Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Galatians 2:16-21

This post includes Lapide’s Synopsis of chapter 2 of Galatians.


i. Paul declares that he had compared his Gospel with Peter, James, and John, and that it had been approved of them so completely that there was nothing to be added to it or subtracted from it.
ii. He declares (ver. 7) that it had been mutually agreed between them that they should preach to the Jews and he to the Gentiles.
iii. He describes (ver. 11) how he had rebuked Peter openly for heedlessly assuming the appearance of a Judaiser, and so tempting the Gentiles into a similar error.
iv. He proves (ver. 16) that we are justified not by the works of the law but by the faith of Christ, and that for three reasons: (a) because (ver. 17) otherwise in abolishing the law Christ would be the minister of sin; because (b) the law itself proclaims its own abrogation in Christ, because (Ver. 21) otherwise Christ would have died in vain.


Gal 2:16  But knowing that man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, we also believe in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. The English but here exactly interprets the work that the Latin translates by nisi. There is an antithesis between the works of the law and the faith of Jesus Christ, and accordingly the Protestants are wrong in neglecting the force of the antithesis, and translating the phrase as if it meant a man is justified only by the faith of Christ. Moreover, even if the Apostle had said the latter, yet he would lend no support to the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith only, for S. Thomas admits faith as the sole justifying cause. The word only excludes the works of the law, not the works of hope, fear, charity, and penance, which spring from faith as daughters from a mother.

Gal 2:17  But if, while we seek to be justified in Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ then the minister of sin? God forbid!

Ver. 17.—But if while we seek to be justified in Christ we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ then the minister of sin? 1. If we are still in sin, and are looking to faith in Christ for forgiveness, while as a matter of fact it is not to be found there, but in the law, then does Christ support sin, inasmuch as He has taken away the law, which, according to the Judaisers, alone destroys sin. If the law alone justifies, then the law of grace, which abolishes the law, is the minister of sin. This is the interpretation of Jerome, Chrysostom, Primasius, Anselm, and Theophylact.

2. Vatablus says that “to be found a sinner” means to teach that the Mosaic law is necessary to salvation along with the Evangelical law. If, says S. Paul, we have taught this, as our traducers say we have, is then Christ or the Gospel involved in this heresy?

3. Others again interpret the verse thus: If we also, who boast of our being justified in Christ, are found sinners; if we give way to our lusts equally with the Jews or the Gentiles, who are aliens to Christ, does it necessarily follow that our teaching about justification through Christ is erroneous? Does Christ make us sinners unless He be joined to the Law? If Christ’s followers give way to sin it is their own fault, not His.

The first of these three interpretations is the best, as being the least forced. The others have to supply a clause; the second supplies “are called sinners,” the third, “because they give way to their lusts.” The first two agree better with the context. The Apostle is trying to prove that faith and not the law justifies. If, then, they who trust to faith in Christ are none the less found sinners, then Christ is found a deceiver in promising righteousness by faith, and in not keeping His promise. Hence He becomes the servant of sin, not its conqueror, especially since He has abrogated the law, which, they say, was our justifier against sin.

The Apostle uses a common Hebraism. His question implies a negative reply, and refutes the Judaising error by a reductio ad absurdum. Cf. Rom 3:5;  S. John 8:53; Jer 18:20.

Gal 2:18  For if I build up again the things which I have destroyed, I make myself a prevaricator.

For if I build up again—if I attribute justifying faith to the law—the things which I have destroyed—i.e., the law, as justifying—I make myself a prevaricator.. Like a Proteus, I change my faith at every wind. This is a fresh argument. If I do what the Jews falsely allege against me, I shall be a hypocrite, a destroyer in public of what I build again in private. But a hypocrite no one has charged me with being.

Gal 2:19  For I, through the law, am dead to the law, that I may live to God; with Christ I am nailed to the cross.

For I through the law am dead to the law. The law was the forerunner of Christ, and died when He appeared. The Ceremonial died absolutely, the Moral only so far as it was a tutor, and a judge of sin. By the law itself I died to law, because itself bade me die to it and live unto Christ. This is a second reason, following on that given in ver. 17, why we are justified by Christ and not by the law. Since the law itself sent me to Christ, why do you, 0 Jews, go against its own declarations, and seek to galvanise it into fresh life? It does not, however, follow from this that the binding force of the Decalogue ceased when Christ came, for the law in this respect was not Mosaic, but natural and immutable. Cf. notes on Rom 7:1.

