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 de Piconio’s Commentary on Romans 11:1-36

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 20, 2015

1. I SAY then: Has God rejected his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
2. God has not rejected his people, whom he foreknew. Know you not in Elias what the Scripture says: how he questions God against Israel:
3. Lord, they have slain thy prophets, dug down thine altars: and I alone am left, and they seek my life.
4. But what says the divine answer to him? there are left to me seven thousand men, who have not bent knees before Baal.
5. So therefore in this time also remnants have been saved according to the election of grace.
6. But if of grace, now not of works: otherwise grace is not grace

Chapter 11. In this chapter the Apostle points out that the rejection of the Jews is only temporary, and their conversion deferred to a later time.

1. I am also am an Israelite. I am a living proof that God has not rejected his people. I am an Israelite by descent, a child of Abraham, and of the tribe of Benjamin, and yet I am a Christian and an apostle of Christ. It is very probable that he was a descendant of his illustrious namesake, king Saul. On the failure of the expectation of the Jews that Christ, as head of the house of David, would make them independent of the Roman power, which disappointment caused his death, they turned to Saul, whose energy and ambition, and the purity of his patriotism, gave them great hopes. If this was the case, his conversion must have been a severe blow to the turbulent government of the Jews.

2. God has not rejected his people, those at any rate of them who he foreknew would believe in Christ. Or, the people whose future greatness he predicted while they were yet only a single household, in the days of Abraham. Nor am I the only believer in Christ. In Elias, in the person of Elias; or by a Hebrew idiom, about Elias. Verses 3 and 4 of the text quote the words of 2 Kings 19:14, 18. The altars of God were overthrown by Achab and Jezabel out of hatred for the worship of God. Their original construction was, however, a violation of God’s command in Deut 16:2, and they were finally destroyed from motives of piety by the kings of Juda, Ezechias and Josias. Elias was informed that he was not, as he suppored, the only worshipper of the true God left, for there were yet seven thousand men, heads of families, who had not knelt before Baal. The Greek has τῷ Βααλ, to the statue of Baal, who was a masculine divinity, the word meaning Lord, Cornelius a Lapide is of opinion that the number seven thousand is put for a large and indefinite number, seven being often used in this sense in the Hebrew writings, and of this he gives several instances.

The true servants of God are sometimes lost in the multitude of the ungodly, especially in times of corruption and infidelity. We scarcely know of their existence, and cannot estimate their number. But God knows his own. Preserve me, Lord, for the holy has disappeared. Hide me under the shadow of thy wings. Keep me as the pupil of the eye, since I have hoped in thee and in thy grace.

Thus at this time, the Apostle proceeds, there is a number, to me unknown, possibly few and a mere handful or remnant, but some certainly, of the Hebrew nation, who have been saved, that is justified by faith, according to the election of grace, God’s gratuitous election, calling those who are willing to obey the call, to faith in Jesus Christ. And if this is so, their justification is not to be ascribed to their obedience to the law, by which no one could ever be saved, but is of grace, that is, of God’s free mercy. It is the very nature of the grace of justification, at least in the first and original bestowal of it, that it is not, and it cannot antecedently, be merited, but is God’s gift. Or else it would not be grace, which means this and nothing else, but a reward.

Saint Paul introduces this sentence in this place out of humility, and with reference to himself, claiming no merit for his own conversion. It is an effective argument in favour of the position which this Epistle is intended to establish.

Two answers may be given to the question, why the faithful penitent is justified by God. i. Because he has disposed himself by grace. 2. Because such is the free will of God. These are perfectly reconcilable. And in this way Cornelius a Lapide and Tyrinus consider that the variously-expressed opinions of different Fathers may be reconciled: as when Saint Chrysostom says that a man is elected to justice, because he consented to grace and believed; and Saint Augustine, because God has gratuitously chosen him to justice.

The Greek text adds at the end of verse 6 the following words: But if of works, now not of grace, otherwise work is no more work. The Syriac and Arabic versions have the same. Erasmus thinks the addition superfluous, and not Saint Paul’s, nor in accordance with his meaning. It is not found in the Vulgate.

