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Earliest Interpretations of Peter as the “Rock” in Mt 16:18

Posted by Tony Listi on March 22, 2014

Protestants offer a slew of rationalizations for why Peter is not the “rock” upon which Jesus built His Church in Matthew 16:18.

But how did the earliest Christians and Christian leaders (East and West) interpret this verse of Scripture? They interpreted it the way Catholics do. Peter is the Rock.

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)
“Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called ‘the rock on which the church should be built,’ who also obtained ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’….” (On the Prescription Against the Heretics, 22; ANF, Vol. III, 253)

“If, because the Lord has said to Peter, ‘Upon this rock will I build My Church,’ ‘to you have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom;’ or, ‘Whatsoever you shall have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens,’ you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? ‘On you,’ He says, ‘will I build My Church;’ and, ‘I will give to you the keys,’ not to the Church; and, ‘Whatsoever you shall have loosed or bound,’ not what they shall have loosed or bound. For so withal the result teaches. In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key; you see what (key): ‘Men of Israel, let what I say sink into your ears: Jesus the Nazarene, a man destined by God for you,’ and so forth. (Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ’s baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which (kingdom) are ‘loosed’ the sins that were beforetime ‘bound;’ and those which have not been ‘loosed’ are ‘bound,’ in accordance with true salvation; and Ananias he ‘bound’ with the bond of death, and the weak in his feet he ‘absolved’ from his defect of health. Moreover, in that dispute about the observance or non-observance of the Law, Peter was the first of all to be endued with the Spirit, and, after making preface touching the calling of the nations, to say, ‘And now why are you tempting the Lord, concerning the imposition upon the brethren of a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to support? But however, through the grace of Jesus we believe that we shall be saved in the same way as they.’ This sentence both ‘loosed’ those parts of the law which were abandoned, and ‘bound’ those which were reserved. Hence the power of loosing and of binding committed to Peter….” (On Modesty, 21; ANF, Vol. IV)

Hippolytus (d.c. 236)
By this Spirit, Peter spoke that blessed word, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ By this Spirit, the rock of the Church was established.” (Discourse on the Holy Theophany, 9, ANF, Vol. V, 237)

Origen (c. 185-c. 254)
“And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.” (Commentary on John, 5:3; ANF, Vol. X, 347; cf. Jurgens, I, 202)
“Look at [Peter] the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church. And what does our Lord say to him? ‘O you of little faith,’ he says, ‘why do you doubt?’ [Mt 14:31]” (Homilies on Exodus, 5, 4; Jurgens, I, 205)

Cyprian (210-258)
“The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, ‘I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, ‘Feed my sheep.’ And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, ‘As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained;’ yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity.” (The Unity of the Church [Treatise IV]; ANF, Vol. V)

“The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, ‘I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Upon one He builds His Church, and to the same He says after His resurrection, ‘feed My sheep’. And though to all His Apostles He gave an equal power yet did He set up one chair, and disposed the origin and manner of unity by his authority. The other Apostles were indeed what Peter was, but the primacy is given to Peter, and the Church and the chair is shown to be one. And all are pastors, but the flock is shown to be one, which is fed by all the Apostles with one mind and heart. He that holds not this unity of the Church, does he think that he holds the faith? He who deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is founded, is he confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Church [Treatise IV]; ANF, Vol. V) (Click here for discussion of two different versions of Treatise IV.)

“Nevertheless, Peter, upon whom by the same Lord the Church had been built, speaking one for all, and answering with the voice of the Church, says, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe, and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God:’ signifying, doubtless, and showing that those who departed from Christ perished by their own fault, yet that the Church which believes on Christ, and holds that which it has once learned, never departs from Him at all, and that those are the Church who remain in the house of God…. After such things as these, moreover, they still dare—a false bishop having been appointed for them by heretics—to set sail and to bear letters from schismatic and profane persons to the throne of Peter, and to the chief church whence priestly unity takes its source; and not to consider that these were the Romans whose faith was praised in the preaching of the apostle, to whom faithlessness could have no access.” (Epistle LIV [LIX], To Cornelius, Concerning Fortunatus and Felicissimus, 7, 14; ANF, Vol. V)

“They who have not peace themselves now offer peace to others. They who have withdrawn from the Church promise to lead back and to recall the lapsed to the Church. There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering.” (Letter 43 [40], To All His People, 5; Jurgens, I, 229)

“There speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priests of God, believing that they are secretly in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is One and Catholic, is not split nor divided, but is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere one to another.” (Letter 66 [69], 8; To Florentius Pupianus; Jurgens, I, 233-234)

Firmilian of Caesarea (c. 255)
“But what is the greatness of his error, and what the depth of his blindness, who says…and does not abide on the foundation of the one Church which was once based by Christ upon the rock, may be perceived from this, that Christ said to Peter alone, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’… Stephen…boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid…. Stephen, who announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter….” (quoted in St. Cyprian’s letters 74:16-17)

Eusebius of Caesaria [Church historian] (c. 265-c. 340)
“And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, ‘against which the gates of hell shall not prevail’….” (Ecclesiastical History, 6, 25; NPNF 2, Vol. I, 273)

Aphraates (c. 280-c. 345)
“[T]he chief of the disciples…the Lord accepted him, set him up as the foundation, called him the rock and structure of the church.” (De Paenitentibus, Homily 7:15; Winter, 58)

Letter of Clement to James (c. 290)
“Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon, who for the sake of the truth faith, and the sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was, by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter.” (2)

Clementine Homilies (c. 290)
“[Simon Peter to Simon Magus:] For in direct opposition to me, who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church, you now stand.” (17:19)

Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-368)
“[B]lessed Simon, who after his confession of the mystery, was set to be the foundation-stone of the Church, and received the keys of the kingdom….” (On the Trinity, 6, 20; NPNF 2, Vol. IX, 105)

Ephraem (c. 306-373)
Simon, My follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for Me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples…. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures!” (Homilies, 4, 1; Jurgens, I, 311)

Basil the Great (c. 330-379)
Peter upon which rock the Lord promised that he would build his church.” (In Isaias, 2, 66; Winter, 55)

Gregory Nazianzen (c. 330-c. 390)
“Seest thou that of the disciples of Christ, all of whom were exalted and deserving of choice, one is called rock, and is entrusted with the foundations of the church.” (Oration 32, 18; Winter, 56)

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-c. 394)
“Peter, who is the head of the apostles…he is the firm and most solid rock, on which the savior built his Church. (Panegyric on St. Stephen, 3; Winter, 56)

Epiphanius (c. 315-403)
“[T]he first of the apostles, the solid rock on which the Church was built. (In Ancorato, 9, 6; Winter, 57)

