Commentary on Romans 1:24-32

Text in red are my additions. 

ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR IDOLATRY THE GENTILES WERE PERMITTED TO FALL INTO THE MOST HATEFUL CRIMES

A Summary of Romans 1:24-32~Moral disorders follow upon religious error as a chastisement.  They who dishonored God were consequently permitted to dishonor themselves. First they degraded their own bodies by impurities; then they turned to sins against nature; and finally they were given up to a reprobate sense, plunging into every kind of sin, thus meriting the punishment of eternal death.

Rom 1:24. Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves.

God gave them up, etc., i.e., God in just punishment of their perversity withdrew grace from the pagans, and thus permitted them to fall into hateful and disgraceful sins (St. Aug., Serm. LVII. 9). That which was most noble in them, their reason, became the slave of their sensual passions. This judgment of God, however, was not definitive, because, according to St. Paul himself, the fallen Gentiles could rise again through the grace of Christ; neither does it mean that every individual among the pagans was a reprobate. On the contrary, we know that the grace of Christ’s death reached out beyond the saints of the chosen people and touched some of the Gentiles also, as is recognized by the Apostle in Rom 2:14-16.

Rom 1:25. Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Who changed the truth of God, etc. Better, “Seeing that they changed,” etc. This can be understood in two ways, according to St. Thomas: (a) Either that, in their perversity, they changed the true knowledge which they had received from God into false doctrines; or (b) that they attributed the nature of the Divinity, which is truth itself, to an idol, which is a lie, inasmuch as it is not God. The Prophets often spoke of idols as lies (Isa 44:20; Jer 13:25; 16:19). The first meaning is preferred by Toletus, Lipsius, Lagrange, etc.; the second by Cornely, Godet, etc.

Rom 1:26. For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature.
Rom 1:27. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error.

In these two verses St. Paul speaks of the unnatural sins of the pagans, which were committed by women as well as men. St. Thomas says that every sin is against man’s rational nature, but that sins of impurity which are not directed to the act of generation are also against man’s animal nature.

(vs 27) The recompense, i.e., the reward that was due to their idolatry.

St. Paul’s words are directed, not to the philosophers alone, but to all the pagans. Naturally, however, those were more responsible and culpable who had the intellectual and moraldirection of others. It is surprising that such degrading sins asare here mentioned could have existed in the midst of a culture so high as was the Greco-Roman. These vices, however, did not have their beginning in Greece, but were very widespread among the Semites, even in the higher classes, as we learn from Babylonian inscriptions. Also the ancient Hebrews practiced them in forms the most repugnant and forbidden by the Law (1 Kings 14:24; 22:47; 2 Kings 23:7; Deut 23:18). In Greece art and literature, which glorified unnatural vices, contributed much to corrupt the youth and to spread the immorality which St. Paul is here condemning (cf. Aristotle, Politics, II. 10, 9; Plato, Laws, VII. 836-841).

Rom 1:28. And as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient;

Because the Gentiles failed of their own volition to use their natural light of reason to acquire a more correct and accurate knowledge of the one true God, they were permitted to fall into a reprobate sense, which took wrong for right and right for wrong.

The Greek word for sense here is (νοῦς = nous), mind, which embraces not only the speculative judgment, but also the principle of moral actions, or practical judgment. It is this meaning of the word νοῦς (nous) that explains sensum, in place of mentem, of the Vulgate (cf. 1 Cor 9:27; 2 Cor 13:5-7).

Things . . . not convenient, i.e., abominable, unnatural vices.

It is to be noted here that this perversity of the pagans, which led them to regard wrong as right and right as wrong, was especially manifested in their aversion for sexuality that was legitimate and natural, and in their affection for and praise of such unnatural vices as pederasty, which, as we learn from Anacreon and Theognis, among the Greeks, and Lucian and Plutarch, among the Romans, was considered not only as lawful, but as the privilege of the higher classes. There seems to be a striking analogy between this perverted judgment of the Gentiles, which St. Paul is here reprobating, and the similar distorted reasoning of many people of our own time, who look upon such unnatural sins as onanism, unnecessary sterilization and race-suicide not only as legitimate, but as marks of a higher civilization and culture. Having forsaken the true religion and teachings of Christ these unfortunate persons have become perverse in their judgments, so that their condition and culpability seem not unlike those of the pagans of old who are condemned by St. Paul.

Rom 1:29. Being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, whisperers,

As a consequence of the reprobate sense to which God abandoned the pagans they fell into all kinds of sins against God, their neighbor and themselves.