7. What then? That which Israel sought, he has not attained: but the election has obtained it: and the rest have been blinded.
8. As it is written: God gave them a spirit of compunction: eyes that should not see, and ears that should not hear, even to this day.
9. And David says: Let their table be for a snare, and for capture, and for scandal, and for retribution to them.
10. Let their eyes be darkened that they see not: and do thou always bend down their back

7. What then? What is it I am maintaining? that the greater part of the people of Israel, seeking justification by the works of the law, have not attained to it, for want of faith in Christ; but the minority, who have embraced the Christian faith, have obtained justification; the rest were blinded and hardened by their own unbelief. The Greek text has were hardened, or grew hard. The Syriac: were blinded in heart. Directly and properly by their own malice, indirectly hy God’s abandoning them, as explained in ch 9:18, 21, 22.

8. As it is writtcn. Is 29:10. The Apostle does not quote the passage verbatim, but gives approximately the sense of it. A spirit of compunction means here a spirit of blindness, as if the eyes were pricked with the point of a needle, to make them blind. The original has a spirit of sleep. They had eyes to see the miracles of Christ, but saw them not, ears that heard his words, and heard them not. The reference here is to Is 6:10.

9. Their table, the Holy Scriptures, spread before them, for their spiritual nourishment and delight, becomes a snare to take them, a stumbling-stone over which they fall, a retribution bringing God’s anger against them, because they would not in the Scriptures recognise Christ.

10. The eyes of their mind are darkened, and their will bowed down to earthly things, for which alone they care. Ps 68:23, 24. The above is the figurative sense in which the Apostle apphes the language of the Psalm, of which the literal meaning is different. Compare Job 21:14. Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways; and 12:25. God suffers them to grope as in darkness, and wander like the drunk.

11. I say then: have they stumbled to their fall? God forbid. But, by their fault, there is salvation to the Gentiles, to urge them to emulation.
12. But if their fault is the riches of the world, and their diminution the riches of the nations: how much more their fulness!
13. For I speak to you Gentiles: as long as I am the Apostle of the nations, I will do honour to my ministry.
14. If by any means I may provoke my flesh to emulation, and save some of them.
15. For if the loss of them is the reconciliation of the world: what their assumption but life from the dead?

I say then: is their fall irremediable? God forbid. They will rise again. Meanwhile God is making use of it for the salvation of the Gentiles, and the conversion of the Gentiles will in turn move the Jews to emulation, for their conversion. If the fall of the Jews enriches the world, by the spread of the faith among all nations, and the rejection of the Jews who will not believe, their diminution, occasions the sanctification of innumerable multitudes of people of other nations; how much more will the complete conversion of the Jewish people enrich the nations of the earth! I am not afraid to speak openly to you, the Gentiles; for as the Apostle of the Gentiles, I will value and hold in honour my Apostolic ministry. There is nothing I am not ready to do for you; but I am eager also to provoke my own countrymen to emulation by your example, and call at least some of them to faith in Christ, and to salvation. If their rejection has reconciled the world to God, what will their general conversion be, but like a resurrection from the dead, for which therefore you ought with me to hope and pray.

The unbelief of the Jews w’as not in accordance with the will of God; but God’s wisdom made use of it to further the conversion of the rest of the world. It set the Apostolic teachers free to turn to the Gentiles. And the destruction of Jerusalem obtained for the Christian Church the favour and protection of the civil power, who now distinguished between the two, and had the Christians
on their side in the Jewish war. There was no renewal of persecution from the accession of Vespasian in 69 to the reign of Domitian, in 95, and during this period of tranquility the Christian Church increased from a rivulet to a mighty stream. St. John the Evangelist was the only member of the Apostolic College who lived through this period, the others having all suffered in the persecution under Nero. In vs. 12, the Greek text has their fall, or

16. But if  the portion is holy, so is the mass; and if the root is holy, the branches also are holy.
17. But if some of the branches were broken, and thou, being a wild olive, hast been grafted among them, and art become a partner in the root and in the richness of the olive.
18. Do not boast against the branches. But if thou boast: thou dost not bear the root, but the root thee

6. If the portion is holy, the first fruits, or portion of the corn presented as an oblation, the offering of which was held to consecrate the rest. Or possibly, if the quantity offered was too great to place on the altar, a portion only was used, and was considered to consecrate the whole. The Patriarchs and Prophets of the Hebrew nation were certainly holy, and from them the whole race drew sanctity in a certain degree. The conversion of the whole race is therefore to be hoped and prayed for. The Patriarchs were the first fruits, or delibation, of the Jewish race, and the root of the tree, the branches of which derive sanctity from the root.

