Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Romans 1:8-17

Text in red, if any, are my additions. Text in purple indicates Fr. MacEvilly’s paraphrasing of the verses he is commenting on.

Rom 1:8  First, I give thanks to my God, through Jesus Christ, for you all: because your faith is spoken of in the whole world.

And indeed, in the first place, I give thanks, on your account, to my God, through Jesus Christ, the source of all spiritual blessings, because your faith is a subject of universal celebrity throughout all parts of the known world.

In this verse, the Apostle commences the exordium, in which he displays consummate prudence, admirably calculated to gain the good-will of the Romans, in order to render them afterwards docile and attentive to his instructions. Masters of eloquence would call this “captatio benevolentiæ(to capture or gain goodwill) “I give thanks to my God;” thanksgiving for past favours is a homage due to God for his benefits, and is the most efficacious means of insuring their continuance; “through Jesus Christ,” through him all graces have to come to us; hence, he is the fittest and most acceptable channel to convey back thanksgiving for these graces; “because your faith is spoken of,” i.e., is celebrated and rendered famous “in the whole world,” i.e., throughout the known parts of the entire world, then included in the Roman Empire.

Rom 1:9  For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make a commemoration of you:
Rom 1:10  Always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may have a prosperous journey, by the will of God, to come unto you.

(9) For, I call God to witness, whom I worship and serve with all the ardour and energies of my mind in the cause of the Gospel of his Son, that I make continual commemoration of you (10) in my prayers, always entreating him, that by some means I may possibly obtain the fulfilment of my anxious wishes of paying you a visit, should God will it so.

“For God is my witness.” This is a form of oath, which the Apostle finds it necessary to resort to at present, in order to remove any prejudices the Romans might conceive against his addressing them. “Whom I serve,” λατρευω (latreuo), i.e., minister to; “with my spirit,” is understood by some to mean spiritually and interiorly, in opposition to the carnal and merely external service of the Jews; “in the gospel of his Son,” in preaching the Gospel, and not in teaching the legal ceremonies; “that without ceasing I make a commemoration of you,” he shows in next verse how this commemoration is made.

“Always in my prayers,” not that he was continually engaged in prayer, but that as often as he prayed—and that was frequently—he remembered them, and the object of his unceasing prayer was to be permitted to see them. The crowding together of particles, “that,” “by any means,” “at length,” shows the ardent desire the Apostle had of seeing them but this was always in conformity and strict submission to the will of God, “by the will of God.”

Rom 1:11  For I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual grace, to strengthen you:

For I eagerly long to visit you, not from worldly or selfish motives, but in order to impart to you some spiritual gift which will serve to confirm you in the faith you have already received.

His motive for wishing to see them was not the result of curiosity or avarice, it was solely for the purpose of imparting to them, by his ministry, some spiritual gift, in addition to those they had already received, and thus to confirm their faith which had been imparted to them by St. Peter. By “spiritual grace” is more probably understood some external grace, such as tongues, prophecies, &c., given for the benefit of others, to which he refers, 1 Cor. 14, and chap. 12 of this Epistle. The Greek for “grace” χαρισμα (charisma), admits of this interpretation.

Rom 1:12  That is to say, that I may be comforted together in you by that which is common to us both, your faith and mine.

Or, to speak more correctly, in order to derive together with you, consolation from the mutual communication of our common faith.

Lest the preceding words might savour of arrogance, and might convey a depreciation of their faith and of the gifts already received, the Apostle now, in the depth of his humility, and to render them well affected toward him, says, that the advantages of his visit would be as much his own as theirs in the consolation he would receive as well as they, from the mutual communication of their common faith; mutual edification and consolation would be the result.

Rom 1:13  And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that I have often purposed to come unto you (and have been hindered hitherto) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

For, I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that I have often purposed visiting you (but certain obstacles intervened up to the present moment), in order to reap some fruit among you also, as I have done among other nations.

St. Paul now vindicates his right as Apostle of nations. He desired to visit them in order to reap some fruit of faith and edification among them, as he had already among the other nations—(“and I have been hindered hitherto.”) What this impediment was is mentioned (chap. 15), viz., his being occupied too much elsewhere.

Rom 1:14  To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor.

 To the civilized and uncivilized nations, to the learned and unlearned, I am, in virtue of my office as Apostle, bound to preach the Gospel.

