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 12

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 30, 2016

Text in red, if any, are my additions.

With this chapter commences the Moral Part of the Epistle. The principles already laid down in the foregoing portion are now viewed in their consequences and influences upon the Christian life. Having shown that faith is the only way to salvation the Apostle goes on in the remainder of his letter to point out what faith demands in practical ways from Christians.

This last part of the Epistle has two main sections. The first of these (Rom 12:1-13:14) contains general instructions for all Christians; the second (Rom 14:1-15:13) has particular counsels for the Christians in Rome.


A Summary of Romans 12:1-2~The practical consequences to be drawn from what has been said regarding the mercy of God toward man is the duty of entire consecration to God’s service, and of a radical interior transformation, as a means to the perfect execution of God’s will. 

Rom 12:1  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service.  

I beseech (παρακαλω) , i.e., I exhort, I counsel. 

Brethren, i.e., all you Christians of Rome. The term αδελφοι refers not to the Jewish Christians only, as Zahn pretends; but, as in Rom 11:25, to all the Christians in Rome. 

By the mercy, or, according to the Greek, “by the mercies” (2 Cor 1:3), i.e., on account of the mercy of God about which we have just spoken in the preceding chapter, and of which you Romans have been the object. 

That you present. The word παραστησαι means to present as a sacrifice, as the Jews were accustomed to bring their victims and present them to the altar for immolation (Lev 16:6; Luke 2:22). 

Your bodies. The Christian should consecrate his whole being to the service of God. The Apostle begins with the body, because man’s spiritual ruin began with the bodily organs, the senses. 

A living sacrifice, for a sacrifice under the Old Law, the victim had to be living, because the sacrificial act consisted principally in the immolation of the victim; it had to be holy, that is, without defect (Lev 19:2), suitable to be offered to God and pleasing in God’s sight. Likewise the Christian’s body, dead to sin through Baptism, should be living the life of grace which makes it holy and pleasing to God and renders it a fit instrument to be used by the mind and soul in God’s service. 

Your reasonable service. These words are in apposition to the whole preceding clause. The Apostle wishes to say that the sacrifice we make to God in offering Him our bodies, living, holy, etc., is a reasonable service, i.e., a real spiritual (Cornely) worship which proceeds from the interior man, and not a mere external sensible worship like the sacrifices of animals in the Old Testament; or that when man gives his body, i.e., his external moral actions to the service of God, he is rendering to God a worship truly reasonable and rational, i.e., suited to the nature of God and of man, unlike the sensible homage which was paid to God by the ancient sacrifices of brute animals (Lagr.). Whether we take “reasonable” (λογικην) here to mean spiritual or rational, it is clear that the offering to God of all our bodily activities and moral actions is a service based on a reasonable consideration of our nature and of God’s nature. 

Rom 12:2  And be not conformed to this world: but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and the acceptable and the perfect will of God. 

This verse develops the thought of the preceding one, passing from the dispositions of the body to those of the mind. The Christian’s service of God involves a change in his mental attitude. He must no longer adapt himself to the standards and manners, the thoughts and sentiments of this world of sin and corruption; but must, through the assistance of grace, be reformed, i.e., transformed (μεταμορφουσθε) by the renovation of his mind so as to live according to his true, rational, spiritual nature. This change and renovation in man’s higher nature is to the end that man may know what is the good, the acceptable and the perfect will of God (Vulgate); or, as the Greek text has it, that he may know what is the object of God’s will, namely, that it is something morally good (το αγαθον), something well-pleasing (ευαρεστον) to God, something perfect (τελειον). These three adjectives, αγαθον, ευαρεστον, and τελειον are taken substantively (Cornely, Lagr., Zahn, etc.), to explain that which God’s will respects. Hence the “will of God” means not the faculty which wills, but the object of that will, the thing willed.


A Summary of Romans 12:3-8~The sacrifice that we should make of our body and the corresponding renovation of our mind ought to be guarded by humility, which excludes all self-importance and enforces self-restraint in our dealings with one another. Let each Christian, by a faithful discharge of his duties, contribute his part to the common good of the Church. 

Rom 12:3. For I say, by the grace that is given me, to all that are among you, not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety, and according as God hath divided to every one the measure of faith.

By the grace, etc., i.e., by my authority as an Apostle (Rom 1:5; 15:15; 1 Cor 3:10; Gal 2:9, etc.). 

To all that are among you, i.e., to each individual among you Roman Christians. 

Not to be more wise, etc. φρονειν here describes the quality of one’s thought or mind. There is a play in this place, on the words in Greek, which does not appear in Latin or English. The sense is that no one should esteem himself beyond that which is his due, but that each one should esteem himself according to sober-mindedness. 

