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 Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Galatians 3:1-5

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 13, 2016


S. Paul proceeds to prove by five reasons that we are justified not by the law, or the works of the law, but by Christ.

i. The first proof is drawn (ver. 2) from experience. The Galatians had received the Holy Spirit and His gifts, not in circumcision, but in baptism.

ii. The second (ver. 6) from the example of Abraham, who was justified because he believed God, i.e., by faith.

iii. The third relies on the fact (ver. 10) that these under the law are under the curse threatened to all who transgress it. But Christ, being made a curse for us, has set us free from the curse of the law.

iv. The fourth is drawn (ver. 11) from Habakkuk ii. 4: “The just liveth by faith.”

v. The fifth insists (ver. 16) that it was to Abraham and his seed that the blessing of righteousness was promised. Therefore, it is by the promise, apprehended by faith, that we are justified, and not by the law. For the law, as is said in ver. 24, was given only as a school-mister to lead us to Christ, that by Him we might be justified, that we might put on Him and become all one with Him.

Gal 3:1 O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth: before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth, crucified among you?

On senseless Galatians. “Each province,” says S. Jerome, “has its characteristic. Epimenides notes that the Cretans are liars. The Latin historian charges the Moors with frivolity, Me Dalmatians with ferocity. All the poets condemn the cowardice of the Phrygians. Cicero (‘pro Flacco’) asserts that the Greeks are frivolous by nature and empty by education. In the same way the Apostle, it seems to me, charges the Galatians with their racial defect in describing them as untearable, stubborn, and slow to wisdom.”  S. Jerome again says that Hilary, an impartial witness, calls the Gauls intractable; and again he insists that the stupidity of the Galatians is evident from their inclination to all sorts of foolish heresies. “Whoever has seen, as I have done, Ancyra, the metropolis of Galatia, will bear out my statement that it is torn with schisms. To say nothing of the Cataphrygians, the 0phites, the Borborites, and the Manichæans, whoever in the whole Roman world besides knows more than the names of the Passalorinctæ, the Ascodrobi, the Artotiræ, and other monstrous sects? The traces of ancient folly remain to this day” (in Ep. Galat., Preface, lib. ii.).

Observe that this reproach of the Apostle’s springs, not from indignation, but from charity; it is a material and not a formal rebuke. Cf. Gregory, Past. iii. 8.

Parents who use a thong to punish their sons may still more use their tongue, and burn out their vices by sharp words. Christ called the scribes hypocrites (S. Matt 22:18), and S. Paul called Elymas a child of the devil (Acts 13:10). The keenness, however, of the rebuke is toned down here by the following words—”Who hath bewitched you?”—which attribute their folly to the influence of the Jews.

Who hath bewitched you? The Greek word here signifies (1.) to, envy. “What Jew has envied you your Gospel liberty?” (Theophylact and Anselm). It denotes (2.) to fascinate, charm, bind the eyes, so as to make them to see what is not, or not to see what is. This second sense better suits the context—before whose eyes Christ hath been evidently set forth. It was through the fixed look of the person casting the spell that the charm was commonly made to work. Virgil refers to this in the line, “Some eye is casting its spell on my tender lambs.”  S. Paul’s question then means: “What evil eye has seduced you, 0 Galatians, yet young in the faith, to the delusion of Judaism?” “The evil eye,” says Jerome, “is peculiarly hurtful to infants, and those of tender years, and who cannot yet run alone.”

Before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth. The Vulgate is præscriptus, which is rendered by Anselm, disinherited; by Ambrose, spoiled, in the sense: You have deprived Christ of His lawful inheritance, the Church.

S. Augustine, according to Erasmus, understands the word to allude to legal prescription, by which, after a certain time (three years in the case of movables, ten years in the case of immovables), possession gave a title to ownership. Christ, by the prescription of the Old Law, which for so many hundreds of years enjoyed the name of the Free Law, was shut out from His possession, the Church. But Erasmus has misread S. Augustine, as is evident from the best MSS. The latter reads proscriptus, and comments on it thus: “The Jews took away His inheritance, and drove Him out,” which is an act of proscription, not of prescription.