Accordingly, Luther’s remarks here and again on chapter 4 of this Epistle are impious. “To die to the law,” he says, “is nothing but to be free from obeying it, whether it be ceremonial or moral, for it is obvious that the law was given to the Jews, and not to us.” He says the same in his treatise de Libertate Christiantâ: “The Christian needs neither law nor works, for by faith he is free from all law.” Again, in the Wittenberg Edition of his works (pp. 189, 190), he says: “The human heart must hate above all things the law of God, and so far God Himself.” Listen to these words, all ye who have been miserably deceived by him and his colleagues, and shudder at the words not of a man but of Satan. For what more blasphemous and abominable words could Satan, the sworn foe of God and man, utter against God, or what words more dangerous to man?

The sentiments of Calvin (Instit. lib. 3, cap. 19, § 2, 4, 7): “When conscience says, ‘Thou hast sinned,’ reply, ‘ Yes, I have sinned.’—’God will, therefore, condemn and Punish you.’—’No, for it is the law that threatens that; but I have nothing to do with the law.’—’Why?’—’Because I am free.’ ” Is this the pure Gospel? Did Paul teach this? “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid. Yea, we establish the law.” (Rom 3:31.) “Who,” says S. Augustine (contra Ep. Pelag. lib. iii. c. 4), “is so impious as to say that he does not keep the commandments, because a Christian is not under the law but under grace?” Who can believe that Luther and Calvin were sent by God to be reformers of the Church, when they abrogate all law, human and Divine?

Gal 2:20  And I live, now not I: but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and delivered himself for me.

By baptism I am crucified with Christ (verse 19), and dead to sin and the law; I am cut off from the old tree, and grafted as a new branch into the new tree of the Cross of Christ, from which I draw a new life, so that it is not so much I that live but Christ who lives in me. It is not the law, not nature, not concupiscence, not my own will that now drives me into action; but Christ’s grace is now, as it were, my soul, and the cause of all virtuous living, and the wellspring of humility, fortitude, wisdom, joy, peace, and all virtues. So Jerome, Chrysostom, Anselm.  Gregory (Hom. 32 in Evan.) says. “We leave ourselves, we deny ourselves when we change what we were in the old man, and strive for what we are called in the new. Think how Paul denied himself when he said, ‘It is not I that live.’ The cruel persecutor was dead, the pious preacher had begun to live; for if he were himself, he would not be pious. But if he asserts that it is not he that lives, let him tell us whence it is that he preaches holiness in his teaching of the truth. He adds ‘Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ It is as if he said plainly: ‘As far as I am concerned, I am dead, for I do not live after the flesh; but yet I am not really dead, for I live spiritually in Christ.’ ” So too Chrysostom writes: “See and admire an exact explanation of life. Since he had given himself wholly to Christ and His Cross, and did everything at His command, he did not say, ‘I live to Christ,’ but, what is much more, ‘Christ liveth in me.’ “ So too S. Jerome. “He who once lived as a persecutor and under the law, lives no longer. But Christ liveth in him as wisdom, fortitude, peace, joy, and all virtues. He who has not these cannot say, ‘Christ liveth in me.’ ”

S. Bernard (Serm. 7 in Quad.) says: These words of Paul are as if he should say: ‘To all other things I am dead; I do not feel them, I pay them no attention, I care not for them. Whatever, however, is Christ’s finds me alive and ready. For if I can do nothing else, at all events I can feel. Whatever makes for his honour pleases me, what against it displeases. Yea, it is not I that live, it is Christ that lives in me.’

It is Christ then, that teaches, preaches, prays, works, suffers in me, says S. Paul, so much so that I seem to be changed into Christ and Christ into me. “Each one,” says S. Augustine (in Ep. Joan. tract. 2), “is what he loves. If thou lovest earth, thou will be earthly; if thou lovest God, thou wilt be God.” Or, as S. Dionysius puts it, “Love changes the lover into what he loves.” Cf. Hos 9:10: “Their abominations were according as they loved.”

The metaphor of the old tree and the new, the old life and the new, used here by S. Paul, is paralleled by that used in Rom. vi., where he speaks of our being planted, buried, crucified, dead, and risen, together with Christ. So S. Ignatius wrote to the Romans, “My love was crucified” —my love, my life, my soul, my whole being was crucified when Christ suffered.