John Chrysostom (c. 345-407)
“[H]e [Peter] became a foundation of the Church.” (Homily 3 on Matthew; NPNF 1, Vol. X, 19)
“[T]o exhibit a man that is a fisher more solid than any rock, while all the world is at war with him….” (Homily 54 on Matthew; NPNF 1, Vol. X, 334)
Peter, the coryphaeus of the choir of apostles, the mouth of the disciples, the foundation of the faith, the base of the confession, the fisherman of the world, who brought back our race from the depth of error to heaven….” (Hom. de decem mille talentis; Chapman, 74)
“Peter, that the head of the Apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, who received the revelation not from man but from the Father…this Peter, and when I say Peter, I mean the unbroken rock, the unshaken foundation, the great apostle, the first of the disciples, the first called, the first to obey.” (Almsgiving 3:4; Chapman, 74)

Optatus of Milevis (c.367)
“You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the city of Rome was bestowed the episcopal cathedra, on which sat Peter, the head of all the apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas), that, in this one cathedra, unity should be preserved by all.” (Schism of the Donatists 2:2)

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A Catholic Reading of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

Posted by Tony Listi on March 8, 2014

Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times. This practice also makes it easier for Christians to cherry-pick the verses that they like (often out of context) and that support their denominational beliefs and to avoid verses that they don’t like and that contradict their denominational beliefs.

We Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book (or letter by letter in this case), carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book and author. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation. None of the books were written by their authors with the Bible’s compilation in mind.

Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be.

St. Paul’s  Letter to the Ephesians

St. John Chrysostom says that St. Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned in Rome. The letter is addressed to the Church at Ephesus, a city located in modern-day Turkey.

While there are various doctrines that Paul touches on indirectly, this relatively short letter is very simple in what it wants to get across directly:

  1. Remember your past sinfulness, the sins you committed before your becoming a Christian. (2:1-3, 11-12)
  2. Be strong, persevere, and do NOT fall back into those past sins (or new ones)! (4:1, 17, 22-24; 6:10-13, 18)
  3. God has given a special measure of grace to his apostles and other ministers to ensure the unity of the Church and the purity of the faith. (4:7, 11-16)
  4. Do these good things; avoid these evil things. (Chapters 4, 5, and 6)

That’s it. The end.

Specifically with regard to Catholic doctrines, the letter to the Ephesians does the following:

  • Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and discipline in person (1:17; 4:7-15, 21; 6:19-20)
  • Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1; 3:4-5; 4:7-15)
  • Affirms apostolic succession (4:11-16)
  • Contradicts the fallibilistic tendency of Protestantism (1:9; 2:19; 3:18; 4:14-15; 5:5-6)
  • Affirms the Catholic view of the Church as one, holy, apostolic, and sacramental in nature (1:22-23; 2:19-22; 3:2-3, 6, 10; 4:3-6)
  • Affirms the necessity of perseverance in obedience, works of love, continual repentance, and maintenance of holiness for salvation/to enter heaven (1:4, 13-15; 2:1-12; 4:17-19, 22-24; 5:5-6; 6:11)
  • Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13)

I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Very often, I will supplement my commentary with the homilies of St. John Chrysostom (347-407) to Christians. His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….”
Paul is an apostle, one who has been sent out by those with authority (namely, Peter and James) to spread the gospel. Click here to learn more about the difference between a disciple and an apostle.

1:2 “To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus….”
The “saints” are the saved, the holy ones. What does St. Paul mean by “faithful”? Merely one who mentally assents to the faith, or one who actually lives and practices the faith?
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Observe that he calls saints, men with wives, and children, and domestics. For that these are they whom he calls by this name is plain from the end of the Epistle…. Think how great is the indolence that possesses us now, how rare is any thing like virtue now and how great the abundance of virtuous men must have been then, when even secular men could be called ‘saints and faithful.'”

1:3-8 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.”
Before we choose God, God chooses us. In a certain sense, God has chosen everyone because He has given everyone sufficient grace for salvation. So God has chosen everyone, but not everyone chooses God. To reject God is damnation. Free will is not nonexistent or destroyed because God chooses us; we have to cooperate with His choice. God will not save us against our will, if we willfully reject Him through our disobedient behavior. And of course, His grace of forgiveness is freely bestowed, not earned, but we have to freely accept it.
Within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), it’s clear Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And He, then, it is that shall bestow upon us all those rewards hereafter. He is the very Judge that shall say, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34). And again, I will that where I am they will also be with Me (John 17:24). And this is a point which he is anxious to prove in almost all his Epistles, that ours is no novel system, but that it had thus been figured from the very first, that it is not the result of any change of purpose, but had been in fact a divine dispensation and fore-ordained…. What is meant by, ‘He chose us in Him?’ By means of the faith which is in Him, Christ, he means, happily ordered this for us before we were born; nay more, before the foundation of the world…. But wherefore has He chosen us? ‘That we should be holy and without a blemish before Him.’ That you may not then, when you hear that ‘He has chosen us,’ imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, says he, has He chosen us, and on this condition, ‘that we should be holy and without blemish.’… He has Himself rendered us holy, but then we must continue holy. A holy man is he who is a partaker of faith; a blameless man is he who leads an irreproachable life. It is not however simply holiness and irreproachableness that He requires, but that we should appear such ‘before Him.’ For there are holy and blameless characters, who yet are esteemed as such only by men, those who are like whited sepulchres, and like such as wear sheep’s clothing. It is not such, however, He requires, but such as the Prophet speaks of; ‘And according to the cleanness of my hands’ (Psalm 18:24). What cleanness? That which is so ‘in His eyesight.’ He requires that holiness on which the eye of God may look…. Because this comes not of any pains, nor of any good works of ours, but of love; and yet not of love alone, but of our virtue also. For if indeed of love alone, it would follow that all must be saved; whereas again were it the result of our virtue alone, then were His coming needless, and the whole dispensation. But it is the result neither of His love alone, nor yet of our virtue, but of both…. Because our being rendered virtuous, and believing, and coming near unto Him, even this again was the work of Him that called us Himself, and yet, notwithstanding, it is ours also…. As for example, the first will is that sinners should not perish; the second will is, that, if men become wicked, they shall perish. For surely it is not by necessity that He punishes them, but because He wills it…. Now then if for this He has shown grace to us, to the praise of the glory of His grace, and that He may display His grace, let us abide therein…. That is to say, He has not only released us from our sins, but has also made us meet objects of His love. It is as though one were to take a leper, wasted by distemper, and disease, by age, and poverty, and famine, and were to turn him all at once into a graceful youth, surpassing all mankind in beauty, shedding a bright lustre from his cheeks, and eclipsing the sun-beams with the glances of his eyes; and then were to set him in the very flower of his age, and after that array him in purple and a diadem and all the attire of royalty. It is thus that God has arrayed and adorned this soul of ours, and clothed it with beauty, and rendered it an object of His delight and love…. Look, what words the initiated utter! What can be more beautiful than that mouth that breathes those wondrous words, and with a pure heart and pure lips, and beaming with cheerful confidence, partakes of such a mystical table? What more beautiful than the words, with which we renounce the service of the Devil, and enlist in the service of Christ? Than both that confession which is before the Baptismal laver, and that which is after it? Let us reflect as many of us as have defiled our Baptism, and weep that we may be able again to repair it.”