The measure of faith. “Faith” here does not mean the theological virtue, but rather the gratuitous and miraculous gifts that were often conferred on the early Christians at Baptism,—the charismata, of which there is question in the following verses, and in 1 Cor 7:7 (Cornely, Lagr., Zahn, etc.). These gifts
were various in kind, and were conferred as the will of God disposed. Each one, therefore, should use the gifts God has bestowed upon him with fidelity and humility, not interfering with the gifts and duties of others. 

Rom 12:4. For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office: 
Rom 12:5. So we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

With ancient writers the comparison of a social organism to the body was very common. St. Paul now compares the Christian society to a natural physical body. As in the latter there are many members performing different functions for the benefit of the whole, so in the former, the Church, each member has his proper office and gifts with which he ought to be content, and which he ought to utilize for the good of the entire Church. This thought is much further developed in 1 Cor 12:12-31, where the Apostle considers the Church as a living mystical body, and compares it in detail to a natural physical organism. The unity of the one, as of the other, comes from the soul, and Christ is the soul of His mystical body the Church. In Eph 4:15 St. Paul speaks of Christ as the head, but this is only a different way of showing the mysterious and gracious relations of Christians with Christ and His Spirit.

The faithful are many, but form only one body in Christ, by whose spirit they are united and vivified. All, therefore, are dependent on the life that comes from Christ, their head and soul; and all the members are interdependent one on another, as sharing in the common work to which life in Christ is ordained.

Rom 12:6. And having different gifts, according to the grace that is given us, either prophecy, to be used according to the rule of faith; 

In the next two paragraphs Fr. Callan talks in general concerning verses 6-8, he then moves on to look at the verses in more detail.

In verses 6-8 St. Paul illustrates the different gifts of the Christians, and the different uses of these gifts. The sentences are elliptical and need to be completed by the understanding of different verbs or phrases; e.g., after prophecy we should understand, let us prophesy; after ministry, let us serve; after teacheth, let him excel; after exhorteth, let him be assiduous; after giveth, let him give; after ruleth, let him rule; after mercy, let him show mercy.

There is question in these verses of what theologians call gratiae gratis datae, i.e., extraordinary and supernatural gifts, which God sometimes confers on certain persons, not on account of personal merits, nor for the spiritual advantage of the recipient, but rather for the general benefit of the Church. In the early days of the Church, when there was greater need of such extraordinary happenings, these gifts were often bestowed on the faithful. St. Paul makes particular mention of them in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. There he enumerates nine gifts, while here he speaks of only seven; but in neither place does he intend to do more than call the attention of the faithful to a few for the sake of illustration.

(6) According to the grace. This shows that the bestowal of the charismata does not depend on the personal merits of the recipient, but only on the free will of God. God distributes them as He will and to whom He will. Each one, therefore, should content himself with the gift he has received, and not desire that of another. 

Prophecy, i.e., a supernatural gift by which one knows hidden and future things, and which one uses to edify the Church (1 Cor 14:3 ff., 1 Cor 14:24) in explaining the sacred mysteries and stimulating the faithful to virtue. 

To be used is not in the Greek. 

According to the rule of faith. “Rule of faith” should be rather measure of faith, according to the Greek. By these words St. Paul cautions the prophet not to exceed the limits of his supernatural gift, that is, not to mix up his own personal thoughts with the suggestions that come from the Holy Ghost (Lagrange). The prophet is to use his gift for the benefit of the faith, and consequently in conformity with the teaching of faith; that is, he must use it secundum rationem fidei, id est non in vanum, sed ut per hoc fides confirmetur; non autem contra fidem (St. Thomas). This interpretation, following the Latin Fathers, regards the rule of faith as an objective measure, rather than as a subjective disposition. Cornely and the Greek Fathers, however, prefer this latter view; but it is difficult to see how one subjectively, could know whether or not he was exceeding the revelation given him (Lagrange).

In the Vulgate rationem fidei should be mensuram fidei. 

Rom 12:7. Or ministry, in ministering; or he that teacheth, in doctrine; 

Ministry, διακονιαν, is a general term embracing all ecclesiastical functions, but used here to designate certain services in the community, which are going to be enumerated. The offices about which there is question in this verse were of an extraordinary and supernatural kind, which required corresponding supernatural gifts in those who exercised them (Cornely). 

He that teacheth, etc. The change of construction may be merely for literary reasons, or because the different ways of ministering are now to be spoken of. The teacher (διδασκων) occupies the third place, after the Apostles and prophets (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11). His office is to expound, elucidate and systematically explain the truths of Christianity. It does not appear that the teacher or doctor was inspired like the prophet, whose function was to discover and to declare. 

