the same, whatever be the words used to unfold the mystery to our human and limited intelligences. In negative reprobation God simply does not choose the person or persons in question, and this for His own hidden reasons, although in time He gives them graces and means sufficient for their salvation.


A Summary of Romans 9:14-24~In this section the Apostle discusses the justice of God in giving His grace to one rather than to another, without regard for their merits. It has already been proved against the Jews that God was not unfaithful to His promises, because these were made not to the carnal, but to the spiritual posterity of Abraham. But since the Jews were God’s chosen people, favored with the Law and many special heavenly blessings, they might consider it unjust on the part of God to prefer the Gentiles to them. Forestalling this objection the Apostle proposes it himself, only to reject it as a blasphemy. If the Jews do not embrace Christianity, it is because they have not received God’s efficacious call; but in this there is no injustice with God, since Scripture proves that God gives His favors to whom He pleases, while He hardens others (verses 15-18). But if men are thus the instruments of God, how can God blame them (verse 19)? In reply the Apostle maintains that God has a right to do as He will with His creature (verses 20, 21). He then explains the designs of God, who, while patient with the wicked, has determined to show forth His anger as well as His goodness (verses 22-24).

If we do not understand all of God’s mysterious dealings with the human race the reason is: (a) because He is infinite and we are finite, and just because He is infinite there must be in all His actions and outward manifestations much of mystery which we can never fathom; (b) God has not and cannot make known to us in this life, when we must live and walk by faith, all the reasons and purposes of His actions.

14. What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? God forbid.

To the objection here raised Paul at present gives no other answer than a plain and vigorous rejection. There is no injustice (αδικια = adikia) in God, he says. God is free to give His favors to whom He will, and hence if He chooses to give the blessings of grace and justification to the Gentiles rather than to the Jews, who can accuse Him of injustice?

15. For he saith to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will shew mercy to whom I will shew mercy.

St. Paul now appeals to the authority of God speaking to Moses, to prove that God is the free and independent dispenser of His gifts. The citation (Exodus 33:19) is according to the Septuagint. The Hebrew of this passage would be rendered by the present tense, and the first clause would be indicative of favor, the second of mercy or pity: “I show favor to whom I show favor, and I show mercy to whom I show mercy.” As God was here speaking to Moses, as contrasted with Pharaoh, it is more likely that Moses in this instance is to be considered as a private person, rather than in his capacity as lawgiver to whom God was revealing His plan (Lagrange). God, therefore, like a rich man dispensing his gifts, is under no obligation to give to anyone, or to one rather than to another; and if He freely chooses to bestow His riches on some and deny them to others, there is no injustice done whatever; God is simply manifesting His own will in bestowing or withholding His gifts, and His will is essentially and necessarily righteous. If we do not understand this, or find difficulty in God’s ways of acting, it is only because we are sinful finite creatures; and as such we should not expect to comprehend the actions of the infinite and allholy God. God, therefore, is perfectly free to call the Gentiles to the faith rather than the Jews, and to call some of the Jews and reject others. Cf. St. Thomas, h. 1.

16. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

The conclusion to what has been said is now drawn. It, i.e., the showing of mercy, the election of man to the faith and to eternal life, in nowise depends on the dispositions or efforts of man, but on God who manifests His goodness.

Not of him that willeth, i.e., no internal strong desires, nor of him that runneth, i.e., no external strenuous efforts on man’s part can make any claim to justification, or to the election to eternal life. That which follows election and the call to the faith is not in question here; neither is there question in this verse of the relation between grace and free will, but only of God’s entire freedom to favor whom He chooses.

17. For the scripture saith to Pharao: To this purpose have I raised thee, that I may shew my power in thee, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.

Having proved that God is perfectly free to show the goodness of His mercy to whom He will, St. Paul now goes on to indicate by a second example that God is not less free and just in refusing to call, and thereby reprobating others. Moses was an object of God’s mercy and favor, Pharaoh was a type of those who resist God and refuse to obey God’s laws.

