Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 8:14-30

As always, text in red are my additions.

THE CHILDREN OF GOD ARE HEIRS OF FUTURE GLORY
A Summary of Romans 8:14-30.

In this section the Apostle considers the qualities of Christians, who are the adopted sons of God. If we are sons of God, we are heirs with Christ, and therefore heirs of future glory (Rom 8:14-18). The certainty of this future glory is proved: (a) from the desire of irrational creatures (Rom 8:19-22); (b) from the desire of the faithful (Rom 8:23-25); (c) from the desire of the Holy Ghost dwelling in us (Rom 8:26-27); (d) from the designs of God Himself (Rom 8:28-30).

Rom 8:14. For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

Whosoever are led, etc., i.e., those who are governed by the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, and who, consequently, repress and control the desires of the flesh, are the sons of God, because sanctifying grace, communicated to them by the Holy Ghost, unites them to Christ, and makes them members of His mystical body and His brothers. To be a son of God, therefore, it is necessary not only to have received the Holy Ghost, but to be also governed by Him.

Rom 8:15. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).

This and the following verse constitute a kind of parenthesis in which the Apostle shows why Christians are truly the adopted sons of God. He does not say that formerly they received the spirit of servitude, but only that the spirit they now have is unlike that which used to move them. Hence παλιν (“again”) is to be joined to εις φοβον (“in fear”), and not to ελαβετε (“received”).

You have not received, etc., in Baptism the spirit of bondage or slavery which in Judaism you possessed, and which made you serve God without affection and from fear, as an unwilling slave would serve his master. Such a spirit could not come from God, or be pleasing to God.

The pagans served their divinities in this servile manner, being always moved by the fear of chastisement. The Jewish Law also was called the law of fear, because it did not exclude all servility. To secure its observance it had no power to confer grace (Rom 9:3; Gal 3:12, Gal 3:21), but was forced to hold out threats of chastisement or promises of temporal reward (Heb 8:6; Heb 9:15). A spirit like this, says the Apostle, the Christians have not received. On the contrary, they have received the spirit of adoption of sons, i.e., a disposition of mind and soul which enables them to serve God out of love, as a good son would serve his father.

The spirit, therefore, which the Christians have received, and which is here in question, is not the Holy Ghost (verse 16), nor a supernatural principle of their actions, but a disposition of mind given by God, and as such, supernatural, similar to the spirit of wisdom spoken of in the Old Testament (Isa 11:2-3; Isa 28:6). Cf. Lagr., h. 1. This spirit is a characteristic mark of a Christian, whereby he is known to be of the adopted sons of God; and of a filial disposition of soul which makes him freely choose to serve God not out of fear, but out of love. To this spirit of piety which the Christian possesses the Holy Ghost also bears witness (verse 16) that the faithful are the sons of God.

Abba is an Aramaic word which the Apostle here tells us means Father (cf. Mark 14:36; Gal 4:6). Some think the term pertained to an official prayer, but more probably it was only an expression of tenderness toward God, the Father.

Rom 8:16. For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God.

This verse completes the previous one and shows still more clearly that we are the sons of God. For the Spirit himself giveth testimony, etc., i.e., the Holy Ghost joins our spirit (verse 15) in bearing witness that we are truly the adopted children of God, because it is by the impulse of this Holy Spirit, together with our own, that we, with filial love, invoke God by the name of Father (Gal 4:6). Here, however, we must observe that short of a special divine revelation we can never be absolutely certain that we are in a state of grace and are the sons of God; and that, consequently, the testimony which seems to come from the Holy Spirit may not be a deception of our own minds or of the evil one (cf. Conc. Trid., Sess. VI. de Justif., cap. 9. can. 14, 15). Moral certitude in such matters is all we can hope for.

Lagrange holds that our spirit of the present verse is not the same as the spirit spoken of in the second part of the preceding verse, but is rather a more complete gift of God, coming from an outpouring of love from the Holy Ghost, who dwells in our souls and is the principle of our good actions.

That we are (οτι εσμεν) refers to the Christians who are the sons of God. The term τεκνα here is used in the same sense as υἱόἱ. Both can be translated as “sons” or “children.”

Rom 8:17. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint-heirs withChrist: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

St. Paul now alludes to the Roman law which recognized the same rights to inheritance in adopted sons as in natural ones (Gal 4:1 ff.); and he concludes that since we are the adopted children of God, we shall be heirs together with Christ of God’s life and glory (Rom 8:13, Rom 8:18). It is by reason of our union with Christ that we have a right to share in the eternal goods which are His by nature. But we shall be glorified with Christ only on condition that here below we suffer in union with Him. As He only through humiliation, sufferings and death entered into His glory; so we also must bear our sufferings and crosses in union with Him, in a disposition akin to His, if we wish to have part in His life and glory hereafter.