Notice here four properties of love. (1.) According to Dionysius (de Divin. Nomin. c. 4), “love is a unifying force.” This the Apostle touches in the words: “I am crucified with Christ;” I am united to, and am as it were one with Christ crucified. (2.) The second property of love is mutual inherence, which links God and man in the bonds of mutual love, and causes each to will what the other wills, and to say with the Bride in Song vi. 3: “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” This too S. Paul alludes to when he says that “he is in Christ, and Christ in him.” (3.) The third property is to turn the thoughts always in the same direction. For love, as a bond between minds, necessarily governs the thoughts of the mind. This S. Paul touches in the words, “I live,” and “Christ liveth,” i.e., the same life of memory, understanding, and will. (4.) The fourth is ecstasy. “Divine love,” says Dionysius (ubi supra), “causes ecstasy; it takes lovers out of themselves, so that they are no longer their own masters, but pass under the yoke of what they love. Hence the exclamation of Paul, when on fire with love and dominated by it: ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ Like a true lover, he was beside himself. We may even venture to say that a lover passes all bounds of self, and can do everything for the greatness of his love, because it makes him reach out in every direction and lay hold of everything.” Nay, ecstatic love laid hold on God Himself, and made Him communicate Himself to His creatures, and still more strongly, when it led Him to ally the Person of the Word to human nature in the Incarnation (Phil. ii. 7). It was ecstasy, therefore, which made the Word flesh, crucified It, and gave It the likeness of sin, because we were sinners and condemned to death; for it was out of His great, nay, His ecstatic love that Christ took all that we are, sin only excepted.

This ecstasy of love may almost be said to have changed the heart of Paul into the heart of Christ, just as we read about S. Catherine of Sienna, that her ardent love for Christ made her ask Him to remove her own heart and give her His; whereupon He granted her petition, and in place of her own gave her a new Christ-like heart. So too S. Chrysostom (Hom. 23 in Ep. ad Rom.), after quoting, these words of Paul’s, went on to say: “And so the heart of Paul was the heart of Christ, the tablets of the Holy Spirit, a roll written on by charity.” A little before he had called the heart of Paul, “the heart of the world,” and given this explanation of the term: “His heart was so enlarged that in it was room for whole cities and peoples and tribes. For ‘my heart,’ he says, ‘is enlarged.’ Nevertheless, however large it was, the love which enlarged it often brought it anguish. ‘Out of much tribulation and sorrow,’ he says, ‘have I written unto you;’ and I would fain see that heart melted, burning with love of them that they are perishing, bringing forth children. A heart that sees God is higher than the heavens, wider than the world, brighter than the rays of the sun, hotter than fire, harder than adamant, that sends forth streams of living water, a springing well, that waters not the face of the earth but the souls of men.”

This ecstasy has often been experienced by saints who have been overcome by the love of Christ.  S. Dominic, when elevating the Body of Christ in the Mass, was carried aloft, and his body, catching the fire with which his soul was consumed, was kindled as it were into a flame, whilst he ascended to be united to Christ, his love.  S. Francis too conceived in his mind such ardour, as S. Bonaventura says, from the seraph who appeared to him at night, that his body was wonderfully changed from that of an earthly man to a heavenly spirit, and into an image of the Crucified: bearing the five wounds of the Saviour, and the five marks burnt into him by the fire of the love of Christ, he became a marvel to the world.

Well too says S. Gregory of Nyssa (Hom. 15 in Cant.): “‘To me to live is Christ.’ By these words the Apostle not only exclaims that in him live no human affections, such as pride, fear, lust, grief, anger, timidity, audacity, recollection of injuries, envies, desire of revenge, of money, of honour, or of glory, but that all these being killed, He only remains who is none of these, who is sanctification, purity, immortality, and light and truth, who feeds among the lilies in the glories of His saints.”

So did Andrew the Apostle joyfully embrace the Cross. When he was condemned by Ægeas, Proconsul of Achaia, to be crucified for preaching the Cross, he exclaimed, as he approached the cross prepared for him: “0 noble cross, long desired, ardently loved, ever sought, already foreseen, gaily and gladly do I come to thee; may my Master, who hung on thee, welcome me, His disciple, that through thee I may come to Him who through thee redeemed me.” So saluting the cross, and making his prayer, he stripped off his garments and surrendered himself to his executioners, who thereupon tied him with ropes to the cross and raised him aloft. There he hung for two days and taught the people, till, finally, after having asked the Lord that he might not be taken down from the cross, he was surrounded with a glorious light from heaven, and when the light departed he gave up the ghost. All this is related in his Acts, which are thoroughly trustworthy.

So too S. Peter, when condemned by Nero to the cross, asked and obtained that he might be crucified, not like his Master, but with his head downwards.

S. Philip the Apostle preached the faith to the Scythians at Hierapolis, a city of Asia, during the reign of the Emperor Claudius; and having baptized many of them, he was at length crucified by the heathens and stoned, and so died a blessed martyr, as Eusebius relates, and, following him, Baronius.