1:9-10 “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Paul is not at all uncertain of what he is speaking about. His words of revelation of the mystery of God’s will are said “in all wisdom and insight.”

1:11-12 “In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.”
Again, God’s predestination and appointments do not override human free will. God can call and appoint, but we have to listen and accept. See commentary on 1:3-8.
Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Having first used the expression, ‘to them that are called according to a purpose,’ and at the same time wishing to declare their privilege compared with the rest of mankind, he speaks also of inheritance by lot, yet so as not to divest them of free will. That point then, which more properly belongs to happy fortune, is the very point he insists upon. For this inheritance by lot depends not on virtue, but, as one might say, on fortuitous circumstances. It is as though he had said, lots were cast, and He has chosen us; but the whole is of deliberate choice. Men predestinated, that is to say, having chosen them to Himself, He has separated. He saw us, as it were, chosen by lot before we were born. For marvellous is the foreknowledge of God, and acquainted with all things before their beginning.”

1:13-15 “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints….”
Yes, those who believe are sealed with the Spirit and guaranteed the inheritance of eternal life. But what does Paul mean by saying the Ephesians “have believed”? Does he mean mere mental assent or does he mean a living faith working through love? It’s clear from verse 15 that Paul means the latter.
Several times in his letters, Paul tells Christian communities that if they fall back into various kinds of sins, they cannot inherit the kingdom. To sin is to show one’s unbelief. Sure, sins that occur after we’ve entered the Church (through baptism) can be forgiven too after repentance. But we are not “sealed” or “guaranteed” eternal life regardless of our actions. To give mental assent to the faith, yet unrepentantly act contrary to the faith, and still believe one is saved and destined for heaven is to delude oneself and mock God, who will not be mocked. Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Thus here also he makes the things already bestowed a sure token of the promise of those which are yet to come. For this reason he further calls it an ‘earnest,’ (Cf. also 2 Corinthians 1:22) for an earnest is a part of the whole. He has purchased what we are most concerned in, our salvation; and has given us an earnest in the mean while. Why then did He not give the whole at once? Because neither have we, on our part, done the whole of our work. We have believed. This is a beginning; and He too on His part has given an earnest. When we show our faith by our works, then He will add the rest…. For our absolute redemption takes place then. For now we have our life in the world, we are liable to many human accidents, and are living among ungodly men. But our absolute redemption will be then, when there shall be no sins, no human sufferings, when we shall not be indiscriminately mixed with all kinds of people…. Let not the hearing, however, make us too much at our ease; for although He does it for His own sake, yet notwithstanding He requires a duty on our part. If He says, ‘Them that honor Me I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed,’ (1 Samuel 2:30) let us reflect that there is that which He requires of us also. True, it is the praise of His glory to save those that are enemies, but those who, after being made friends, continue His friends. So that if they were to return back to their former state of enmity, all were vain and to no purpose. There is not another Baptism, nor is there a second reconciliation again, but ‘a certain fearful expectation of judgment which shall devour the adversaries’ (Hebrews 10:27). If we intend at the same time to be always at enmity with Him and yet to claim forgiveness at His hand, we shall never cease to be at enmity, and to be wanton, to grow in depravity, and to be blind to the Sun of Righteousness which has risen…. He has showed you the true light; if you shun it, and runnest back again into the darkness, what shall be your excuse? What sort of allowance shall be made for you? None from that moment. For this is a mark of unspeakable enmity. When indeed you knew not God, then if you were at enmity with Him, you had, be it how it might, some excuse. But when you have tasted the goodness and the honey, if you again abandonest them, and turnest to your own vomit, what else are you doing but bringing forward evidence of excessive hatred and contempt?… Again, what is stealing? Is it matter of necessity? Yes, a man will say, because poverty causes this. Poverty, however, rather compels us to work, not to steal. Poverty, therefore, has in fact the contrary effect. Theft is the effect of idleness; whereas poverty produces usually not idleness, but a love of labor. So that this sin is the effect of indolence…. We have anger given us, not that we may commit acts of violence on our neighbors, but that we may correct those that are in sin, that we may bestir ourselves, that we may not be sluggish. Anger is implanted in us as a sort of sting, to make us gnash with our teeth against the devil, to make us vehement against him, not to set us in array against each other. We have arms, not to make us at war among ourselves, but that we may employ our whole armor against the enemy. Are you prone to anger? Be so against your own sins: chastise your soul, scourge your conscience, be a severe judge, and merciless in your sentence against your own sins. This is the way to turn anger to account. It was for this that God implanted it within us…. But again, is plunder a matter of necessity? No, in no wise. Tell me, what manner of necessity is there to be grasping: what manner of compulsion? Poverty, a man will say, causes it, and the fear of being without common necessaries. Now this is the very reason why you ought not to be grasping. Wealth so gotten has no security in it. You are doing the very same thing as a man would do, who, if he were asked why he laid the foundation of his house in the sand, should say, he did it because of the frost and rain. Whereas this would be the very reason why he should not lay it in the sand. They are the very foundations which the rain, and blasts, and wind, most quickly overturn. So that if you would be wealthy, never be rapacious; if you would transmit wealth to your children, get righteous wealth, at least, if any there be that is such. Because this abides, and remains firm, whereas that which is not such, quickly wastes and perishes. Tell me, have you a mind to be rich, and do you take the goods of others? Surely this is not wealth: wealth consists in possessing what is your own. He that is in possession of the goods of others, never can be a wealthy man; since at that rate even your very silk venders, who receive their goods as a consignment from others, would be the wealthiest and the richest of men. Though for the time, indeed, it is theirs, still we do not call them wealthy. And why forsooth? Because they are in possession of what belongs to others.”

1:16-20 “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead….”
One should not presume that merely because one calls Jesus “Lord and Savior” that one is filled with “wisdom and revelation.” The supremacy of private judgment and interpretation is false.
Eternal life in heaven is a hope that God calls us to, a hope not merely for non-Christians but for Christians too. One cannot have a certain possession or hold on something that one is hoping for. Christians must hope, not merely wait. What Paul is saying here and throughout chapter 1 is based on the context of Christian obedience provided in chapter 2. Paul is speaking to presumably obedient Christians.

1:20-22 “…and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet….”
Jesus is the King of the world, above all nations and states. Some so-called Christians need a reminder of this, that there is a difference between God and Caesar.