Cornely observes that the Vulgate, having translated ποιειν ( = poiein = to do those things verse 28) by ut faciant, should have begun this verse with the nominative repleti, filled, instead of the accusative repletos. In Greek the accusative follows naturally αυτους (= autous = them), with which it is in apposition as the subject of ποιειν (God delivered them [autous] up to a reprobate sense, to do [poiein] those things).  The word fornication, found also in the Vulgate, is omitted from the principal Greek MSS. It seems out of place in the present enumeration, since the vices of impurity had been sufficiently noted in verses 24, 26 and 27.

Malice and wickedness were used promiscuously by both sacred and profane writers, but St. Paul mentions them separately, together with other general sins, to show that the Gentiles were guilty of crimes of all kinds.

Avarice, like impurity, was widespread among the pagans.

Malignity is a vice which accepts and explains all things in the worst light.

Whisperers are those who secretly spread calumnies.

Rom 1:30. Detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

Detractors are those who openly and unjustly reveal the crimes and sins of others.

Hateful to God. The Greek here has θεοστυγεις (= theostygies), which Cornely and others understand to mean haters of God. But since this meaning of the word is never found in profane Greek, Lagrange prefers the Vulgate translation, Deo odibiles. It is perhaps a general term, expressive of the condition of those who were guilty of the crimes mentioned in the present series, especially pride and detraction, which are particularly hateful to God (cf. Sirach 10:7; Prov 6:16).

Haughty. Haughtiness comes from pride and is the fault of those in particular who have power or influence.

Inventors of evil things are those who are always studying new methods and means of sin (cf. 2 Macc 7:31).

Rom 1:31. Foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy.

Foolish, i.e., irreligious, those who have no taste for things religious, or who do not understand the divine Wisdom (cf. Ps 92:7; Wis 1:5; 11:15; Sirach 15:7; Mark 7:22).

Dissolute, i.e., those who are unfaithful to their engagements, those without honor (cf. Jer 3:7, 8, 10, 11).

Without fidelity (Vulg., absque foedere), is not represented in many MSS., and is perhaps a gloss that has crept into the text.

Without mercy, i.e., without pity and humanity toward their needy brethren.

Rom 1:32. Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.

Who, having known, etc. Better, “For, realizing” (οιτινες = hoitines), etc. In this verse, which explains how to understand the “reprobate sense” of verse 28, St. Paul says that the Gentiles knew in theory that God is just, but that they did not understand this in practice. There is some difference between the Greek and Vulgate readings here, but the sense is practically the same.

Are worthy of death. Neither in the Mosaic nor in the Gentile law was death promulgated as the punishment for all faults; but St. Paul wishes only to say here that those who give themselves up to vices for which they are fully responsible are deserving of death. The pagans knew the moral law and its sanction, but so far did they go astray that they were not only guilty of committing sins themselves, but approved of others who committed them; in this, certainly, their perversity was extreme. Thus the philosophers, who favored idolatry, although they themselves did not believe it, and the writers who glorified sins against nature were beyond doubt deeply guilty.

As there is question in this verse of the moral conscience of the pagans, St. Paul was doubtless referring principally to their Stoic and Cynic philosophers, who preached virtue and a moral code in some respects more austere than that practiced by the Jews. The Greco-Romans, for example, had no legal polygamy; they did not admit that a master could have relations with his servant; and they considered as an adulterer a husband who, in his conjugal relations, sought only pleasure.

The conclusion of the present chapter is that the wrath of God is upon the Gentiles for their sins, and that therefore they are in need of redemption. Neither their philosophy, nor their culture, nor the natural virtues which some of them preached and practiced were able to keep them from sin or establish in their regard any merited claim to the Gospel. All are in the same condition. St. Paul in this chapter has not enumerated faults peculiar to the philosophers, nor to the Romans in general, but those rather that were common to all the pagan world. Hence, after speaking of the vices of luxury, his enumeration is restricted to sins against justice and charity. If particular attention is given to pride, it is not so much because this was a Roman vice, as that it is a principle or common source of social disorder. In his Epistles to the Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, etc., the Apostle was moved by the needs and special evils of those to whom he wrote; but not so here. In the present letter his aim is to show the degradation of the pagan world. His words are addressed to all, and they are of special import to the Romans only because Rome, as the capital and centre of the Empire, pretended to maintain and was responsible for the social order and general welfare of all her people. Without charity toward God and the neighbor these benefits could not be secured, and because these virtues were not practiced, St. Paul saw that, in spite of philosophy, reason did not guide the pagans, in spite of the splendid government and laws of Rome, peace and friendship were wanting, in spite of certain natural virtues, the causes of dissolution were many and widespread, and therefore there was need of a radical change and of a new and more potent means of salvation (Lagrange, h. 1.).

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