When S. Bartholomew the Apostle had spread the Gospel through Lycaonia, in Greater Armenia, when Astyax was king, and had converted a temple of Ashtaroth in Lower India into a temple of the true God, and had baptized King Polemius and all his subjects, he was seized shortly afterwards, and after being beaten with sticks was crucified, and then flayed alive. On the twenty-fourth day afterwards he was beheaded, and so died.

At Rome, when Decius and Valerian were emperors, Pope Xystus was thrown into the Tullian prison and afterwards crucified. Prudentius (Hymn. 2 de S. Laurentio) thus alludes to this: “When Xystus was already fastened to the cross he said prophetically to Laurence, when he saw him standing weeping at the foot of his cross: ‘Cease to weep for me; I go before thee, my brother. In three days thou shalt follow me.’ “

S. Dionysius the Areopagite was scourged at Paris in the time of the Emperor Hadrian, then tortured by fire and thrown to the wild beasts, without suffering any harm. He was then raised on a cross, from which he was taken down and again scourged, after which his head was cut off, and he carried it in his own hands for two miles. Baronius (in Martyrol. Od. 9).

When S. Calliopus, a devout youth, was invited to a banquet spread in honour of the gods, he replied: “I am a Christian; I worship Christ with fastings, and it is not lawful for a Christian mouth to receive what has been offered to infamous and unclean idols.” The governor, on hearing this, ordered him to be cruelly scourged, and then bade him give up his foolish craze, obey the decrees of the emperors, sacrifice to the gods, and so save his life, otherwise he should be crucified like his Master. Calliopus replied: “I wonder at your impudence; you have been repeatedly told that I am a Christian, and that when a Christian dies he will live with Christ, yet you impudently fight against the truth. Hasten for me the same death as any Master bore.” When the governor saw that he was not to be shaken from his purpose, he gave sentence that he should be crucified on the Friday in Holy Week. When his mother heard of this, she bribed the soldiers to crucify her son with his head downwards, which was done. When he died a voice was heard from heaven: “Come, thou citizen of Christ’s kingdom and fellow-heir of the holy angels.” All this is related in his Life by Surius (April 7).

Wonderful, too, was the love of the Cross shown by a mere boy, S. Wernher, and wonderful was his martyrdom by crucifixion. Having confessed and made his Communion, he was secretly taken by the Jews, and on Good Friday, in imitation of Christ, and out of hatred to Him, tied to a wooden pillar. There he was cruelly scourged, cut about with a knife in every part of his body, tortured with pincers, so that he seemed to be dead. The holy boy, however, lingered three days, hanging from the pillar, till the blood ceased to flow, when, after bearing his sufferings with the utmost patience, he gave up his spirit to Christ, crucified to the glory of God. See the account of him in Surius (April 2). For similar cruelties on the part of the Jews, see Socrates (Hist. lib. vii. c. 16).

Ado (Martyrol. May 22), and, following him, Baronius (A.D. 440), relates a similar story of a holy maiden named Julia, who was brought before Felix, and urged by every blandishment to sacrifice to idols. On her refusal she was beaten by the hands of the servants, tortured by means of her hair, scourged, and crucified. When she gave up the ghost a dove left her mouth and flew to heaven. Who shall find a brave woman? Her price is far off, yea, from the ends of the earth.

Lately in Japan six Franciscans, three of our Order, and seventeen Japanese laymen, among them a lad, Aloysius, of twelve years, and another, Antonius, of thirteen, were, by order of King Taicosama, crucified, and pierced with a sword in the right side. They thus joyfully suffered the agonies of martyrdom.

Who loved me and gave Himself for me. Note the use of the singular. It is not us nor for us, but me and for me. Paul speaks thus: (1.) because of the greatness and the sweetness of his love; (2.) because he felt himself the first of sinners; (3.) because each one owes thanks to Christ for His death, just as though Christ had died for him only. “Happy, thrice happy he,” says S. Jerome, “who can say, because Christ lives in him, in every thought and work, ‘I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ ”

Gal 2:21  I cast not away the grace of God. For if justice be by the law, then Christ died in vain.

I cast not away the grace of God. I do not reject or spurn, or, as S. Ambrose renders it, “I am not ungrateful to the grace of God.” S. Augustine takes it as in the text. They frustrate the grace of God, says S. Jerome, who seek for justification through the law, and those who after baptism are polluted by sin. But this is a moral interpretation; that first given is the literal meaning.

For if justice be by the law, then Christ died in vain. Since Christ gave His life as the price of our justification, He would have given it in vain if we could gain that justification through the law. This is a third argument, ex impossibili. No one is so mad as to say that Christ suffered in vain; but He did suffer for our justification; therefore we are justified by Christ, not by Moses—by faith, not by the law.

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One Response to Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Galatians 2:16-21

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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