1:22-23 “…and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.”
Make no mistake: the Church and the Body of Christ are one and the same. This metaphor of the body is crucial to understanding which church is the one, true Church. The Church is the perpetuation of the Incarnation, the bodily presence, of Jesus on earth. Those within whom Christ literally dwells are the Church, the Body of Christ. It is no coincidence that the Catholic Church believes that its members truly have Jesus’ body within their own bodies through the Eucharist and also claims to be the true Body of Christ, the true Church.
And notice that the Church does indeed “contribute” something to Christ in a certain sense: the Church is the “fullness” of Christ because it is Christ made present physically in the world. The implication is that if Christ did not continue to be present in the world in some bodily form, something in Christ would be incomplete in some sense.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Amazing again, whither has He raised the Church? As though he were lifting it up by some engine, he has raised it up to a vast height, and set it on yonder throne; for where the Head is, there is the body also. There is no interval to separate between the Head and the body; for were there a separation, then were it no longer a body, then were it no longer a head…. In order then that when you hear of the Head you may not conceive the notion of supremacy only, but also of consolidation, and that you may behold Him not as supreme Ruler only, but as Head of a body…. As though this were not sufficient to show the close connection and relationship, what does he add? ‘The fullness of Christ is the Church.’ And rightly, for the complement of the head is the body, and the complement of the body is the head. Mark what great arrangement Paul observes, how he spares not a single word, that he may represent the glory of God. “The, complement,” he says, i.e., the head is, as it were, filled up by the body, because the body is composed and made up of all its several parts, and he introduces Him as having need of each single one and not only of all in common and together; for unless we be many, and one be the hand, and another the foot, and another some other member, the whole body is not filled up. It is by all then that His body is filled up. Then is the head filled up, then is the body rendered perfect, when we are all knit together and united…. Let us feel awed at the closeness of our relation, let us dread lest any one should be cut off from this body, lest any one should fall from it, lest any one should appear unworthy of it…. Yet is the body of this Head trampled on by the very devils. Nay, God forbid it should be thus; for were it thus, such a body could be His body no longer. Your own head the more respectable of your servants reverence, and do you subject your body to be the sport of them that insult it? How sore punishment then shall you not deserve?… Further, our discourse is concerning this Body, and as many of us as partake of that Body and taste of that Blood, are partaking of that which is in no wise different from that Body, nor separate. Consider that we taste of that Body that sits above, that is adored by Angels, that is next to the Power that is incorruptible. Alas! How many ways to salvation are open to us! He has made us His own body, He has imparted to us His own body, and yet not one of these things turns us away from what is evil. Oh the darkness, the depth of the abyss, the apathy!… Do you not see, that even in our own body, when any part is superfluous and useless, it is cut off, is cut away? It is of no use that it has belonged to the body, when it is mutilated, when it is mortified, when it is decayed, when it is detrimental to the rest. Let us not then be too confident, because we have been once made members of this body. If this body of ours, though but a natural body, nevertheless suffers amputation, what dreadful evil shall it not undergo, if the moral principle should fail? When the body partakes not of this natural food, when the pores are stopped up, then it mortifies; when the ducts are closed, then it is palsied. So is it with us also, when we stop our ears, our soul becomes palsied; when we partake not of the spiritual food, when, instead of corrupt bodily humors, evil dispositions impair us, all these things engender disease, dangerous disease, disease that wastes. And then there will be need of that fire, there will be need of that cutting asunder. For Christ cannot endure that we should enter into the bride-chamber with such a body as this. If He led away, and cast out the man that was clothed in filthy garments, what will He not do unto the man who attaches filth to the body; how will He not dispose of him? I observe many partaking of Christ’s Body lightly and just as it happens, and rather from custom and form, than consideration and understanding…. And yet it is not the Epiphany, nor is it Lent, that makes a fit time for approaching, but it is sincerity and purity of soul. With this, approach at all times; without it, never. ‘For as often,’ (1 Corinthians 11:26) says he, ‘as you do this, you proclaim the Lord’s death,’ i.e., ‘you make a remembrance of the salvation that has been wrought for you, and of the benefits which I have bestowed.’ Consider those who partook of the sacrifices under the old Covenant, how great abstinence did they practise? How did they not conduct themselves? What did they not perform? They were always purifying themselves…. And how shall you present yourself before the judgment-seat of Christ, thou who presumest upon His body with polluted hands and lips? You would not presume to kiss a king with an unclean mouth, and the King of heaven do you kiss with an unclean soul? It is an outrage. Tell me, would you choose to come to the Sacrifice with unwashen hands? No, I suppose, not. But you would rather choose not to come at all, than come with soiled hands. And then, thus scrupulous as you are in this little matter, do you come with soiled soul, and thus dare to touch it? And yet the hands hold it but for a time, whereas into the soul it is dissolved entirely. What, do you not see the holy vessels so thoroughly cleansed all over, so resplendent? Our souls ought to be purer than they, more holy, more brilliant. And why so? Because those vessels are made so for our sakes. They partake not of Him that is in them, they perceive Him not. But we do—yes, verily. Now then, you would not choose to make use of a soiled vessel, and do you approach with a soiled soul? Observe the vast inconsistency of the thing…. In vain is the daily Sacrifice, in vain do we stand before the Altar; there is no one to partake. These things I am saying, not to induce you to partake any how, but that you should render yourselves worthy to partake. Are you not worthy of the Sacrifice, nor of the participation? If so, then neither are you of the prayer. You hear the herald, standing, and saying, ‘As many as are in penitence, all pray.’ As many as do not partake, are in penitence. If you are one of those that are in penitence, you ought not to partake; for he that partakes not, is one of those that are in penitence…. Look, I entreat: a royal table is set before you, Angels minister at that table, the King Himself is there, and do you stand gaping? Are your garments defiled, and yet do you make no account of it?— or are they clean? Then fall down and partake. Every day He comes in to see the guests, and converses with them all. Yes, at this moment is he speaking to your conscience; ‘Friends, how are you standing here, not having on a wedding garment?’ He said not, Why did you sit down? No, before he sat down, He declared him to be unworthy, so much as to come in. He says not, ‘Why did you sit down to eat,’ but, ‘Why did you come in?’ And these are the words that He is at this very moment addressing to one and all of us that stand here with such shameless effrontery. For every one, that partakes not of the mysteries, is standing here in shameless effrontery. It is for this reason, that they which are in sins are first of all put forth; for just as when a master is present at his table, it is not right that those servants who have offended him should be present, but they are sent out of the way: just so also here when the sacrifice is brought forth, and Christ, the Lord’s sheep, is sacrificed; when you hear the words, ‘Let us pray together,’ when you behold the curtains drawn up, then imagine that the Heavens are let down from above, and that the Angels are descending! As then it is not meet that any one of the uninitiated be present, so neither is it that one of them that are initiated, and yet at the same time defiled…. And you may, afterwards, come near, and behold: when, however, He is present, depart. You are no more allowed to be here than the Catechumen is. For it is not at all the same thing never to have reached the mysteries, and when you have reached them, to stumble at them and despise them, and to make yourself unworthy of this thing…. That I may not then be the means of increasing your condemnation, I entreat you, not to forbear coming, but to render yourselves worthy both of being present, and of approaching…. But may He that pricks the heart, He that gives the Spirit of compunction, pierce your hearts, and plant the seeds in the depth of them, that so through His fear ye may conceive, and bring forth the spirit of salvation, and come near with boldness.”