The Scripture, i.e., God through the Scripture (Exodus 9:16), saith to Pharao. St. Paul cites the Scripture as the Word of God. The citation is according to the LXX, but is not literal. The LXX has “thou hast been preserved”; but St. Paul says, ( εξηγειρα = exegeira)  which is very similar to the Hebrew, (עמד =‛âmad pronounced aw-mad’) “I have raised thee up,” as actors are called to the stage of life to play a role in human history. The sense is practically the same in either reading. We cannot say, however, that God, in making use of Pharaoh as a means of manifesting His power and glorifying His name throughout the world, excited him to sin and moved him to evil. God’s primary intention in raising Pharaoh to the throne of Egypt was that the monarch might justly and rightly govern his people, and thus promote his own and their salvation; but this primary intention failing, God called into play His secondary object, which was to make of Pharaoh an instrument whereby to manifest the divine power and glorify the divine name.

In the case of Pharaoh, as in similar instances, God simply permitted man, a finite and defectible creature, to misuse his own free will by turning to evil his office, his power, his works and other things which were intended by God to lead their possessor to good. Pharaoh, as king, had his authority from God, and God permitted him freely to abuse it in oppressing and persecuting the Israelites. God, therefore, was not the cause of the wickedness of Pharaoh, but in His infinite wisdom, which knows how to draw good out of evil, He made use of the malice of the wicked king to set forth His own power and justice by at length visiting his impiety and cruelty with many and dire chastisements (Sales). Cf. Ex 14:14-15; Josh 2:9; Josh 9:9; 1 Sam 4:8, etc.

18. Therefore he hath mercy on whom he will; and whom he will, he hardeneth.

The conclusion which follows from verses 15-17 is that God is perfectly free, and therefore just, in giving His favors to one rather than another, in showing mercy to some and in hardening others. God does not, however, harden man’s heart directly, by making him obstinate in sin; but indirectly He does, by justly withholding His more abundant grace, thus permitting man to continue in sin and to offend ever more and more grievously. To all God gives grace sufficient for salvation, but many, abusing the graces they receive, become unworthy of that further efficacious grace without which final perseverance and the attainment of heaven are impossible.

St. Paul does not attempt to reconcile the action of God in hardening a sinner with man’s free will. That God has the power to harden man’s heart the Apostle here affirms, and this is done, not by moving man to sin, but by withholding grace from him. It is maintained in this verse only that God has the right to show mercy to whom He will and to harden whom He will, without saying that all are hardened to whom mercy is not shown, or that this hardening is lasting or merely for a time (Lagrange).

19. Thou wilt say therefore to me: Why doth he then find fault? for who resisteth his will?

From the foregoing doctrine one might object that there is no room for faultfinding on the part of God, if some are not converted, because no one resists His will. Those who freely obey His law are the objects of His love and mercy, while those who refuse obedience to Him fall under His justice; hence they who think they are resisting the divine will are only obeying it in another way: there is no complete resisting the will of God.

Who resisteth, etc., i.e., who has ever succeeded in resisting God’s will, since, if we do not obey it in one way, we do in another? The meaning is not: Who would be able to resist His will? (Cornely).

The dicis of the Vulgate should be dices. Both words can be translated as “say,” but dices is a bit more forceful, often having legal or disputative force, and, therefore, is more in keeping with argumentative, debate-like  of the presentation (see following comment on verse 20).

20. O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the things formed say to him that formed it: why hast thou made me thus?
21. Or hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

Who art thou that repliest (20), etc. The Apostle supposes there was something insolent in the above objection, as ανταποκρινομενος (antapokrinomenos = “that repliest against”) would imply. Has ignorant, miserable, sinful man any right to enter into a discussion with the all-wise Creator regarding the conditions of his creation and life?

St. Paul then asks in this and in the following verse two questions which are calculated to remind the objector of what he really is with regard to God. The comparison which follows in these questions is after the manner of a parable or illustration, and was often made use of in the Old Testament (Isa 29:16; Isa 45:8-10; lxiv. Isa 64:8; Jer 18:6; Wis 15:7, etc.), where God was compared to a potter, and man to a vessel of clay, most likely in view of the account of Gen 2:7. This manner of speech was, therefore, very familiar to the Jews, and had, in consequence, a special force for them.

The question of verse 21 is really an answer to that of verse 20: just as the clay has no right to object to the action of the potter, so neither has man any right to say to his Creator, “why have you made me thus?” And again, just as the potter has the right to make of the same lump some vessels for honorable, others for dishonorable uses, so has God the right and the liberty to show mercy to some men, and to use others for His own hidden purposes. There is no injustice done to man if God chooses not to use him for high and noble purposes, because man has no right to these things. Without doubt St. Paul is here indirectly treating of election to glory and of reprobation. His words have immediate reference to God’s call to, or rejection from, the faith; but they apply equally to election to glory or to reprobation. The principle is the same in either case.

