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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

After devoting the preceding eleven chapters to DOCTRINAL matters, the Apostle now enters on the MORAL part of this Epistle. In this chapter, he shows how we should testify our gratitude to God for his inestimable mercies and blessings: first, by making an offering of our bodies as living, spotless victims—an offering, however, to be made in a spiritual way (verse 1); secondly, by renovating our souls in grace and fervour, and by endeavouring to know and accomplish the holy will of God (2); and, thirdly, by the prudent, zealous, and orderly exercise of the gifts conferred on us, so as to render them subservient to God’s glory and our own, and our neighbour’s greater utility (3–8). From 9 to 12 the Apostle shows, of what kind ought to be our love for our neighbour; and then shows, what are the acts of virtue by which this charity may be stimulated and strengthened (2–16). Finally, he encourages to patience and forgiveness of injuries, and the return of good for evil.

Paraphrase

1. (Since, therefore, God has been thus merciful towards you) I conjure you, brethren, by these unspeakable mercies shown you, to present your bodies a living, holy, and spotless sacrifice, as the offering of your spiritual and reasonable worship.

2. And conform not yourselves to the corrupt maxims and vices of the present transitory and ever-shifting world; but, by the crucifixion arid mortification of your corrupt desires, become perfectly transformed and renewed in your mind and affections, that being thus interiorly renovated, you may be enabled to prove what is the will of God, and to distinguish what is good, what is more agreeable, and what is most agreeable and perfect in his eyes, and practically carry it out in your conduct.

3. I, then, in virtue of the apostolical ministry which has been gratuitously conferred on me, announce to all of you, what this will of God is, viz., that no one should think more of himself or of the gifts conferred on him than he ought, but that he should think on the subject, according to the dictates of prudence and sobriety, and that each one confine himself, to the exercise of such spiritual gifts, as God may have been pleased to mete out to him.

4. For, as in one and the same body, we have many distinct members, but all the members of our body have not the same, but a different function:

5. So, we the faithful and the ministers of Christ, with different functions, constitute one mystical body of Christ (members of the same body), and fellow-members of each other,

6. Having different gifts, according as God has thought proper through his gratuitous goodness and grace to distribute them to each of us; whether the gift of prophecy, consisting either in foretelling future events, or in explaining the sacred Scriptures—which should be always soberly exercised, according to the rule and analogy of divine faith:

7. Or, whether it be any ministry or ecclesiastical degree in the Church, which should be exercised with zeal and proper regard for order; or, whether it be the gift of teaching the truths of faith, which should be exercised with moderation and zeal;

8. Whosoever exercises the gift of stimulating others to deeds of virtue, should acquit himself of this function with zeal and in an orderly manner. Whosoever is charged with the distribution of alms, should do so in an impartial way, having no respect to persons. Whosoever is appointed to govern and direct others, should do so with solicitude, vigilance, and assiduity. Whosoever is charged with the care of the sick and wretched, should always acquit himself of this duty, with cheerfulness of countenance and alacrity of spirit.

9. Let your love for your neighbour be sincere and cordial, free from all hypocrisy or dissimulation; a love, however, of such a nature as that you may abhor his vices and fondly cherish his virtues.

10. Let your love for one another be not only sincere but also fraternal, loving one another mutually as brethren and children of the same heavenly Father, anticipating each other in the mutual exhibition of honour and respect.

11. Not slothful, but diligent and prompt in the manifestation of regard for our neighbour, or, in the discharge of our own duties. Fervent in spirit, since we are serving the Lord of lords, whose eyes are always upon us.

12. Rejoice in the hope and anticipated enjoyment of future goods; having a view to those, bear patiently the tribulations which may befall you. Persevere in imploring the divine aid by prayer.

13. Become sharers in the necessities of distressed Christians, so that they would become sharers in your wealth; studiously cultivate hospitality towards distressed and houseless strangers.

14. Far from hating those who persecute you, on the contrary, you should bless them and pray for them: bless them, wishing them all happiness, and not curse them, nor invoke maledictions on their heads.

15. Exult with such as are in joy, and sympathize and weep with those who are in tears.

16. Be of the same mind, of the same feelings and judgment. Beware, therefore, of entertaining too high an opinion of yourselves, but exercise kind condescension and hold kindly intercourse with the lowliest and humblest of persons; be not too conceited in your own eyes on account of the supposed superiority of your own talents, as if you needed not counsel from others.