17. Some of these branches were broken off, by the rejection and unbelief of the Jews; and thou, the oleaster, the Gentile, grafted in their place, as if by accident. In this situation thou partakest the privileges of the true people of God, the faith and grace of the older Saints, the richness of the olive. Boast not against the rejected branches. And remember that their root now bears thee, thine own was fruitless and sterile.

Calvin argues from vs. 16 that the children of Christian parents do not need baptism, being already holy. This would be true, if all that baptism confers is an exterior and adventitious sanctity, such as can be inherited from Patriarchs and holy men. But it would be equally true of adults, both Jew and Christian.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, were all Jews or Hebrews. These are the root of the olive. We are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Eph 2:20. Christ said: Salvation is of the Jews, John 4:22. The Patriarchs owe nothing to us, but we owe much to them.

19. Thou wilt say then: the branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.
20. Fairly said: they were broken off for unbelief. But thou standest by faith: think not loftily, but fear.
21, For if God spared not the natural branches, lest perhaps he spare not thee.
22. See, therefore, the goodness and severity of God: to those, indeed, who fell, severity; but the goodness of God to thee, if thou remain in his goodness, otherwise thou too shalt be cut off

20. Fairly said. The same causes led to the excision of the old branches and the insertion of the new. The humility of Christ offended the Jews and attracted the Gentiles. They were broken off for incredulity: thou standest by faith. Be not, therefore (in the Greek) lifted up in mind. The Syriac has: let not thy mind be lifted up. For faith may be lost. This passage refutes Calvin’s
assertion that this is impossible.

We adhere to Christ by faith and grace: but humility and fear are the guardians of faith and grace.

21. Lest perhaps he spare not thee. Faith may be lost by apostasy. This was the case with the celebrated Christian apologist Tertullian, who joined the Montanist heresy, and died out of the communion of the Catholic Church, early in the third century, and multitudes of others who are now less known.

22. See the goodness of God in freely offering remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and life eternal, to all mankind, on the condition of faith in Christ: and the severity with which he insists upon this condition, without which salvation is impossible. It was this which occasioned the fall of the unbelieving Jews, those who fell, though they were God’s chosen people. His goodness is assured to thee, if thou remain in it, persevering in faith, and in compliance with the laws of God and the Church, failing which, faith may not improbably be lost.

23, But they also, if they remain not in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again,
24. For if thou hast been cut off from the wild olive whence is thy nature, and against nature grafted in the good olive; how much more they, who are by nature, shall be grafted in their own olive?

23. The Jews, if they abandon their incredulity, may be once more grafted into the unity of the Catholic Church. Not only is this possible to God, but it is obviously easy. If thou, the Gentile, hast been removed from the wild olive of thy birth, and grafted in the fruitbearing olive tree of God, with still greater ease can the Jews, sprung originally from the stock of God’s olive, be restored to it again. God is mighty, and nothing but unbelief hinders their restoration.

The grafting a wild shoot on a fruit bearing stock, is a proceeding unknown to the art of cultivation. That the wild shoot so grafted should bear the fruit of the cultivated tree, would be against nature, and a sort of miracle. If it bore any fruit at all it would be the wild fruit of its own original nature. Yet the Gentiles, grafted into God’s olive by Baptism, bear good fruit to God. Much more the descendants of God’s ancient people, and of Patriarchs and Prophets, restored to the original stock whence they were cut off, will bear good fruit.

We ought not to despair of the salvation of any human being, because God is able even of the stones to raise up children to Abraham. Still less should we despair of the salvation of anyone who has received Christian Baptism, in which he was grafted into Christ. If God is able to save Turks and infidels, more easily can he save the Christian, though a sinner.

25. For I would not you should be ignorant, brethren, of this mystery (lest you be wise to yourselves) that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the nations enters.
26. And thus all Israel shall be saved, as it is written: There shall come from Sion who will deliver, and turn away impiety from Jacob.
27. And this covenant to them from me: when I shail have taken away their sins.
28. According to the Gospel indeed they are enemies on your account; but according  to the election they are most beloved on account of the fathers.
29. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
30. For as you also once believed not God, but have now obtained mercy on account of their unbelief:
31. So they also have not now believed for your mercy, that thev also may obtain mercy.
32. For God has concluded all things in unbelief, that on all he may have mercy