In doctrine, i.e., let the teacher faithfully exercise his office. 

Rom 12:8. He that cxhorteth, in exhorting; he that giveth, with simplicity; he that ruleth, with carefulness; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. 

He that exhorteth (παρακαλων) . Nowhere else is this gift spoken of. It seems to have consisted in the special grace of imparting counsel and stimulus, or encouragement to others, thus moving them to the practice of virtue. 

He that giveth (ο μεταδιδους) is he that is moved by the Holy Ghost to give alms to the poor (1 Cor 13:3). 

With simplicity, i.e., not seeking one’s own interest, but only the welfare of his neighbor for God’s sake. 

He that ruleth (ο προισταμενος) does not refer to ecclesiastical superiors, properly speaking, but to those who were charged with various duties, such as looking after the widows, the orphans, the poor and the like (Cornely, Lagrange, etc.). 

With carefulness, i.e., let the office be exercised with zeal and fidelity. 

He that sheweth mercy (οG3588 T-NSM  ελεων) means one who gives personal care and attention to the miserable, the poor and the sick. 

With cheerfulness, i.e., with pleasantness and sweetness of manner, in order to show fulness of affection for those in distress, and to inspire hope (2 Cor 9:7).


A Summary of Romans 12:9-21~As in 1 Cor 12:31; 1 Cor 13:1 ff., so also here, after treating of the charismata or special gifts of Christians, St. Paul passes on to an enumeration of the general qualities of the faithful, beginning with charity (αγαπη), the most excellent gift of God to the soul. While the counsels that follow are not arranged in any very determinate and logical order, yet it can be said that the Apostle treats first of the mutual exercise of charity among the Christians (Rom 12:9-16), and then of duties toward
all men, especially one’s enemies (Rom 12:17-21). 

Rom 12:9. Let love be without dissimulation. Hating that which is evil, cleaving to that which is good. 

Love (η αγαπη), i.e., charity toward God and the neighbor. 

Without dissimulation, i.e., without hypocrisy (ανυποκριτος), sincere, and not from the lips only (2 Cor 6:6; 1 John 3:18). 

Hating that which is evil, etc. Our love for our neighbor should be regulated according to a stern and uncompromising moral standard, and so should detest evil and seek good wherever they are found. 

Rom 12:10. Loving one another with the charity of brotherhood, with honour preventing one another.

In verses 10-21 there is a remarkable series of coordinated participles, adjectives, infinitives (verse 15) and imperatives,—all of which have an imperative sense. The participles are expressive of habits which manifest themselves in daily life. 

With the charity of brotherhood. The Christians, being all of one faith and of one family, whose head is Christ, should have a fraternal love for one another. And this brotherly love among the Christians should prompt them to be eager to exhibit mutual signs of respect, one trying to get a start on the other, in external manifestations of honor and esteem (Cornely). Fr. Lagrange and others think St. Paul is speaking here of interior sentiments, rather than of external demonstrations. Naturally, however, the internal habit would show itself in external actions.

The fraternitatis of the Vulgate would better be fraterna. 

Rom 12:11. In carefulness not slothful. In spirit fervent. Serving the Lord. 

In carefulness, etc., i.e., in regard to solicitude we should be active and diligent in helping others and in executing our private duties. 

In spirit fervent, i.e., acting with great fervor of mind under the influence of the Holy Spirit. 

Serving the Lord. We should be animated with a spirit of great fervor, because we are serving our Lord Jesus Christ, to whose service we are entirely dedicated. The reading of the Vulgate, Domino servientes, is according to the best Greek reading, τω κυριω δουλευοντες; rather than serving the time, i.e., making good use of one’s time and opportunities. 

Rom 12:12. Rejoicing in hope. Patient in tribulation. Instant in prayer. 

Rejoicing in hope, i.e., be joyous in the hope of heavenly rewards which wait upon the fervent Christian; be patient in tribulation, i.e., be constant and persevering (υπομενοντες) in trials, which lead to hope (v. 4) and increase your merits for future blessedness; be instant in prayer, i.e., be habitually devoted to prayer by which you obtain from God the grace necessary to observe all the other precepts of the law. 

Rom 13:13. Communicating to the necessities of the saints. Pursuing hospitality. 

Communicating, etc., i.e., imparting aid, when necessary, to your fellow-Christians, the saints, regarding their need as your own. 