2:1-3 “And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
St. Paul begins talking about the sins that he and the Ephesians (all of us, really) had in the past. Notice the past tense all the way through. Before baptism (and confession of deadly/mortal sins), we are dead in our sins. But St. Paul isn’t saying that Christians can’t return to being “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” through rejecting God’s grace and returning to our former sins like a dog returns to his own vomit (Prov 26:11; 2 Pet 2:22).
These verses are very important context for what Paul says next.

2:4-10 “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
This is a very important passage because Protestants love to quote verse 8 ad nauseam but without regard for the context of the entire chapter or letter.
Paul is saying that we were saved from our former sins (Eph 2:1-3) by God’s grace; we obtain the forgiveness of God by virtue of His free gift, not by our works. No works can ever merit forgiveness of our sins. Forgiveness comes from the work of faith alone; faith is the only thing we contribute to Christ’s work and gift of forgiveness. No man can boast that he saves himself, for without Christ there is no forgiveness and salvation from sin. Faith alone saves us from sin, but it does not save us from hell. Paul does not say that faith alone gets us into the kingdom of heaven; it merely gets us forgiveness. Again, the context here is past sins, not heaven and hell.
Notice that there is a future element to what Paul is saying about forgiveness and salvation. God forgives our past sins so that “in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness.” The “immeasurable riches” of the future is heaven. God forgives our past sins, so that we may never sin again, do good works, and, in the end, obtain the immeasurable riches of heaven. There is a process to salvation here.
Why can’t we get into heaven by faith alone without works? Because, as Paul says next, the Christian who is saved from sin must walk in the good works that God has prepared and preordained for him or her to freely choose to do. If the Christian, though forgiven for past sins, refuses to do the good works that God has prepared for him or her, then that refusal itself is a sin, a disobedience against God, which merits death and needs forgiveness itself. Our Lord and Savior Himself echoes this interpretation of Paul’s letter when He says, according to the gospel of Matthew, that no one can enter the kingdom of God without a wedding garment of good works (22:10-14; see also 21:41-43). By the way, the thief on the cross probably didn’t have any good works prepared for him by God; God ordained that he would die and yet enter paradise without any good works.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Or again, if it means, not this, it means that by the laver of Baptism He has ‘raised us up with Him.’… ‘Through faith;’ Then, that, on the other hand, our free-will be not impaired, he adds also our part in the work, and yet again cancels it, and adds, ‘And that not of ourselves.’ Neither is faith, he means, ‘of ourselves.’ Because had He not come, had He not called us, how had we been able to believe? For ‘how,’ says he, ‘shall they believe, unless they hear?’ (Romans 10:14) So that the work of faith itself is not our own…. Was faith then, you will say, enough to save us? No; but God, says he, has required this, lest He should save us, barren and without work at all. His expression is, that faith saves, but it is because God so wills, that faith saves. Since, how, tell me, does faith save, without works? This itself is the gift of God…. That he may excite in us proper feeling touching this gift of grace. ‘What then?’ says a man, ‘Hath He Himself hindered our being justified by works?’ By no means. But no one, he says, is justified by works, in order that the grace and loving-kindness of God may be shown. He did not reject us as having works, but as abandoned of works He has saved us by grace; so that no man henceforth may have whereof to boast. And then, lest when you hear that the whole work is accomplished not of works but by faith, you should become idle, observe how he continues…. Not merely that we should begin, but that we should walk in them, for we need a virtue which shall last throughout, and be extended on to our dying day. If we had to travel a road leading to a royal city, and then when we had passed over the greater part of it, were to flag and sit down near the very close, it were of no use to us. This is the hope of our calling; for ‘for good works’ he says. Otherwise it would profit us nothing…. For a single virtue alone is not enough to present us with boldness before the judgment-seat of Christ; no, we require it to be great, and various, and universal, and entire. Hear what Christ says to the disciples, ‘Go, you and make disciples of all the nations—teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19). And again, ‘Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven,’ (Matthew 5:19) that is, in the resurrection; nay, he shall not enter into the kingdom…. And observe how it is not possible to enter without works of mercy; but if even this alone be wanting, we shall depart into the fire. For, says He, ‘Depart, you cursed, into the eternal fire, which is prepared for the Devil and his angels.’ Why and wherefore? ‘For I was an hungered, and you gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink’ (Matthew 25:42). Beholdest thou, how without any other charge laid against them, for this one alone they perished. And for this reason alone too were the virgins also excluded from the bride-chamber, though sobriety surely they did possess. As the Apostle says ‘and the sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14). Consider then, that without sobriety, it is impossible to see the Lord; yet it does not necessarily follow that with sobriety it is possible to see Him, because often-times something else stands in the way. Again, if we do all things ever so rightly, and yet do our neighbor no service, neither in that case shall we enter into the kingdom. Whence is this evident? From the parable of the servants entrusted with the talents. For, in that instance, the man’s virtue was in every point unimpaired, and there had been nothing lacking, but forasmuch as he was slothful in his business, he was rightly cast out. Nay, it is possible, even by railing only, to fall into Hell. ‘For whosoever’ says Christ, ‘shall say to his brother, You fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire’ (Matthew 5:22). And if a man be ever so right in all things, and yet be injurious, he shall not enter…. And let no one impute cruelty to God, in that he excludes those who fail in this matter, from the kingdom of Heaven. For even with men, if any one do any thing whatsoever contrary to the law, he is banished from the king’s presence. And if he transgresses so much as one of the established laws, if he lays a false accusation against another, he forfeits his office. And if he commits adultery, and is detected, he is disgraced, and even though he have done ten thousand right acts, he is undone; and if he commits murder, and is convicted, this again is enough to destroy him. Now if the laws of men are so carefully guarded, how much more should those of God be. ‘But He is good,’ a man says. How long are we to be uttering this foolish talk? Foolish, I say, not because He is not good, but in that we keep thinking that His goodness will be available to us for these purposes….For it is with this object that I too discourse so much concerning His goodness, not that we may presume upon it, and do any thing we choose, because in that way this goodness will be to the prejudice of our salvation; but that we may not despair in our sins, but may repent. For ‘the goodness of God leads you to repentance,’ (Romans 2:4) not to greater wickedness. And if you become depraved, because of His goodness, you are rather belying Him before men. I see many persons thus impugning the long-suffering of God; so that if you use it not aright, you shall pay the penalty. Is God a God of loving-kindness? Yes, but He is also a righteous Judge. Is He one who makes allowance for sins? True, yet renders He to every man according to his works. Does He pass by iniquity and blot out transgressions? True, yet makes He inquisition also. How then is it, that these things are not contradictions? Contradictions they are not, if we distinguish them by their times. He does away iniquity here, both by the laver of Baptism, and by penitence. There He makes inquisition of what we have done by fire and torment…. He puts this before all terrible things; for if it is our duty to love our enemies, of what punishment shall not he be worthy, who turns away even from them that love him, and is in this respect worse than the heathen? So that in this case the greatness of the sin will make such an one go away with the devil. Woe to him, it is said, who does not give alms; and if this was the case under the Old Covenant, much more is it under the New…. Let us not, I pray and entreat you, let us not vainly deceive ourselves and comfort ourselves with arguments like these; no, let us practise those virtues, which shall avail to save us…. [L]et us have a regard for our own salvation, let us make virtue our care, let us rouse ourselves to the practice of good works, that we may be counted worthy to attain to this exceeding glory….”

