Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Galtians 5:1, 13-18

This post includes the Bishop’s paraphrase of the text he is commenting on. The paraphrase is provided in purple text and follows the actual verse being paraphrased. Text in red are my additions.

Gal 5:1  Stand fast and be not held again under the yoke of bondage.

Persevere firmly in the Gospel liberty which Christ has secured for you (4:31), and suffer not yourselves to be again held under the yoke of servitude—viz., the yoke of the Mosaic law.

Stand fast.” These words are, in the ordinary Greek and Syriac versions, joined with the words of the preceding verse, thus: stand fast (therefore) in the freedom with which Christ made us free. The meaning is the same as in our construction, which is that of St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and several old Greek editions. From the words, “stand fast,” some interpreters infer that the Galatians had not lost the faith. From verse 4, it appears, however, that some had, and the words, “stand fast,” are, probably, addressed to those who persevered. The words, “stand fast,” probably contain a military metaphor, in allusion to their persevering under the banner of Christ.

“And be not held again,” &c., i.e., be not tied down and held fast under another yoke of bondage. “Again” is used in reference to bondage in general; they were before under the bondage of idolatry. He now refers to bondage of a different kind viz., that of the Mosaic law.—(See 4:9).

Gal 5:13  For you, brethren, have been called unto liberty. Only make not liberty an occasion to the flesh: but by charity of the spirit serve one another.

For, as to you, brethren, you are called by Christ to liberty and immunity from the onerous servitude of the legal ceremonies. Take care, however, not to abuse this liberty, by making it an occasion or pretext for indulging the desires of the flesh. But although exempted from legal servitude, there is a species of heavenly servitude which you should be careful to practise, by becoming the servants of one another, mutually assisting one another, through the charity of the spirit of God.

The exposition adopted in the Paraphrase, the only one warranted by the context, shows the utter futility of the objection derived by heretics from this passage against the obligation of human laws. To the latter, the Apostle enjoins obedience, even on grounds of conscience (Rom. 13). The “liberty” referred to here is an immunity from the legal ceremonies, from the spirit of fear entailed by the Old Law, and from the slavery of sin. “Only make not liberty an occasion to the flesh.” There is an ellipsis in the Greek, in which the verb “make” is wanting. St. Jerome admits that it had been inserted by the interpreter to complete the sense. By these words, the Apostle guards against the erroneous interpretation already referred to, and with them he commences the moral part of the Epistle. The abuse against which he cautions them is “to make liberty an occasion to the flesh.” The end, to which this liberty should tend is, “by charity of the spirit serve one another.” From real, sincere feelings of charity, they should be subject to one another, so as to provide for their mutual necessities. The means, for preserving this liberty are assigned in verse 16.

Gal 5:14  For all the law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

For, the entire law, so far as regards out neighbour, is comprised in this short saying: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

The love of our neighbour, although differing in object from the love of God, is still the same virtue with it; because both branches of the virtue have the same motive.

Gal 5:15  But if you bite and devour one another: take heed you be not consumed one of another.

The novel doctrines of the false teachers occasioned disputes and contentions amongst the Galatians, which the Apostle sharply censures, by comparing the parties at variance to dogs, devouring one another. He points out at the same time, the result of their disputes—viz., spiritual ruin, to avoid which, he prescribes the observance of the precept of charity (verse 3).

But if, in defiance of this precept, you continue to bite and devour one another, by your mutual quarrels, calumnies, and detractions, take care, lest you utterly ruin one another, by calling down the divine vengeance on yourselves.

Gal 5:16  I say then: Walk in the spirit: and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

This, then, I say, and commend to you in a particular manner: live according to the impulse and dictates of the Holy Ghost, and you shall not consent to. or accomplish the desires of the flesh.

I say then.  He uses this emphatic form of expression in order to arrest their attention. Walk in the spirit. As all the precepts were reduced to charity (verse 14), so are all the means of practising this comprehensive and excellent virtue reduced to this one. Walk, i.e., live according to the dictates of God s Spirit, who is the animating principle of Christian life, and you shall not fulfil,; i.e., perform, follow after, or consent to the desires of the flesh, i.e., of corrupt nature, and of the sensual passions of man. The Apostle does not say, you shall not experience the depraved motions of concupiscence, since this is impossible in the present order of things but you shall not fulfil, &c.

Gal 5:17  For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh: For these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would.

For the desires to which the flesh, or concupiscence, impels us, are quite opposed to the desires to which the spirit or grace impels us. They are borne towards objects quite different in their nature (concupiscence makes us wish for carnal, earthly things; but the spirit of grace makes us desire spiritual, heavenly, and eternal things); for, these are mutually opposed to each other, in such a way as that just men often do and suffer certain things against their will.

It is not without cause that he told them to walk in the spirit, and not fulfil the lusts of the flesh: for, the motions of both are quite contrary and opposite. By  the flesh, are meant the disorderly motions of concupiscence that is to say, the disorderly motions of corrupt nature, both in the concupisible and irascible such appetites, as the desires of lust and gluttony in the one, and of envy and anger in the other. The word flesh also includes, the motions of the superior or rational appetite, such as the desires of vain glory, and the rest. This concupiscence, whether it appertains to the superior or inferior appetite, is called the flesh, because the concupiscence of the flesh, it is, that domineers principally over man in his present fallen state. The spirit, refers to the Holy Ghost, who produces in us, holy desires by his grace. So that you do not the things that you would;  ινα μη α εαν θελητε ταυτα ποιητ. The Protestant rendering, that you cannot do, &c., is a corruption of the text (see note below); the consequence of the struggle and opposition between the desires of the corrupt and disorderly  passions of our fallen nature, and the holy desires to which the dictates of the Holy Ghost impel us, is that the most perfect can neither perform all the good, nor avoid all the evil they wish; they cannot avoid the involuntary motions of concupiscence, and the disorderly desires of the superior faculties of the soul. The Greek μη is a qualified negation, unlike the absolute οὐ. Modern translations differ considerably on how to best translate the passage  which, in part, is dictated by how one understands what the phrase εαν θελητε (“that you would,”  “that you do,” etc.) of the passage refers to. See Frank J. Matera’s Notes on Gal 5:17 in his Sacra Pagina Commentary on Galatians.

Gal 5:18  But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.

But if you are under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, you are no longer under the law; you arebeyond its threats and menaces, since you voluntarily and spontaneously perform, from motives of love, what the law enjoins with a threat of punishment. Hence, you can set its threats and menaces at defiance.

You are not under the law. The phrase under the law is used in reference to a man who is unable to fulfil the precepts of the Law, and is, therefore, rendered liable to the threats which it holds out against its violators. The law pointed out to man his duties, but of itself it did not furnish him with the necessary means for their fulfilment. By saying, you are not under the law, he shows the inutility of disputes respecting the legal ceremonies.

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2 Responses to Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Galtians 5:1, 13-18

  1. Pingback: Sunday, June 30: Commentaries for the Sunday Readings (Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms) | stjoeofoblog

  2. Pingback: Commentaries for the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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