S. Jerome interprets præscriptus to mean that the death of Christ was predicted by the prophets and in the sacraments of the Old Law.

But there is a third and better meaning. Christ was put by writing, or by a picture, before your very eyes, crucified. The Galatians had not been spectators of the actual Crucifixion, but Christ had by preaching and faith been represented to them as crucified. This interpretation makes it necessary to supply as though before crucified.

The sense, then, is: Though crucified at Jerusalem in fact, yet Christ has been represented as though crucified before you, 0 Galatians, by my preaching and your faith. By the eyes of faith you have seen Christ hanging on the Cross more clearly than did the Jews who stood at its foot. Who, then, has cast a spell upon those eyes which have so clearly seen Christ crucified?

It is possible, however, that the words are to be taken literally. In your own age, in the presence perhaps of some of you, and in a country not far removed, Christ was marked out by the instruments of His Passion, and depicted as your Saviour. While the colours then are so fresh on the canvas, how can you be so bewitched as to forget so great and so recent a benefit?

In this sense Christ Himself crucified is, as it were, a picture or a book in which He is described in blood-red letters. Do you wish to know who Christ is and what He is like? Open this book, look at the Cross, see the title, Jesus of Nazareth—i.e., Consecrator, who has consecrated us to God—King of the Jews. You will find it written. “Christ was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” He alone bore and expiated our sin, for what is sin but Christicide or Deicide? You will read too in this book, in the wounds and blood of Christ, that it was love of you which formed and coloured Him so. In His whole body you will see love written, nay, engraved. This book, in short, will show to one who reads and looks well all the wisdom of Christ, and the very depths of Christian philosophy.

Gal 3:2 This only would I learn of you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?

Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith? The Spirit here is the Holy Spirit, with His visible gifts of tongues and prophecy, which He used to give in baptism, as outward tokens of the invisible graces He there infused. S. Paul asks the Galatians whether it is not clear that they received the Spirit and His gifts, not from circumcision, but in baptism.

The hearing of faith. Hearing can be taken here either actively, in reference to the preaching they heard, or passively, in reference to their hearkening to and obeying the faith preached. Cf. Isa 51:4-7.

Gal 3:3 Are you so foolish that, whereas you began in the Spirit, you would now be made perfect by the flesh?

Whereas you began in the Spirit. With the spiritual doctrine of Christ, and the spiritual gifts received from Him, enabling you to live the spiritual life.

You would now be made perfect by the flesh? The flesh is put for circumcision and other carnal ceremonies of the law. The interpretation which sees here a reference to the carnal lusts of the flesh is disproved by the context. Made perfect is in the Vulgate consumemini.

S. Bernard (Serm. 33 in Cant.) applies this text to those who exhaust their strength by unrestrained devotion, through excessive prayers and penances. Afterwards, he says, they become lazy, and are consumed by the flesh, while seeking for health, and so become sensual and carnal. Cf. notes to 1 Cor 3:2.

Theophylact observes that S. Paul uses the passive, not the active—”Are you made perfect?” not, “Do you make perfect?” i.e., he hints that they were like brute beasts, in suffering themselves to be circumcised by others. He also notes that he does not say merely πεγει̃σθε, but ε̉πιτελει̃σθε: After being perfected in Christ, will you seek a perfection beyond in the Old Law? Do you want to add a fifth wheel to the coach?

Gal 3:4 Have you suffered so great things in vain? If it be yet in vain.

Have you suffered so great things in vain? Why should unbelievers persecute you in vain, i.e., without cause, if you are returning to Moses?

If it be yet in vain. Which it will be, unless you return to your former mind, and stand firm in the faith of Christ.

Gal 3:5 He therefore who giveth to you the Spirit and worketh miracles among you: doth he do it by the works of the law or by the hearing of the faith?

He therefore who giveth. I.e., God or Christ, who infuses His grace, and works in you by His Divine power. Cf. 1 Cor 12:6.


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