2:11-12 “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
Again, Paul returns to the theme of past sins like at the beginning of this chapter. Past sins is the clear context for Eph 2:5-8. He uses the past tense.
Paul wants the Ephesians to remember their past sinfulness. Why? Because he wants the Ephesians to be obedient to God! Because obedience is actually important to their salvation and admission into heaven! Because he doesn’t want them to fall back into their former sins, to fall from grace!
It isn’t until chapter 4 that Paul finally explicitly spits out his reason for urging the Ephesians to remember their past sinfulness (all of chapter 3 is one big aside or digression with Paul talking about himself): “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…. Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds…. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:1, 17, 22-24). The rest of this letter (chapters 4, 5, and 6) is one big exhortation to obedience, or else the Ephesians will once again fall back into sin and death.

2:13-16 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.”
Again, Paul says that Christ’s blood brought forgiveness for our past sins, thus reconciling us to God and establishing peace and communion among the saints. One should not gloss over the strong declaration of communion that Paul makes: “made us both one” and “one new man” (the “one body” of Jesus Christ).
It is also important to clarify that Paul is not saying that the death and resurrection of Jesus literally abolished the moral law and its obligations upon Christians. Paul is saying that Christ abolished the enmity between man and God that the law produced and that He abolished the Jewish ritual laws (though really, they have been transformed, fulfilled, and then perpetuated in some sense through the sacraments). If Paul really meant to say that Christians are no longer bound to obey the moral commandments of God, then why the heck would he dedicate the rest of his letter, the last three chapters of the letter (out of 6 total chapters and thus half of the entire letter) to moral commands and injuctions on a variety of topics?
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Oh! amazing loving-kindness! He gave us a law that we should keep it, and when we kept it not, and ought to have been punished, He even abrogated the law itself. As if a man, who, having committed a child to a schoolmaster, if he should turn out disobedient, should set him at liberty even from the schoolmaster, and take him away. How great loving-kindness were this!”

2:18 “… for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” The Holy Spirit is given to all members of the Church but through mediation, according to God’s will. Jesus confers the Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost as we know from the book of Acts. Through apostolic ministry, through the ministry of the apostles and their successors,  the Spirit is conferred upon the rest of the members of the Church through the sacraments of Baptism and especially Confirmation. It is through this mediation of the Church (the Body of the Son) and the Spirit that we know and have access to the Father.

2:19-22 “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
The one, true Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles.” Any church that is not built upon the apostles is a heretical sect. To be “built upon the foundation of the apostles” means that the one, true Church can actually trace its institutional existence and its doctrines from the present day all the way back in history to the time of Jesus and the apostles.
Those who are part of this one, true Church are “no longer strangers and sojourners” but are home with family. Again, the communion of saints is alive and real, here and now even. The Christian here on earth, as long as he or she is truly a member of the Church in both faith and action (in a state of grace), is already “joined together” in communion with the saints. The Catholic has one and only one home and knows with certainty where home is; the Catholic is at peace. Protestants, if they are consistent and faithful in their doctrinal fallibilism and scientific approach, can never be settled and at home in their church, for they can never really be certain that they know the truth and are following the Truth. Thus the Protestant cannot truly be at peace intellectually and spiritually.
It is also very possible that Paul is referring specifically to Gentiles and Jews respectively in saying “strangers and sojourners.”

3:2-3 “…assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.”
Notice that Paul is acknowledging the possibility that the Ephesian Christians have already heard about Paul by word of mouth from other Christian apostles.
Paul and the rest of the apostles are stewards of God’s grace. A Protestant would never put it that way, but a Catholic would. Priests, bishops, and popes, as the successors of the apostles, are stewards of God’s grace. A steward is more than someone who parrots or speaks on  behalf of the owner/master; a steward is intimately involved and responsible in managing the affairs of the owner/master’s property or enterprise.
The truth of Christianity and its mysteries were not made known to Paul by the apostles and their preaching. He is a special and exceptional case because he received the truth by revelation, by a direct encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. This is NOT the ordinary means of coming to faith and the truth. Protestants should not think that every interpretation they have of a Bible verse is a revelation from God. The Church and its authoritative ministry and teaching are the ordinary means of coming to the one faith and one truth.
Paul says that he has written briefly about how God revealed Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus and afterward was given stewardship of God’s grace like the other apostles. He may be referring to certain passages in his letter to the Galatians or maybe previous letters to the Ephesians which we do not possess today.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Perhaps he had informed them of it by some persons, or had not long before been writing to them.”

3:4-5 “When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit….”
The Holy Spirit uniquely revealed the fullness of truth about the mystery of Jesus Christ to the apostles, not to every disciple of Jesus. It is crucial then that a Christian be able to trace back historically his beliefs and doctrines through the successors of the apostles to the apostles themselves. For that is how we will know that a certain doctrine is true and inspired by the Spirit.

3:6 “… that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Again, the Church, the Body of Christ, is one, is unified in communion. There is only one Church, and it cannot be divided or destroyed; people can only refuse to join its communion or remove themselves from its communion by their free choice.

3:7-10 “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
St. Paul was made a minister by extraordinary means, as we are told in Acts, chapter 9. The ordinary means of becoming a minister is “through the Church,” through the laying on of hands by the apostles and their successors. Protestants err in taking St. Paul as the ordinary example for how faith, authority, and ministry are confirmed and sustained in the Church.
However, notice that even though Paul was called to faith and ministry in an extraordinary way apart from the Church militant on earth, Paul does not despise or rebuff the Church but rather sees himself as a leader of the Church. It is also good to remember that Paul also visited with Peter for 15 days and got his gospel approved by the apostles with the most authority (Gal 1:18, 2:1-2).

3:11-12 “This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him.”
Boldness and confidence are what faith should give us. It should not give us certain assurance of our getting to heaven, but it should give us confidence and great hope that we will, if we love God, if we humbly ask Him forgiveness for our past sins and obey His commandments. Moreover, we should have boldness and confidence in speaking about God, Jesus, the faith, and the Church. We should never be shy or ashamed of speaking about these things and living out the faith.
Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.