There is nothing, however, in these verses to justify the fatalism of Calvin, who taught that God is the cause of evil as well as good, and that He makes some people good and others bad, in order to lead the former to glory and the latter to perdition. As said above, the Apostle is making use, at present, of an illustration only, and all points between the things compared must not, therefore, be insisted upon. Hence, from the passivity of the clay in the hands of the potter we can no more argue to the exclusion of human liberty, than we can exclude the existence of a rational soul in man, on the ground that these things are not in the clay. The object of the Apostle in employing the comparison is merely to show that man has no more reason to complain of rejection from grace, than the clay would have of its destination for dishonorable purposes. From man’s complete rejection from grace his rejection from glory would also follow; but the decree of positive reprobation from glory is always grounded on man’s demerits (MacEvilly).

22. What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction,

After having energetically replied to the insolent objection of verse 19, St. Paul returns to the situation of verses 15-18, and sets forth certain reasons why God shows mercy to some and hardens others. If God has called the Gentiles and rejected the Jews, He is only manifesting His infinite mercy and justice, as He has a right to do; and St. Paul sees in the case of the Jews, as in that of Pharaoh, a historic incident which but serves God’s infinite designs.

What if (ει δε = ei de), i.e., according to Lagrange, “now, if.” No apodosis follows, the period is left incompleted. The required apodosis would be something like this: What should we say? What objection could we make?

Willing (θελων = thelon), i.e., although willing, or while willing, according to Cornely. This would give θελων (= thelon) a concessive meaning,—God could have wished to show His anger, but He has not. Such an explanation, however, seems contrary to Rom 1:18-3:20, where St. Paul shows that God has not only wished to show His anger, but has actually done so (Lagrange, Kuhl, etc.). Still, it can be argued that the wrath of God, which, to some extent has already been visited upon both Jews and Gentiles, is restrained and will be manifested in a special manner on all those who are eternally condemned for their personal sins.

And to make his power known, as He did in a measure, in saving His people in spite of Pharaoh, and in bearing mercifully with the Jews, whose treatment of Christ and the Apostles merited a speedy punishment.

Endured with much patience. Better, “Hath borne with much patience,” i.e., according to Cornely, God bore with vessels of wrath in order to give them time to do penance and be saved. Fr. Lagrange does not exclude this interpretation, but thinks the Apostle meant here simply to say that God bore with vessels of wrath in order to manifest His wrath and power towards some, who willfully harden themselves, and His goodness and mercy towards others, who make use of the graces offered them (verse 23).

Vessels of wrath, i.e., sinners, those who, like those who rejected the Gospel, resist the will of God and become deserving of vengeance and punishment.

Fitted for destruction, i.e., prepared and ready, by their own choice and actions, for the wrath that has been visited upon them in their lives, and for the eternal perdition they deserve hereafter. Who, therefore, can take issue with God, if He has rejected and reprobated the Jews for the sins they have freely chosen to commit? God’s long-suffering is salvation to those who wish to be converted (2 Pet 3:9, 15), but it is damnation aggravated to those who harden themselves in sin (Rickaby).

23. That he might shew the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he hath prepared unto glory?

That he might, etc. In the great majority of MSS  ινα γνωριση (hina gnorise)  is preceded by και (kai, pronounced, kahee), which makes it especially clear that this verse follows upon the thought of the first part of verse 18. Not only has God manifested His wrath upon vessels of wrath, but He has also shown mercy to those whom He has withdrawn from sin and justified in preparation for eternal glory.

The riches of his glory, i.e., the riches of His goodness (Rom 2:4), by which sinners are led from evil ways to faith and justification, and finally to eternal glory in heaven.

On the vessels of mercy, i.e., on those who become objects of His grace and mercy.

Which he hath prepared, etc. God does not prepare the vessels of wrath for damnation. Of their own perversity they choose to abide in sin, and so God withdraws from them His special aid, and permits them to become hardened and to die in their sins. The vessels of mercy, on the contrary, God prepares for glory by calling them efficaciously to the faith, by sanctifying them, and by helping them to persevere to the end. Man corrupted by original sin needs only to be left to himself, to his own perverse will and tendencies, to be lost; but to be saved, he needs to be helped and disposed in a special manner by the grace of God.