17. Do not retaliate on any one by returning evil for evil. Take care to do good, not only in presence of God who sees the heart, but also in such a way as may edify all men.

18. If it can be done consistently with justice and truth, so far as you are concerned, cultivate peace, not only with your brethren, but with all men whomsoever.

19. Avenge not yourselves, dearly beloved, but make way for the man of anger and leave him to the judgment of God; for, it is written, “revenge is mine and I shall repay it, saith the Lord.”

20. Therefore, retaliate not, nor return evil for evil, but on the contrary, good for evil: if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him to drink; for thus you will heap upon his head burning coals of charity and love, by which, being encompassed from head to foot, he will be melted into feelings of love and gratitude.

21. Permit not yourselves to be overcome by the evil inflicted on you, by seeking vengeance; but overcome the evil inflicted on you by acts of kindness, and thus you shall gain a complete victory.

Commentary

1. “Therefore,” since God has in his exceeding great mercy and goodness bestowed on you the blessings of grace and faith referred to in the preceding chapters. “By the mercy.” The Greek word, οικτιρμων, mercies, expresses the excessive, the visceral mercy of God. “That you present,” the Greek, παραστησαι, conveys the sacrificial idea of presenting the victim. “A living sacrifice.” The word “living” is employed by way of contrast to the sacrifices of dead animals offered among the Jews. By it, is meant to show, that it is not the killing of ourselves the Apostle requires; but the sacrifice of our bodies still living and animated by the vivifying works of a new spiritual life, viz., faith, hope, charity, &c. It is most likely that the words of this verse regard, in a special manner, the works of mortification and corporal austerities, whereby our bodies are become dead to the corrupt passions, and “living” to carry into effect the desires of the Spirit. “Holy, pleasing to God,” by being free from all impurities and defilement. How, asks St. Chrysostom, shall our bodies become a sacrifice? Let the eyes refrain from sinful looks, and it is a sacrifice; the tongue, from evil speaking, and it is a sacrifice; the hand from wicked actions, and it is a holocaust. We must also do good; let the hand extend charity and alms; the mouth bless our enemies; the ears listen to divine discourse, &c.

“Your reasonable service.” The Greek word for “reasonable,” λογικην, bears also the construction of, spiritual, the sense in which it is commonly understood. It is opposed to the sacrifices of the Old Law, consisting in dead bodies and external rites. Both meanings, reasonable and spiritual, are probably conveyed by it. The words, “reasonable service,” are, in construction, put in opposition to the preceding; the word, being, is understood thus: this being “your reasonable service.” The Greek word for “service,” λατρεια, means, worship.

2. “Conformed.” The corresponding Greek word, συσχηματιζεσθε, conveys the idea of something fleeting and transitory, while the word “reformed,” which in Greek means, metamorphosed, conveys the idea of a fixed and permanent form, so that in this, verse, the converted Romans are admonished by the Apostle to assume a new spiritual form, wherein they should persevere.

“That you may prove,” &c., i.e., judge and discern in your new spiritual form and state of soul, “what is the will of God,” viz., the will whereby he issues his commands to us, the voluntas signi, as it is called. “The good, the acceptable,” &c. These words refer to the precepts emanating from God’s will, and convey the different degrees of excellence contained in these several precepts.

3. The Apostle now explains “the will of God,” that immediately concerned them, or rather applies the general principle to their case. This he does “by the grace that is given him,” which is understood by some to refer to the grace and gift of inspiration, which authorizes him to admonish them. It more probably refers to his office as Apostle, and this he calls “a grace,” because conferred on him gratuitously, without any merit on his part. He uses these words to show that he did not instruct them in any authoritative way, “dico enim,” without having a right to do so. “Not to be more wise than it behoveth.” i.e., not to set an undue value on their gifts and acquirements, nor to value themselves, or presume too much on account of them, “but to be wise unto sobriety,” φρονειν εις το σωφρονεῖν; but in judging of these acquirements and of themselves in consequence, and of the line of conduct to be pursued in reference to them, to follow the rules of prudence and sobriety, “and according as God,” &c., each one, without interfering with the exercise of his neighbour’s spiritual gifts, should confine himself to that which God may have been pleased to measure out to him. “The measure of faith,” refers to the spiritual gifts which, together with faith, were frequently bestowed, in the infancy of the Church, to some, in a greater, to others, in a lesser degree, to be exercised for the good of the faithful. In these latter words, the Apostle cautions the faithful against the disorderly exercise of these gifts, and also against presuming in a spirit of pride, beyond what God had been pleased to accord to each. It is probable, that the admonition conveyed in this verse was occasioned by the disputes, which arose at Rome between the Jewish and Gentile converts, in which both transgressed the proper bounds of moderation, and, perhaps, boasted inordinately of the gifts bestowed on them. Hence, the Apostle, in virtue of his apostolical ministry, commands all, Jew and Gentile, not to trangress the limits of moderation.