25. I wish to reveal to you a secret which possibly I should have suppressed, were it not that the knowledge of it is necessary for you, to repress the pride and exultation you are disposed to indulge in on the score of your faith, as knowing more than other men know. (In the Greek, that you may not be arrogant to yourselves.) Blindness of heart has fallen upon a great part of the Jewish nation. (This is the phrase used in the Syriac: the Greek has hardness or obduracy) until the number of the Gentiles who shall believe in Christ have entered the fold of the Church. Then, the number of the Gentile converts being complete, the whole Jewish nation will be converted to God, as predicted in Is 59:20, and 27:9. Their rejection of the Gospel of Christ has, indeed, made them the objects of God’s displeasure, and has at the same time facilitated and expedited your conversion. For God’s original design was the acceptance of Christ by the Jewish people in the first instance. This was defeated by their unbelief, and the message of salvation then offered to you. But they are still beloved on account of God’s choice of their nation in ancient times, and for the fathers’ sake. God’s gifts and promises, once given, are never recalled. You yourselves once believed not in God, but through the incredulity of the Jews you have now received his mercy. So in turn they also are now unbelieving for the very reason that you have obtained mercy; (the Greek, they disbelieve in your mercy, that God can really have extended his mercy to the Gentiles) and God will turn even this ultimately to their salvation, for they will one day believe in Christ for this very reason. For God, in his wonderful providence has permitted all nations successively (the Vulgate has all things, the Greek and the Syriac all men) to fall into unbelief, in the Syriac into disobedience. First the Gentiles, and now the Jews, that each may learn that it is to his gratuitous kindness and mercy alone that they are indebted for their salvation. He has permitted all men, Saint Thomas says, to be bound by the chain of error in some form or other, and from it there is no escape but by the grace of Christ, that God may have mercy upon all, and display this mercy to the whole world without exception.

From the statement of the Apostle in verse 27, and the words of the Prophet Malachi, 4:5, 6, Behold, I will send you Elias the prophet, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will convert the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers; lest by chance I come and strike the earth with anathema—there has arisen a tradition that the Jewish
nation will be converted to Christ before the end of the  world, and that the Church will be complete in unity and perfection in the union of Jews and Gentiles.

(Some modern writers consider that the prediction, All Israel shall be saved, was fulfilled after the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the great bulk of the Jewish nation was converted to Christ, and absorbed in the Catholic Church, during the interval which elapsed after that event and before the outbreak of the persecution under Domitian. See Hammond, Commentary on the N.T. in loc. In this case the modern Jews are the descendants of those who still remained in unbelief. This is not inconsistent with the view taken above of the prophecy of Malachi.) Note: “Some modern writers” &c.  Piconio was writing in the late 17th century. The opinion of these writers is unknown to me, and I do not recall ever seeing such an interpretation mentioned in historical reviews of the interpretation of Romans 11.

33. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgements and untraceable his ways!
34. For who hath known the sense of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor?
35. Or who first gave to him, and it shall be repaid him?
36. For of him, and through him, and in him are all things: to him be glory for ever. Amen

What the Apostle has said, is that in the early years of the world the nations fell into idolatry; then by the covenant with Abraham God secured the Hebrew race as his true worshipers; when the Gentiles believed in Christ the Jews fell, from that very circumstance, into unbelief, and finally, when the faith of the Gentiles shall be growing cold, the Jews will at length believe, and the Church be strengthened by the union of Jews and Gentiles. Thus in the midst of the maze of human error God is controlling error itself, and guiding all nations ultimately to the acceptance of his truth and their salvation. The contemplation of this leads him to the exclamation in the text.

33. The riches of the wisdom. The Greek and the Syriac have the depths of the riches and of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God. The riches of God is his mercy to all mankind, to the Gentiles first, then patiently bearing the infidelity of the Jews. His wisdom, in turning the infidelity of the Jews to the salvation of the Gentiles, and the conversion of the Gentiles, by emulation, to the salvation of the Jews. His knowledge of the whole history of mankind, past and future. His decrees are unsearchable by finite understanding, and we cannot trace the mode in which they are carried out.

34. Who has known the mind of the Lord? God is a King who entrusts his mind, or intention, to no created counsellor. And his riches are his own, and none has lent to him.

36. Cornelius a Lapide thinks that this passage, or at least the general custom of the Apostles, suggested the formula always used in the Church, Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. The other verse of the doxology. As it was in the beginning, &c., was added by the Council of Nice. See the words of Saint Basil, cited by Baronius, t. III, anno 325.


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