Yet so. The conjunction  ειπερ may be translated, as in the Vulgate, by si tamen (yet so; if so); or by si quidem (if indeed), as many moderns prefer. The sense is nearly the same, except for the meaning which  ινα (“that”) receives in these two interpretations. According to the first, suffering with Christ in order to be glorified with Him is a matter of free choice; but if we choose so to suffer, it is with the intention (eo fine ut) that we shall be glorified with Him. According to the second interpretation, suffering with Christ is looked upon more as a fact of our present existence, the natural outcome of which is that we shall be glorified with Christ hereafter. This latter interpretation establishes a natural connection between suffering with Christ and reigning with Him, without this expressed intention on our part, which the former interpretation does not seem to recognize.

Rom 8:18. For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us.

Having spoken in the preceding verse about suffering and reigning with Christ, the Apostle was reminded by the reference to δοξαν (glory), to note here the contrast between the passing trials and crosses of the present life, on the one hand, and the lasting glory that is in store hereafter for the faithful Christian, on the other. He who had suffered so much (2 Cor 11:23 ff.), and had also been elevated even to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2 ff.) was able to speak from personal experience. Hence I reckon means I am certain.

This time means the present life of the Christian.

The glory to come, that shall be revealed, that shall be poured out upon us, body and soul (εις ημας, in nos, rather than in nobis of the Vulg.), is now hidden from us, waiting upon death first, and for its complete and final unfolding, upon the resurrection of the body.

Rom 8:19. For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God.

In Rom 8:19-22 the Apostle, representing the irrational world as a person, proves the certainty of our future glory from the longing after it which is manifest even in irrational creatures. The present state of our own physical nature, with its many sufferings and limitations, finds its analogy in all material creation; for the material world shows by its actions that it is irresistibly, though unconsciously, striving after a liberation from the state of change and corruption to which it is now subjected. Following the great authorities we have taken the creature here to mean irrational creation. It is true, however, that the word κτισεως has various meanings in the Epistles. Sometimes it means the creature as distinguished from the Creator (Rom 1:25), sometimes it signifies men and angels (Col 1:15-16), sometimes it stands for creation or the creative act (2 Pet 3:4), sometimes it means mankind or the human creature (1 Pet 2:13).

Rom 8:20. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope:

A reason is now assigned for the condition just given of the material world. The creature (κτισις), i.e., irrational creation, was made subject, by the sentence pronounced by God against Adam after the latter’s sin (“cursed is the earth,” etc., Gen 3:17), to vanity, i.e., to mutability, corruption, dissolution and death,—from which condition it yearns to be delivered by participating in the glory and incorruption of the sons of God (St. Chrys., St. Thomas, Toussaint and many non-Catholics). According to Comely, Prat, Crampon and others, “the creature” has been “subjected to vanity” inasmuch as, since the sin of Adam, in place of serving and glorifying God, it has become, in the hands of fallen man, an instrument of sin and rebellion against God.

Not willingly, i.e., irrational creation, which, like everything else, naturally seeks its own perfection and permanence, has not chosen either the corruption and death, or the profane and sinful uses to which it has been subjected by reason of him, i.e., by the ordination of God, who has cursed nature along with fallen man, but who at the same time has left in it a hope that in the future renovation it will be delivered from its present condition and will have part in the glorification of man (Cornely, Lagrange, etc.).

In spe of the Vulgate would better be in spem.

Rom 8:21. Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

St. Paul explains in what the hope of the creature consists. It hopes to be delivered from the state of corruption to which it is now subjected, and to have a share in the glory and incorruption of the sons of God. This is the renovation of nature foretold by the Prophet (Isa 65:17) and expressly designated in the New Testament (2 Peter 3:13; Rev 21:1).

It is evident that the part nature shall have in the glory of the children of God will be negative rather than positive. It will be delivered from its present state of corruption, dissolution and death, as well as from the profane uses to which it is now subjected.

Rom 8:22. For we know that every creature groaneth, and travaileth in pain, even till now.
We know, i.e., we Christians know from revelation (Gen. 3:17) that the condition of nature is far from what it ought to be, and that it will have a better state hereafter (2 Peter 3:13; Rev 21:1).