4. He illustrates the different functions of the members of Christ’s mystical body, by the different and distinct functions of the several members of the human body. The several members of the natural body exercise, each, their own proper functions, without interfering with one another, and that, for the good of the entire body.

5. So it is also in the mystical body of Christ, towards which we all stand in the relation of members, and of co-members of each other; and hence, we should perform, in an orderly manner, our functions, and no one should be puffed up on account of the gifts he may have received, since it is for the good of the entire body he has received them; “and every one,” ὁ δε καθʼ εις, is put for ὁ εἱς καθʼ ἑνα. The chief MSS. have ὁ δε καθʼ εἱς.

6. Commentators are divided regarding the dependence and construction of the words “and having,” In the Paraphrase a preference is given to the construction of Estius, which connects this verse with the preceding words, “we are (verse 5) one body,” &c., “having different gifts,” &c. Others make “having” the same as, we have different gifts, &c., and then they say, after each gift should be expressed the great object of the Apostle, which is, to show that in the exercise of each talent and gift, no one should interfere with his neighbor, but that each one should observe order and modesty. The same addition is made even in the construction of Estius. “Either prophecy.” He now mentions the gift, “prophecy,” (see 1 Cor. 12) the gift of explaining the SS. Scriptures, “according to the rule (in Greek αναλογιαν, analogy) of faith,” i.e., it should be exercised conformably to the principles and doctrines of faith. Others understand by “rule of faith” the measure or quantity of knowledge divinely accorded to him. The Apostle enjoins him not to exceed this measure by following any lights of his own. Ita, Beelen, who rejects the other interpretation as incorrect. It is clear, the words, should be exercised, or some such, are required to complete the sense, the sentence being manifestly elliptical.

7. “Or ministry in ministering;” i.e., (“having) ministry,” ειτε διακονιαν, εν τῃ διακονια. The former refers to the office, the latter, to its exercise. In this verse and the following, the general admonition of the Apostle (verse 3) regarding sobriety, as well in our judgments concerning ourselves, as in the exercise of the several gifts, is implied. “Or he that teacheth,” &c., he that teacheth should exercise this duty zealously and soberly “in doctrine.”

8. “Exhorteth,” regards the precepts of morals. This duty also should be exercised with sobriety. “He that giveth,” &c.; this, and the two following, most probably refer to offices in the Church, exercised by persons appointed for that purpose, although, no doubt, the manner of performing them marked out by the Apostle is applicable to the same actions performed even in secret and in a private capacity. There should be always “simplicity,” i.e., impartiality, irrespective of persons, observed in giving alms. “He that ruleth,” should always do so “with carefulness,” knowing that he is responsible to a higher ruler and judge; and in “shewing mercy,” we should always do so “with cheerfulness,” for cheerfulness on the part of a man who gives relief removes embarrassment and shame from him who receives it; it banishes dejection and makes the gift more valuable; moreover, if there be question of recreating the sick and infirm, cheerfulness on the part of him who exercises this charity is the most efficacious means of imparting consolation to the sufferers.

9. In the foregoing, the Apostle shows what the will of God is in reference to the public offices in the Church, and the gifts bestowed for the good of the body of the faithful; and he describes the manner in which they should be employed, in such a way as that all the members of the Church are instructed how to act even in a private capacity. He now points out the will of God in the exercise of virtues common to all members of the Church. The first and chiefest of virtues is charity for our neighbour, which should be “without dissimulation.” In Greek, ἀνυποκριτος, without hypocrisy, i.e., sincere, not merely consisting “in word or tongue, but in work and truth,” (St. John.) “Hating that which is evil.” This love should be a pure love, not carried to the extent of loving our neighbour’s vices. Diligite homines, interficite errores (St. Augustine). The words of the Apostle in this verse may be taken in a general sense, without any reference to the love of our neighbour, to signify, that all Christians should love good and abhor evil.

10. This love should be fraternal, and the best means of preserving it is, to “prevent,” or, anticipate one another in showing respect and honour.