3:14-19 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.”
Notice that St. Paul expects the fruit of faith to be rootedness and grounding in love, which is active, not passive.
Also, notice that full comprehension of God is in fact possible, contrary to the fallibilistic and scientific approach to theological truth that Protestantism has. Fullness of godly knowledge is possible.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “However, he does not ask the whole of God, but demands of them also faith and love, and not simply love, but love ‘rooted and grounded,’ so that neither any blasts can shake it, nor any thing else overturn it.”

3:20-21 “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”
If we truly have faith and love God, then He and His power will be at work in us.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “‘The glory in the Church.’ Well might he say this, forasmuch as the Church alone can last on to eternity.”

4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called….”
It is now clear why Paul started off talking about past sins, about life before faith in Christ, and urged the Ephesians to remember their past sins: because the misery of that former life should be motivation not to fall back into it. And the contrast of that with their present life in Christ, in grace, should motivate them to lead a life worthy of that grace they have received.
All Christians are called to perfect holiness, to sainthood. We are called to be holy as God is holy. If we repent, embrace Jesus’ forgiveness in faith, and continue in obedience and charity after being forgiven, we will be worthy of the promise of eternal life.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “It is the virtue of teachers to aim not at praise, nor at esteem from those under their authority, but at their salvation, and to do every thing with this object; since the man who should make the other end his aim, would not be a teacher but a tyrant. Surely it is not for this that God set you over them… ‘Now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 3:8); for he ever earnestly desired the salvation of those whom he was instructing…. [W]ith great fervency, he was both himself baptized, and all his house. Yes, not like most men now-a-days, who suffer both servants and wives and children to go unbaptized.”

4:3-6 “…eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
The one, true Church founded by Jesus Christ and upon the apostles is one and must remain one. The unity of the Church must be something that all Christians strive for. It is completely unbiblical to be satisfied with countless divisions and sects of Christianity all with different doctrines on a variety of major issues.
The following verses explain how this unity is to be maintained in practice (i.e. through aposotolic authority).
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “The body is composed of members both honorable and dishonorable. Only, the greater is not to rise up even against the meanest, nor this latter to envy the other…. Some indeed there are, which are more especially principal members, others less so…. There are great numbers in the Church; there are those who, like the head, are raised up to a height…. Now this house is not of equal honor throughout, but of the stones which contribute to it, some are bright and shining, while others are smaller and more dull than they, and yet superior again to others.”
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He then beautifully adds, ‘and one Spirit,’ showing that from the one body there will be one Spirit: or, that it is possible that there may be indeed one body, and yet not one Spirit; as, for instance, if any member of it should be a friend of heretics: or else he is, by this expression, shaming them into unanimity, saying, as it were, ‘You who have received one Spirit, and have been made to drink at one fountain, ought not to be divided in mind….’ For can it be, that you are called by the name of a greater God, another, of a lesser God? That you are saved by faith, and another by works? That you have received remission in baptism, while another has not?”

4:7, 11-16 “But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…. And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.”
Some are given more grace, greater gifts, than others by God, and such people are to use these greater God-given gifts to serve, build up, and secure the Church, their fellow members of the Body.
Hierarchy and authority are fundamental to Christianity, to the Church, the Body of Christ. They are the means by which “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son” is maintained, Christians are secured from “every wind of doctrine,” and Christians attain “mature manhood” and “the fulness of Christ.” Thus the Catholic doctrines regarding the superior authority of bishops and popes.
Hierarchy and authority have been given to bishops and popes by Christ’s grace for the purpose of unifying His Body and of speaking the truth with authority and certainty. It is the Church and her clergy who ensure that Christians attain the “fulness of Christ,” who is the Truth, and thus attain the fullness of Truth.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “If then this or that man possesses any superiority in any spiritual gift, grieve not at it; since his labor also is greater. He that had received the five talents, had five required of him; while he that had received the two, brought only two, and yet received no less a reward than the other. And therefore the Apostle here also encourages the hearer on the same ground, showing that gifts are bestowed not for the honor of one above another, but for the work of the church…. And by this too he shows, that it is not of his own intrinsic merit that one has received more and another less, but that it is for the sake of others, as God Himself has measured it…. Yes, surely; those who were settled and employed about one spot, as Timothy and Titus, were inferior to those who went about the world and preached the Gospel…. That is, until we shall be shown to have all one faith: for this is unity of faith, when we all are one, when we shall all alike acknowledge the common bond. …and some He has appointed to one office, and others to another. For example, the Apostle is the most vital vessel of the whole body, receiving everything from Him; so that He makes eternal life to run through them to all, as through veins and arteries, I mean through their discourse…. For there are two kinds of separation from the body of the Church; the one, when we wax cold in love, the other, when we dare commit things unworthy of our belonging to that body; for in either way we cut ourselves off from the ‘fullness of Christ.’ But if we are appointed to build up others also, what shall not be done to them who are first to make division? Nothing will so avail to divide the Church as love of power. Nothing so provokes God’s anger as the division of the Church. Yea, though we have achieved ten thousand glorious acts, yet shall we, if we cut to pieces the fullness of the Church, suffer punishment no less sore than they who mangled His body…. [N]ot even the blood of martyrdom can wash out this sin. For tell me for what do you suffer as a martyr? Is it not for the glory of Christ? Thou then that yieldest up your life for Christ’s sake, how do you lay waste the Church, for whose sake Christ yielded up His life?… I mean these remarks for those who give themselves up indiscriminately to the men who are dividing the Church. For if on the one hand those men have doctrines also contrary to ours, then on that account further it is not right to mix with them: if, on the other hand, they hold the same opinions, the reason for not mixing with them is greater still. And why so? Because then the disease is from lust of authority. Do you not know what was the fate of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:1-35)?… Tell me, do you think this is enough, to say that they are orthodox? Is then the ordination of clergy past and done away? And what is the advantage of other things, if this be not strictly observed? For as we must needs contend for the faith; so must we for this also. For if it is lawful for any one, according to the phrase of them of old, ‘to fill his hands,’ and to become a priest, let all approach to minister. In vain has this altar been raised, in vain the fullness of the Church, in vain the number of the priests…. Therefore I assert and protest, that to make a schism in the Church is no less an evil than to fall into heresy. Tell me, suppose a subject of some king, though he did not join himself to another king, nor give himself to any other, yet should take and keep hold of his king’s royal purple, and should tear it all from its clasp, and rend it into many shreds; would he suffer less punishment than those who join themselves to the service of another? And what, if withal he were to seize the king himself by the throat and slay him, and tear his body limb from limb, what punishment could he undergo, that should be equal to his deserts? Now if in doing this toward a king, his fellow-servant, he would be committing an act too great for any punishment to reach; of what hell shall not he be worthy who slays Christ, and plucks Him limb from limb?… The Church is our Father’s house. ‘There is one body, and one Spirit.’… I speak not of you that are present, but of those who are deserting from us. The act is adultery. And if you bear not to hear these things of them, neither should ye of us. There must be breach of the law either on the one side or the other. If then you have these suspicions concerning me, I am ready to retire from my office, and resign it to whomsoever ye may choose. Only let the Church be one. But if I have been lawfully made and consecrated, entreat those who have contrary to the law mounted the episcopal throne to resign it.”