24. Even us, whom also he hath called, not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles.

This verse ought really to be joined to the preceding, according to sense. It proves that the intervention of God has actually commenced already, as stated in the verses above.

Even us, i.e., the vessels of mercy, St. Paul and the Roman Christians. Speaking of the called the Apostle puts the Jews in the first place to remind them of their prerogatives; but by including the Gentiles he shows the entire freedom of God’s choice, which has brought more Gentiles than Jews to Christianity.


A Summary of Romans 9:25-29~Having proved from the history of the Patriarchs that the Messianic promises did not pertain to each and all the Jews (verses 6-13), and having shown from Scripture that God is perfectly free and just in the distribution of His gifts, the Apostle now shows that the call of the Gentiles to the faith and the rejection of the Jews as a body God had already foretold in Hosea and in Isaiah. The reference is to the Jews of St Paul’s day. See the commentary on verse 29.

25. As in Hosea he saith: I will call that which was not my people, my people; and her that was not beloved, beloved; and her that had not obtained mercy, one that hath obtained mercy.

In the present verse the Apostle freely cites the Prophet Hosea 2:23-24 according to the LXX. The words not my people and not beloved, literally refer to the ten schismatical tribes of Israel who had fallen into idolatry and into all the vices of paganism, but to whom God had promised mercy and restoration to the ancient privileges of His people, provided they would be converted from their evil ways. In a spiritual sense the words “not my people,” and “not beloved,” refer to the Gentiles, of whom the ten schismatical tribes were a figure (1 Pet. 2:10). As God could bring back the unfaithful and disowned, so could He bring in those who had not been called before.

The words, and her that had not obtained mercy, etc., are omitted by all the Greek MSS. and the Fathers. The second clause, and her that was not beloved, etc., is also omitted by St. Jerome and a few MSS.

26. And it shall be, in the place where it was said unto them, You are not my people; there they shall be called the sons of the living God.

The Apostle again cites Hosea 1:10 according to the Septuagint, thus making once more the schismatical tribes of Israel a type of the pagans. As God punished the unfaithful ten tribes with exile, and afterwards reunited the remnants of Israel so as to be again His people; so can He call the Gentiles, before far from Him, and make them His people and His sons.

27. And Isaiah crieth out concerning Israel: If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.

Isaiah 10:22 is now cited to show that a remnant of the Jews shall recognize the Messiah and be saved. The LXX is followed with slight alteration. Literally the Prophet’s words had reference to the few Israelites who, through trust in God, should escape the devastations of the Assyrians under Sennacherib; and these the Apostle makes a type of the small number of Jews that should believe in Christ and attain to salvation.

The pro of the Vulgate should be super, to agree with the Greek υπερ (=huper).

28. For he shall finish his word, and cut it short in justice; because a short word shall the Lord make upon the earth.

The citation of Isaia 10:22-23 is continued according to the LXX. Quoting the LXX from memory St. Paul has given a substantial rendering of the passage, omitting the words ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ from Isa 10:22, and  ὅτι λόγον συντετμημένον, from verse 23, and changing the last words, ἐν τῇ οἰκουμένῃ ὅλῃ  for the similar and more usual επι της γης. The Hebrew of this passage is somewhat different: “Destruction is decreed, bringing justice; for destruction and a firm decree the Lord God of hosts will execute in the midst of all the land.” However, the two renderings of this text, the Hebrew and the Greek, differ only in minor details; the sense is essentially the same. In both instances there is question of a divine decree which is a just chastisement for sin.

For he shall finish, etc., i.e., the Lord shall completely and briefly effect an accomplishment of His work on earth, regarding the deliverance of the Jews from the destructive sword of the Assyrian, by reducing to a few the number of the Israelites that are to be saved. This He shall do in justice, i.e., by justly punishing the greater number, and giving to the few the abundance of His favors.

Because a short word, etc. This clause is not found in the best Greek MSS., and is but a repetition of the foregoing one, as indeed this whole verse is but an emphasizing of the preceding verse. The words of Isaiah, which literally referred to the deliverance of the Jews from Assyrian destruction, St. Paul is typically using to show that the greater number of Jews will be rejected from grace, and only a few admitted to the blessings of faith.

29. And as Isaiah foretold: Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been made as Sodom, and we had been like unto Gomorrha.

