Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 8:28-30

Notes on red are my additions.

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 (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 (verse 24), namely, future glory. St. Paul is considering two states, the state of present grace, and that of future glory (verse 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.

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 the present verse 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” (παντα 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 (Rom 8:29-30), 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; 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; 27:13), where it indicates the purpose of man, the word πρόθεσις (meaning “decree,” from which προθεσιν, “purpose” is derived) signifies a divine decree to confer some supernatural benefit, as in Rom 9:11; Eph 1:11; 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 (Lagr., 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) , in the mind of St. Paul, has reference to predestination to glory ante or post praevisa merita 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, (Rom 8:28-30), 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.

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 (“works together” in vs 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 (Lagr., 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 (Lagr.). 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.

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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One Response to Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 8:28-30

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

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