Pursuing hospitality. The practice of hospitality is often inculcated in the New Testament (Heb 13:3; Titus 1:8; 1 Tim 3:2; 1 Pet 4:9), and was most necessary, because many of the Christians had been forced to leave all things to follow Christ. 

Rom 12:14. Bless them that persecute you: bless, and curse not. 

Bless, etc. Although the Christians were subject to more or less constant persecution for their faith, still it was their duty to return good for evil, to love those that hated them, etc., as our Lord had commanded (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27, etc.). The Apostle admonishes the Christians to wish their enemies well, and not to curse them. This was a vastly different spirit from that of the Jews who introduced into their official prayers maledictions against the Christians (cf. Lagrange, Le Messianisme, etc., p. 294). 

Rom 12:15. Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. 

Rejoice . . . weep. The infinitives here in Greek have an imperative meaning. Since the Christians are all members of one body, each one should share in the joy or sorrow of each other one. The Apostle says first, rejoice with them that rejoice, because, as St. Chrys. observes, “it requires a very generous soul, when your neighbor prospers, not only not to envy him, but even to rejoice with him; whereas only a stony heart is unmoved by the distress of another.” 

Rom 12:16. Being of one mind one towards another. Not minding high things, but consenting to the humble. Be not wise in your own conceits. 

Being of one mind, etc. The Apostle again counsels the Christians to cultivate modesty and humility—virtues which will promote mutual agreement among them, causing each one to feel and act towards his neighbor as towards himself. No one should on account of birth, riches or the like, consider himself better than his neighbor, because all are one with Christ (Gal 3:28), and there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, rich nor poor. 

Not minding high things, etc., i.e., in the social order, not in the intellectual and moral orders. 

Consenting to the humble, i.e., condescending to humble offices, being contented with humble gifts, not refusing to do anything, however lowly, provided it be good. Another interpretation understands the Apostle to mean that the Christians should condescend to live on a level and associate with those of lower condition of life and of lower culture. This interpretation makes τοις ταπεινοις (“but consenting to the humble”)  masculine here, as it is everywhere else in the Old and New Testaments, with the possible exception of Psalm 136:6; whereas the other understands it to be neuter, to refer to things and not to persons. Those who make the phrase neuter are influenced by the antithesis to τα υψηλα (“not minding higher things”).

Be not wise, etc., i.e., do not entertain so high an opinion of your own judgment as to despise and refuse the counsel of others; avoid self-conceit.

Rom 12:17. To no man rendering evil for evil. Providing good things, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men.

There is a turning now to the Christian’s attitude toward his enemies outside the community of the faithful.

To no man rendering evil for evil. This had been already forbidden by the Psalmist (Ps. 7:5) and by the sane moral code of the ancients (Lagr.). Cf. also Matt. 5:38; 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9, where all private revenge is prohibited.

Providing good things in the sight of all men, i.e., giving edification to all men, whether of the fold or not (Matt. 5:15).

The words, not only in the sight of God, but also, are most probably a gloss from 2 Cor. 8:21. Consequently the corresponding words of the Vulgate here ought to be omitted.

Rom 12:18. If it be possible, as much as in you, having peace with all men.

If it be possible, etc. St. Paul implies that it may be impossible always to live in peace with all men, because to do so would at times mean the forfeiture of the rights of conscience and of faith. In such a case, however, the disturber is the sinner who wishes wrong to triumph over right.

Rom 12:19. Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.

Revenge not, etc. One sure way of guarding peace is to forego all private revenge.

Give place unto wrath, i.e., avoid anger, leaving vindictive justice to God, who will finally avenge the injuries done to His saints.

It is written, in Deut. 32:35. The citation follows neither the Hebrew nor the LXX literally.

The defendentes of the Vulgate has the meaning of vindicantes, or of ulciscentes (Lagr.).

Rom 12:20. But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink. For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.

Not only should the Christian refrain from revenge, but he should positively succor his needy enemy. St. Paul backs up this precept with a quotation from Prov. 25:21 ff., cited according to the LXX. The meaning is that we are to be willing and ready to help our enemy, if we can, in any and every necessity.

Heap coals of fire, etc., means that, by the aforesaid generosity towards our enemy, we shall unintentionally inflict upon him healing pains of remorse and repentance for his past conduct, and thus effect his conversion (St. Aug., St. Jerome). Nothing is farther from the doctrine of Paul and the context of Prov. than to think we should be beneficent to our enemy for the sake of causing him pain. Such an attitude and intention on our part, if at all perceived by the enemy, would defeat its own purpose.

Rom 12:21. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.

This verse confirms the interpretation given of the preceding verse. Evil feeds and thrives upon evil, but is wasted and conquered by good.

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