Father Bernardin de Piconio’s Commentary on Romans 9:1-5

Text in red is my addition.

1. I say the truth in Christ, I do not he, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost:
2. That I have great sorrow, and continual grief in my heart.
3. For I wished to be myself an anathema from Christ for my brethren, who are my kindred after the flesh:
4. Who are Israelites, whose is the adoption of sons, and the glory, and the testament, and the giving of the law, and the worship, and the promises:
5. Of whom are the fathers, and to whom Christ belongs after the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen

Ch 9.  In this chapter the Apostle, while expressing himself with great consideration and courtesy for the nation of the Jews, shows that not they, but the believers in Christ, both from among Jews and Gentiles, are the real inheritors of the promises made to the Patriarchs.

1. I say the truth in Christ. There is something striking in the solemnity of this opening. The Apostle begins with an oath, calling Christ to witness, and his conscience in the Holy Ghost. What he swears is, that there is in his heart a deep and continual sorrow, the cause of which, however, he does not explain in direct terms, but leaves to be implied in what follows. It is, doubtless, the alienation of the Jewish nation from God.

3. I wished to he an anathema from Christ. I used to wish. So the Vulgate and the Greek text, which also bears the meaning, I used to pray. The Syriac and Ethiopic versions, Saint Chrysostom and Theophylact, all read I could wish, or would choose, that is, if it were God’s will. I, whom neither death nor life can separate from the charity of Christ, would choose to be an anathema from him. The word anathema means something separated; either a thing consecrated to the service of God, and set apart from profane and common use; or with regard to a person, one who is cut off from the communion of the Church, and in this sense the Apostle uses it here. Not from the charity of Christ, but from the enjoyment of his glory, says Theophylact. From his presence and eternal glory, Saint Chrysostom. For my brethren; if my exclusion from Christ would procure their salvation. The prayer could not be effectual as regards its object, which the Apostle knew not to be in conformity with the will of God. As regards himself, it was effectual and pious, for the salvation of so large a number, would be more to God’s glory than that of one individual. See Cornelius a Lapide. This prayer, Saint Chrysostom says, is founded in a charity of which the breadth and intensity is wider than the ocean, more vehement than flame. Why, he asks the Apostle, do you pray to be separated from Christ? Because again and again, I ardently love him. But how far are we from such affection, which we cannot even comprehend! St. Chrys. Hom. 50, 16, pag. 224, 228. All we can say is, that the Apostle had such love for God, and such zeal for souls, as to wish for separation from Christ, if thereby the Jews would believe in him.

4. Who are Israelites. In order still further to remove all prejudice from himself, he proceeds to enumerate eight special privileges conferred upon the Jewish people, which distinguished them above other nations, and were undoubtedly highly honourable to them, as Israelites; children of the Prince who wrestled with God and prevailed. First, the adoption: Israel is my first-born, Exod. iv. 22. Secondly, the glory, the Shechina, or visible indication of the presence of the Almighty, dwelling among them. Thirdly, the testament, or covenant, which God made with them. The Greek text has testaments, in the plural, possibly referring to the two tables of stone on which the law was inscribed. Fourthly, the giving of the law, not the ten commandments only, but all the national legislation, by the ministry of Moses. Fifthly, the worship or ritual of divine service. Sixthly, the promises of the possession of the land of Canaan; and the coming of the Messias, in whom all nations were to be blessed. Seventhly of who are the fathers, who have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for their patriarchs. And lastly, from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came.

5. Who is over all, God blessed for ever. The Greek text, the Vulgate, and all the versions. without exception, have these words, punctuated in our manner. There is, therefore, absolutely no ground whatever for the omission of the word God, as proposed by some of the heretics, or for introducing a period before it, to alter the plain sense of the words.

This controversy is still going on today.  The Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture states: “A second characteristic feature of this paragraph is the statement of the divinity of Christ in 5. This text is discussed at length in every commentary. The different opinions as to its historical meaning are shown in the different punctuations of the text, cf. SH 233-8. The first explanation punctuates: ‘Christ according to the flesh, who is over all things, God blessed for ever, Amen’, DV. In this form the meaning of the passage is clear and the sequence of thought natural. Besides being the most natural this explanation has also the support of Christian antiquity, cf. J. B. Franzelin, De verbo incarnato, 1874, 71-82; A. Durand, RB 12 ( 1903) 550-70. In dogma v 5 holds an established place among the Scripture proofs for the divinity of Christ, cf. Tanquerey II 634. For other doxologies addressed to Christ, cf. 16:27; 2Ti 4:18; 1Ti 3:16; Eph 5:14, Eph 5:19; Prat II 130. The second explanation argues that the explicit use of the name ‘God’ for Christ is without a parallel in St Paul’s letters and that this makes it necessary to avoid such a usage here if that is at all grammatically possible. Those who accept this argument find a corresponding interpretation by inserting a full stop after ‘flesh’ or after ‘all things’. The remainder of the sentence (5c) then becomes a praise (doxology) not of Christ but of God: ‘God, who is above all, be blessed for ever’; or ‘God blessed for ever, Amen’. This is the exegesis among others of Wetstein, Tischendorf ( 1869), Jülicher, Lietzmann, cf. also RV margin. Its main weakness is its artificiality which betrays itself in the far-fetched arguments necessary to make it appear plausible. More specific reasons which can be urged against it are: (a) 5c has not the recognized form of a Biblical doxology which is: ‘Blessed (be) God’, and not ‘God (be) blessed’, cf.Luk 1:68; 2Co 1:3; Eph 1:3. (b) It is against I Pauline usage to begin a doxology with a new sentence cf. 1:25; 2Co 11:31; Gal 1:5; 2Ti 4:18, etc.; Lagrange. (c) What is ultimately gained by this exegesis is less than the extent of the controversy suggests. For the first explanation remains at least equally possible and the doctrine of the divinity of Christ remains unimpaired because it is clear from other texts of St Paul, cf.Phil 2:5-11; Col 2:9, etc.; Cornely; Prat II 124-31″.


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One Response to Father Bernardin de Piconio’s Commentary on Romans 9:1-5

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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