Groaneth, and travaileth, as a woman in the pangs of childbirth, who feels the pain of her present state, but looks forward to another one of joy when the child is born (John xvi. 21). Nature feels its state of bondage even till now, i.e., at the present moment, as it has felt it all along since the Fall; but the figure of parturition here used does not mean that, as in the case of a woman in childbirth, nature is soon to be delivered from its sufferings. Its emancipation will follow only upon the glorification of man.

Rom 8:23. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body.

The Apostle now passes to the second argument in favor of the certainty of our future glory. Not only it, i.e., not only irrational nature yearns for deliverance from the present state of corruption, but ourselves also, i.e., all Christians, have the same longing. It is not correct to say, as some of the ancients did, that ourselves refers only to the Apostles.

The first fruits of the Spirit, i.e., the first gifts of the Holy Ghost, such as faith, sanctifying grace, hope, etc., but which are not the fulness of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that shall be ours in the state of glory. Lagrange and others understand “the first fruits of the Spirit” to mean the Holy Ghost dwelling in us with His grace, who is an earnest and a pledge of the gift of glory hereafter (2 Cor 5:5).

The adoption, i.e., the complete and perfect adoption which will consist in the glorification of both soul and body; now we enjoy only that imperfect adoption which follows upon justification. The last and final fruit of our consummate adoption will be the resurrection and glorification of our body. The body needs redemption, because it became the seat of sin and death (Rom 7:24; Rom 8:11), because it is through the body that we are connected with the physical universe, and because our happiness would not be complete without the redemption of our whole being, body as well as soul.

Of the sons of God (Vulg., filiorum Dei) is not in the Greek.

Rom 8:24. For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for?

St. Paul shows here that our adoption and salvation are now complete only in hope, and not in reality. Hence τη ελπιδι (“in hope”), is a modal dative, which shows the manner in which our redemption is now complete, namely, in hope. Being justified we have already the beginning of our salvation and perfect adoption, the full possession and realization of which waits upon the glorification of both our body and our soul.

As a matter of fact, according to the doctrine of St, Paul, we are saved by faith; we firmly believe that God will save us, and hope vividly anticipates the fulfillment of God’s promises and the realization of all we believe.

But hope that is seen, etc. The meaning is that hope regards an absent object, and not one “that is seen,” that is present. That which is present and is seen, is no longer hoped for.

For what a man seeth, etc. Better, “Who hopeth for what he seeth” (ο γαρ βλεπει τις ελπιζει, as it is in the Vatican MS.).

Rom 8:25. But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience.

But if we hope, etc., i.e., it is of the essence of hope to regard not that which is present, but that which we see not; and for this we wait with patient endurance (υπομονης), steadily resisting all adverse influences. Patient and firm expectancy is the peculiar quality of Christian hope. The Greek υπομονης (hupomenō) is derived from ὑπό ( hupo = under) and μένω (menō = stay, abide, endure). It is the opposite of  cowering in fear. See Lk 8:15; Lk 21:19; Rom 2:7; Rom 5:3; Rom 8:25; Rom 15:4; 2 Cor 6:4; 1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 3:10; Heb 12:1; James 1:3; James 5:11; 2 Pet 1:6; Rev 2:2; Rev 2:19.

Rom 8:26. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.

The third proof of the certainty of our future glory comes from the Holy Ghost who dwells in the faithful soul. As the creature, and as we ourselves yearn for our complete redemption, so likewise does the Holy Spirit, who dwells in our hearts. And this Holy Spirit also helpeth (συναντιλαμβανεται, i.e., lends a helping hand and cooperates with us) the infirmity of our prayers. The Greek συναντιλαμβάνομαι (sunantilambanomai) is a kind of tri-compound word meaning to take hold of, with the implication of some form of substitution: “Let us take in hand what others can not do.”

For we know not, etc. Although we know in a general way from the Our Father (Matt 6:9) what form our prayers should take, still often we do not know how to ask in particular cases. At these times the Spirit himself comes to our aid and asketh for us, i.e., moves us to ask as we ought (Matt 10:20), putting on our lips unspeakable groanings, i.e., words unintelligible to man, but understood by God. There is question here of an extraordinary kind of prayer in which the soul is absorbed in God, and does not understand what it says or what it does. The state is somewhat comparable to that of the gift of tongues possessed at times by the early Christians who could pray in strange languages without being able to interpret their prayers (1 Cor 14:2-39); but there is not a complete parity between the state here mentioned and that of those early Christians. The gift of tongues has disappeared now, but the inspiration or direction of the Spirit concerning which St. Paul wrote to the Romans is always present to the faithful soul, teaching it how to pray (Matt 10:20).