The LXX of Isaiah 1:9 is cited to prove once more that a small number of the Jews will embrace the faith of Christ. The Prophet’s words, as before, literally relate to those who survived the Assyrian captivity, and these the Apostle is making a type of the few Jews that will recognize and follow Christ. As comparatively few Jews escaped the Assyrian sword in the time of Isaias, so few comparatively, in the time of St. Paul, entered the fold of Christ; and as in the former instance, so in the latter, these few were as a seed for a future growth and a harvest which shall be garnered before the end of the world.

It would be wrong to argue from these passages that the majority of Christians or of mankind are lost eternally.


A Summary of Romans 9:30-33~The Jews are responsible for their rejection by failing to believe in Christ. They were scandalized at the very object of their salvation.

Having shown, therefore, that God is not unfaithful to His promises, and having considered God’s part in the rejection of the Jews, the Apostle passes on now (Rom 9:30-10:21) to a consideration of the responsibility and culpability of the Jews relative to their own rejection. In the remaining verses of the present chapter he points out the fundamental mistake of the Jews, which was to misunderstand the divine plan, and consequently to stumble at Christ and seek salvation where God had not ordained it to be found.

30. What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who followed not after justice, have attained to justice, even the justice that is of faith.

What then, etc. (τι ουν). This is at once a conclusion to the preceding section, that the Jews as a whole have been rejected, and an introduction to a new aspect of the question, namely, the responsibility of Israel (Lagrange). Having shown that God has been faithful and just in His dealings with Israel, what shall we say about the rejection of the Jews and the call of the Gentiles, the Apostle asks.

That (οτι) introduces the answer to the question proposed; hence the meaning is: We say “that Gentiles” who did not exert themselves to seek after good, have attained to justice, i.e., to justification through faith, a gratuitous gift of God (Rom 3:28; 6:4).

Gentiles should be read without the article (εθνη, not τα εθνη), because (a) some of the pagans did seek after virtue (Rom 2:14), and (b) there were many who never attained to justification through faith; only some Gentiles are therefore meant.

31. But Israel, by following after the law of justice, is not come unto the law of justice.

This verse, according to the best MSS., should read as follows: “But Israel, seeking after the law, is not come to the law of justice.” The word δικαιοσυνης, of justice, in the first clause, was perhaps added by a copyist; but, with or without this term, the sense of this passage is that Israel, for the most part, living under a law which led to justice, or pointed the way to it, failed to attain to the rule of veritable justice (St. Thomas, Cornely). Israel as a whole pursued the justice which it was obliged to follow, but erred in the manner of seeking it (verse 32).

The law means the Law of Moses. The law of justice means sanctifying grace, that internal observance of the Law which, through faith in Christ to come, produced internal sanctity of soul and real supernatural justice. The Jews sought true justice in the external observance of the precepts of the Law and were content with an external holiness, instead of seeking the internal sanctity of the heart.

In the Vulgate the first justitiae should be omitted, and sectans is preferable to sectando.

32. Why so? because they sought it not by faith, but as it were of works. For they stumbled at the stumbling stone.

Why so? i.e., what is the reason why the Jews, while seeking after justice, have not, for the most part, attained to the justification of Christ? Because, as has been shown in the first part of the Epistle, true justice is obtained only through faith, and the Jews have sought it, or pretended (ως) to seek it, through works, mere natural works, performed without faith and the help of grace (iv. 4-6). Thus, by rejecting faith, the Jews have failed to attain that which the Gentiles through faith have acquired.

They stumbled, i.e., they were scandalized at the lowly, suffering life of Christ (1 Cor. 1:23), who, as Messiah, did not conform to their erroneous ideas. Jesus was, therefore, a “stumbling-block” to the Jews (Luke 2:34).

For (Vulg., enim) is not authentic.

33. As it is written: Behold I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and a rock of scandal; and whosoever believeth in him shall not be confounded.

That the Jews were scandalized and stumbled at the suffering and crucified Christ ought not to cause surprise, because it was foretold by the Prophet Isaias that they would commit this appalling error. The Apostle has blended two texts of Isaiah 8:14 and Isaiah 28:16; the latter according to the Septuagint, the former according to the Hebrew. It is certain that there is question of the Messiah in the second text; and while the first one speaks of Jehovah, it must also be understood of the Messiah, as we are assured by St. Paul here, by St. Peter (1 Pet 2:6-8), and by the context of Isaiah, which is treating of the Emmanuel to come.

Whosoever should be “he that,” and omnis of the Vulgate ought to be omitted.

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