“Barbarians.” The Greeks regarded all nations not using the Greek language, barbarians. Even the Romans were not excepted from this class until they became masters of Greece. Hence, the words “Greeks” and “Barbarians,” here designate civilized and uncivilized nations; “the wise” refer to the philosophers reputed wise and learned; and “unwise,” to the ignorant and untutored; “a debtor,” i.e., in virtue of his office, as Apostle of nations, bound to preach the Gospel.

Rom 1:15  So (as much as is in me) I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are at Rome.

And hence (as far as in me lies, and in the absence of contrary obstacles), I am willing and ready to discharge this debt towards you at Rome, by announcing to you also the glad tidings of Redemption.

“So,” i.e., therefore, because bound to preach to all without distinction, he is ready to preach the Gospel at Rome also, in the absence of contrary obstacles.

Rom 1:16  For I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth: to the Jew first and to the Greek.

For, although the preaching of the Gospel of a crucified God be to the Jew a scandal, and to the Gentile folly; still, I am not ashamed to announce it even in the mighty city of Rome, for, it is the powerful instrument whereby is conferred salvation on every one who embraces it, by believing its doctrine, on the Jew first and on the Gentile.

In some Greek copies, the words “of Christ” are added to the word “gospel,” but it is omitted in the chief MSS. and versions generally. He is ready and not ashamed to preach the scandal and folly of the cross even at Rome, where learning and science were united with the greatest dissoluteness of morals; where honours and riches alone were held in estimation; and where, consequently, the mysterious and humbling truths of the Gospel, as well as its precepts of self-denial, must prove particularly foolish and distasteful. “For it is the power of God, &c.,” it is the powerful instrument by which God confers salvation, of justice here, and glory hereafter, on all who believe it (for, to those who reject it, it becomes the source of greater damnation,), and observe the precepts which faith points out. The preaching of the Gospel, through the hearing of which alone faith comes, contains under it, the grace of the Holy Ghost, so necessary for faith. “To the Jew first,” the Jews were the first in the order of time to whom Christ directed the Gospel to be preached, “and to the Greek,” i.e., the Gentile; the Greek language was the most extensively used among the Gentiles; hence, the Apostle calls the Gentiles, “Greeks.” Moreover, the Hebrews divided the world into Jews and Gentiles.

Rom 1:17  For the justice of God is revealed therein, from faith unto faith, as it is written: The just man liveth by faith.

For it stimulates men to seek true justice by revealing to us the source from which real justification is derived; and that source is,—neither the law of Moses nor the law of Nature, but—faith as the root, faith as the abiding, conservative principle of this justice. And this is no new doctrine, but a doctrine revealed to us of old by the prophet Habacuc (chap. 2) who tells us, the just man liveth by faith.

He proves that the preaching of the Gospel is the powerful instrument, &c., “for the justice of God,” i.e., his justice bestowed on us, whereby we are rendered truly just before Him, it is called “the justice of God,” because it comes from Him alone. This justice is revealed in the Gospel to come “from faith,” (and not from the law of Moses, as the Jews supposed, nor from the strength of nature, as the Gentiles vainly imagined). “From faith to faith,” means, that faith is the beginning, the root, by which justice is acquired; faith increasing and supported by good works is the principle by which justice once obtained, is upheld and preserved. “As it is written;” this doctrine of justification by faith, is no new doctrine; the prophet Habacuc (chap. 2) says, “the just man liveth,” &c. For “liveth,” the Greek is, ζησεται (zesetai), shall live. The spiritual life of the just man consists in faith. Of course he includes good works; for, the words of the prophet, “the just man shall live by faith” (chap. 2) literally refer to the just Jew, under the Babylonish capativity, expecting the deliverer Cyrus, promised him by God, and in this faith and consequent expectation, patiently enduring the evils of his state and performing the works of justice. They are quoted by the Apostle in their mystical sense (the sense principally intended by the Holy Ghost), and refer to the persevering faith of the Christian, which, like that of the faithful Jew, must be supported in its progress by good works and patience; and in that sense, will constitute his spiritual life, will serve to obtain first, and uphold second justification. In this verse, the Apostle lays down the great proposition of the Epistle, viz., that justice comes from a source quite different from that which the Jews and Gentiles imagined, that is, from faith.

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