Rom 8:27. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God.

While the utterance which the Spirit frames for us and puts on our lips may be altogether inexplicable to us and unintelligible to others, nevertheless God, whose science penetrates all the secrets of our hearts (1 Sam 8:39; Ps 7:10), knoweth the desires (το φρονημα) which the Spirit utters through us, i.e., God knows the end to which the petitions of the Spirit tend and the purpose which they serve.

Because (οτι, in the sense of quod, i.e., “that”). God knows not only the desire of the Spirit, but He knows also that what the Spirit asks is always conformable to the divine will (κατα θεον), and tends, therefore, to the fulfillment of the divine decrees and to the consequent salvation of the faithful soul (Cornely).

For the saints, i.e., on behalf of those who are dear to God, namely, the faithful.

Rom 8:28. And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.

In Rom 8:28-30 the certainty of our future glory is proved from the testimony of God Himself. This is the fourth proof the Apostle has given regarding the certainty of our coming blessedness. These arguments are calculated to encourage and strengthen the Christians to bear their sufferings patiently in view of their glory to come.

That the object or term of the series of divine acts mentioned in these verses (Rom 8:28-30), which give assurance to the hope of the just is not grace, as St. Chrysostom and his school have said, but glory, is evident from the fact that the testimony of God Himself, which is the confirmation and completion of the Christian’s hope, is concerned with that which we have not yet seen, but which we hope for (Rom 8:24), namely, future glory. St. Paul is considering two states, the state of present grace, and that of future glory (Rom 8:21); the first has been discussed already in the preceding verses, the second remains to be considered, unless the final and supreme confirmation of our hope is to go without consideration. This would seem to result in the opinion held by St. Chrysostom.

In the present verse (Rom 8:28) the Apostle tells the Christians not to be disheartened over the troubles and sufferings of this passing life, because God in His eternal, all-wise decree concerning them has so arranged matters that He will make all things—trials, crosses, sufferings, etc., contribute to their present sanctification, and thus to their future glory.

To them that love God, i.e., to the Christians, all of whom the Apostle is supposing to be in the state of grace, and therefore, through love to belong to Christ (Rom 8:9).

All things work together, etc. The subject of “work together” (συνεργει) is not “all things,” but God (ο θεος), which must be supplied,—(a) because “God” is surely the subject of the verbs that follow coordinately with συνεργει (work together) in the succeeding verses (29, 30), and (b) because it would only be by the action or causality of “God” that “all things” could be said to cooperate or “work together” for our salvation. The meaning is that God makes use of all things as helps and aids to those whom He calls to sanctity and glory.

To such as, etc., i.e., to those who are called to be Christians, and who respond to that call (Cornely, Prat). St. Paul is not referring here to the distinction between the “called” and the “elect” (Matt 20:16; Matt 22:14); his words are not restrictive, but explanatory, as referring to all the Christians that have embraced the faith, without entering here into the further question of those who are finally to be saved. In this and the two following verses St. Paul is speaking only of what God does, of God’s calling the Christians to the faith, of His sanctifying them and of His glorifying them,—all of which is according to His eternal decree; the Apostle is not now affirming or denying the possibility of some of the Christians failing to cooperate with God’s grace, thereby coming short of their eternal crowns. Had he wished in these verses to distinguish two classes among the Christians—those who were to be saved, and those who were to be lost—he would have greatly saddened some of them, at least, and this was surely contrary to his purpose, which was to encourage them all.

According to his purpose (κατα προθεσιν) , i.e., according to God’s eternal decree. Everywhere in the New Testament, with the exception of three places (2 Tim 3:10; Acts 11:23; Acts 27:13), where it indicates the purpose of man, the word πρόθεσις (prothesis) signifies a divine decree to confer some supernatural benefit, as in Rom 9:11; Eph 1:11; Eph 3:11; 2 Tim 1:9 (Cornely). God, therefore, has called Christians to the faith, because He has decreed to do so from all eternity; and this decree is gratuitous, as not depending on the merits of men; it is absolute, as having for its effect an efficacious call (Lagrange, Prat).