11. “In carefulness not slothful.” This may regard the carefulness to be manifested with regard to our neighbour, or, with regard to our own duties; “in spirit fervent,” acting with great fervour of mind, or acting with the fervour of men under the exciting impulse of God’s holy Spirit. “Serving the Lord.” The common Greek reading has, καιρω. “Serving the time,” i.e., making good use of the present opportunity afforded us for doing good. The Greek reading adopted by our Vulgate is the better founded, both on intrinsic and extrinsic reasons. The Codex Vaticanus has, κυριω, the Lord.

12. “Rejoicing in hope,” i.e., on account of the hope and anticipated enjoyment of heavenly goods; “patient in tribulation,” on account of the same hope, “instant in prayer,” because this would sustain them in their present afflictions and keep their hearts fixed on heaven.

13. Their charity towards their distressed fellow-Christians should be such, that the indigence of the poor would be shared in by them, so that the poor should reciprocally share in their riches; the word “communicating,” κοινωνουντες, shows there is a return of benediction and spiritual reward for their beneficence to the poor. “Pursuing hospitality;” the word “pursuing,” instructs them not to wait for the poor, but to go in search of them, as did Lot, Abraham, &c., and bring them to their homes. The exercise of this virtue was, in the early ages of the Church, most meritorious, both on account of the want of accommodation at inns, and the danger to which the faithful would be exposed by lodging with infidels.

14. He now proceeds to inculcate the exalted virtues of patience and forgiveness of injuries; “bless,” i.e., pray for their welfare.

15. Charity renders all things common, both prosperity and adversity.

16. “Of one mind,” i.e., cultivate perfect concord, by not only entertaining the same feelings in common, but by having in common also the same judgments and wishes. This is the best guardian of charity. “Not minding high things.” i.e., not entertaining too high an opinion of themselves, which is the greatest obstacle to charity. These words may refer to ambition, not anxiously looking to elevated stations, “but consenting to the humble,” i.e., condescending to the most lowly, which is the firmest link of concord. “Be not wise,” &c., i.e., entertain not too high an idea of your own judgments and opinions, as if you needed not counsel from others—a grave obstacle to concord.

17. “Not only in the sight of God.” These words are not found in the Greek; “providing good things in the sight of all men,” is the only reading we have in the Greek. It is most likely that the former words were introduced by some copyist into this passage from 2 Cor. 8 ver. 21, where the words, “not only before God,” are found. The Apostle in both passages appears to have in view, Pro 3:4: “Provide good things in the sight of God and man.”

18. “If it be possible … as much as is in you.” He adds these two conditions; because, we are not to cultivate a peace which may be inconsistent with justice and truth; and, because it is impossible to have peace with some men. The cause of difference or disruption, however, should not proceed from us.

19. “Give place to wrath,” may mean give way to the wrath of the angry man, and retire from him, as did Jacob in reference to Esau; or give way to, and do not anticipate, the wrath of God, which interpretation is rendered probable by the following quotation (Deut. 32:15), “revenge to me, and I will repay.” The Apostle in this quotation follows neither the Hebrew nor Septuagint, which seems to be founded on both. The words were originally referred to the punishment with which God was to visit his enemies, the idolatrous Gentiles.

20. Not only should we abstain from taking vengeance for the injuries offered us, we should even return good for evil. “But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat.” For “but if,” the common Greek has εαν ουν if therefore, but the chief MSS. support the Vulgate, αλλα εαν. The words for “give him to eat,” in Greek, express that kind attention which is shown by a nurse in cutting up the morsels of food for her youthful charge ψωμιζε. “Heap coals of fire on his head.” Many among the ancients understand the words to mean, thou shalt provoke greater chastisements and punishment from God; and this would appear to be the meaning of the words (Prov. 15) which are quoted in this verse. In Proverbs we have “give him water to drink.” Others, among whom are St. Jerome and St. Augustine, understand the words to mean, these benefits and kind acts on your part shall be like burning coals heaped upon his head, by which he shall be warmed from head to foot and melted into kindness, love, and gratitude. This meaning, besides being the more Christian interpretation, is also rendered more probable by the words in the following verse.

21. This is the only vengeance which a Christian, a son of that Father who is charity itself, and rains from heaven “upon the just and unjust,” is permitted to take, the vengeance of returning good for evil. He obtains a greater victory, who conquers himself, than does he who overcomes cities. “Better is he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh cities.”—(Prov. 16:32).








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