It is de fide that we cannot merit the first habitual grace of justification, or the grace of final perseverance ; these are gratuitous gifts of God. Given the first grace, we may merit subsequent graces, with the exception of the final one. Whether God’s eternal decree (πρόθεσις = prothesis), in the mind of St. Paul, has reference to predestination to glory ante or post praevisamerita is disputed. Indeed, it seems that in this verse the Apostle is not treating either phase of this question directly; proximately and directly he is speaking at present only of an efficacious call to the faith (Cornely). Naturally, however, predestination to glory is on the horizon here, and is necessarily bound up with what is said in these verses, 28-30, and in the following chapter. If one is not predestined to be called to the faith, he is lacking the first requisite for predestination to glory.

Rom 8:29. For whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his Son; that he might be the firstborn amongst many brethren.

This verse is explanatory of the preceding one. The Apostle tells the Christians that efficacious divine assistance is assured them, because they are predestined to be participants in the glory of Christ.

For (οτι, because) explains παντα συνεργει (“all things” in verse 28), why God causes all things to contribute to the help of those whom He calls.

He foreknew (προεγνω). For St. Chrysostom and other Greek Fathers, who understand πρόθεσις, purpose, of the preceding verse, to mean only the good disposition on the part of Christians which makes their call to the faith efficacious, “foreknew” of this verse does not include the idea of choice, but simply means the foreknowledge by which God understood those who would respond to His call, and whom He, therefore, predestined. For those who regard the call as efficacious and the purpose a divine decree, “foreknew” means: (a) knowledge accompanied by a choice or preference on the part of the divine will (Zahn, Allo, etc.); (b) the knowledge which God has from eternity of the perseverance of some in faith and love (Cornely); (c) foreknowledge, as distinguished from predestination, and yet accompanied by a predilection of which St. Paul does not here assign the cause (Lagrange, St. Thomas).

Those, therefore, whom God has known and loved from all eternity, He has predestinated (verse 29) to be made conformable, etc. This conformity is not the motive or cause, but rather the effect or consequence of predestination; and it will consist finally, in the resurrection, in our complete and perfect adoption as sons, in our transformation and glorification of body and soul, so as to share in the glory of Christ’s risen, glorified body (Cornely, Toussaint, etc.). God, then, has predestined Christians to be conformable to His Son, and the Son has taken our body, in order that we might share in the glory of His risen body, in order that we might be His adopted brethren and He the firstborn among His many brethren. St. Paul is here telling the Christians that the call to the faith, to which they have responded, is, in the divine plan, the pledge of their eternal glory (Lagrange). Doubtless a conformity to Christ here below through grace is presupposed to our final and glorious conformity to Him in the resurrection, but it is only this latter that is under consideration now.

Nam of the Vulgate would better be quoniam, and filii sui should be filii eius.

Rom 8:30. And whom he predestinated, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified.

The Apostle here enumerates the various acts by which God in time executes His eternal decree regarding Christians. The first of these acts is the call to the faith, the next is justification, and the last is glorification. Obviously there is question in the Apostle’s mind only of an efficacious call, of an actual embracing of the faith and of a real internal justification through grace which persists to the end of life, and which is finally crowned by a glorification of body and soul that will render the Christian conformable to the glorified risen Christ. It is true that glorified (εδοξασεν), being in the past tense, causes a difficulty. We can easily understand how the predestination, the call and the justification of the faithful, to whom the Apostle is writing, are past; but it would seem that their glorification should be expressed by a future tense. St. Chrysostom explained this by saying that the faithful have already acquired glory by adoption and grace. But since the great majority of interpreters hold that there is question here only of future glory, we can explain εδοξασεν (“glorified”) by saying that the Apostle, speaking of the consummation of the Christian life, regards all as past, and so rightly speaks of the Christians’ glorification as completed. Or it may be observed that the verbs in this verse —predestinated, called, justified, glorified—are in the aorist tense in Greek, and as such they abstract from time, and might be rendered by the present tense in English, as expressing an abiding truth, namely, God’s eternal mode of acting.

Throughout this section (verses 28-30) St. Paul is assuring the Christians as a body of the certitude of their future glory. His aim is to encourage them to bear their present sufferings and labors, and to persevere in view of the future glory which God has decreed for them. As far as God is concerned, he wishes to tell them their call to the faith and their justification are a sure pledge of salvation; their cooperation with God’s grace and their perseverance are tacitly presupposed. The Apostle is not considering the particular destiny of each Christian in the designs of God, but only the designs of God for Christianity; he is considering Christians as a body, those who have responded to God’s call, who have believed, who have received Baptism and have been justified. He is taking it for granted that the faithful will do their part by cooperating with God’s grace to the end, and consequently he is describing the glorious consummation of the work of their salvation as far as God’s part is concerned. Cf. Cornely, Lagrange, etc., h. 1.

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