4:17-19 “Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness.”
Having reminded the Ephesians of their past sins, commanded them to lead lives worthy of their call to eternal life, and explained the necessity of apostolic authority over doctrine, with full apostolic authority “in the Lord,”  Paul commands them not to live like the Gentiles, who live sinful lives. Such sins alienate one from the life of God and thus deprive one of eternal life.

4:20-21 “You did not so learn Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.”
Notice that Paul does not say “assuming you have read about him.” The early Christians were taught primarily by personal oral preaching.

4:22-24 “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
For the third time now, Paul tells the Ephesians to avoid sin and practice righteousness and holiness. Thus begins a long section of Paul giving commandments by which the Ephesians should live.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He is now speaking of that clothing which is from life and good works. Before, the clothing was from Baptism, whereas now it is from the daily life and from works…. Our part then is, never to put off the garment of righteousness, which also the Prophet calls, ‘the garment of salvation’ (Isaiah 61:10), that so we may be made like God…. Seest not those beggars whom we are wont to call strollers, how they roam about, how we pity even them? And yet nevertheless they are without excuse. We do not excuse them when they have lost their clothes by gaming; and how then, if we lose this garment, shall God pardon us?… Perceive ye how great is the power of Christ’s coming? How He dissolved the curse? For indeed there are more virgins than before among women, there is more modesty in those virgins, and there are more widows.”

4:26-27 “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
There is a kind of anger that is not sinful, but such anger should be temporary and give the devil no opportunity to lead your anger into sinful anger or other sins. Moral outrage at immorality is not sinful.
What does Paul mean by “opportunity to the devil”? Opportunity to do what? To tempt you to abandon the new Christian life, to return to sin, to lose one’s salvation and eternal life.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Would you be revengeful and be at enmity? Be at enmity, but be so with the devil, and not with a member of your own. For this purpose it is that God has armed us with anger, not that we should thrust the sword against our own bodies, but that we should baptize the whole blade in the devil’s breast. There bury the sword up to the hilt; yea, if you will, hilt and all, and never draw it out again, but add yet another and another. And this actually comes to pass when we are merciful to those of our own spiritual family and peaceably disposed one towards another.”

4:28 “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need.”
Notice that Paul upholds the right of private property (otherwise theft would be incomprehensible). Thieves should abandon theft and seek honest work. And why should they work? So that they may be able to give to those in need. Notice that Paul implicitly says that one cannot be charitable with another’s property and wealth; one must work oneself and give to others from one’s own property and wealth.

4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate. Rather he’s telling them that they have nothing to fear on the part of the Holy Spirit. We are not to doubt the Spirit or blame the Spirit for when we sin. But we should fear our own sinfulness, for by our own free will, we can break the seal we received in Baptism and Confirmation and choose hell.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “If we are to attain to the kingdom of Heaven, it is not enough to abandon wickedness, but there must be abundant practice of that which is good also. To be delivered indeed from hell we must abstain from wickedness; but to attain to the kingdom we must cleave fast to virtue…. For as I was saying that the departure from evil is sufficient to prevent our falling into hell, while I was speaking, there stole upon me a certain awful sentence, which does not merely bring down vengeance on them that dare to commit evil, but which also punishes those who omit any opportunity of doing good. What sentence then is this? When the day, the dreadful day, He says, was arrived, and the set time had come, the Judge, seated on the judgment seat, set the sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left; and to the sheep He said, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and you gave me meat’ (Matthew 25:34). So far, well. For it was meet that for such compassion they should receive this reward. That those, however, who did not communicate of their own possessions to them that were in need, that they should be punished, not merely by the loss of blessings, but by being also sent to hell-fire, what just reason, I say, can there be in this? Most certainly this too will have a fair show of reason, no less than the other case: for we are hence instructed, that they that have done good shall enjoy those good things that are in heaven, but they, who, though they have no evil indeed to be charged with, yet have omitted to do good, will be hurried away with them that have done evil into hell-fire. Unless one might indeed say this, that the very not doing good is a part of wickedness, inasmuch as it comes of indolence, and indolence is a part of vice, or rather, not a part, but a source and baneful root of it. For idleness is the teacher of all vice. Let us not then foolishly ask such questions as these, what place shall he occupy, who has done neither any evil nor any good? For the very not doing good, is in itself doing evil. Tell me, if you had a servant, who should neither steal, nor insult, nor contradict you, who moreover should keep from drunkenness and every other kind of vice, and yet should sit perpetually in idleness, and not doing one of those duties which a servant owes to his master, would you not chastise him, would you not put him to the rack? Tell me. And yet forsooth he has done no evil. No, but this is in itself doing evil….. If therefore both in the case of servants, and of mechanics, and of the whole body, not only the commission of evil, but also the omission of what is good, is great unrighteousness, much more will this be the case in regard to the body of Christ…. For where, tell me, is the advantage of all the thorns being cut out, if the good seeds be not sown? For our labor, remaining unfinished, will come round and end in the same mischief…. And our abandonment of the one thing is not sufficient to settle us in the habitual practice of the other, but there is need again of some fresh impulse, and of an effort not less than that made in our avoidance of evil dispositions, in order to our acquiring good ones.”

5:2 “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Love is about sacrifice. Love and sacrifice cannot be separated. If you are not giving of yourself and sacrificing for a person, then you aren’t really loving that person.

5:5-6 “Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Notice that Paul is speaking with absolute certainty. With full apostolic authority, he is telling the Ephesian Christians not to be deceived, not to think that they can engage in sexual immorality/impurity (and in disobedience generally to God’s commands) and still inherit the kingdom and escape God’s wrath. A Christian who returns to grave sins forfeits his previous inheritance in the kingdom of God.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “There were, it is likely, in the time of our forefathers also, some who ‘weakened the hands of the people’ (Jeremiah 38:4), and brought into practice that which is mentioned by Ezekiel,— or rather who did the works of the false prophets, who ‘profaned God among His people for handfuls of barley’ (Ezekiel 13:19); a thing, by the way, done methinks by some even at this day. When, for example, we say that he who calls his brother a fool shall depart into hell-fire, others say, ‘What? Is he that calls his brother a fool to depart into hell-fire? Impossible,’ say they. And again, when we say that ‘the covetous man is an idolater,’ in this too again they make abatements, and say the expression is hyperbolical. And in this manner they underrate and explain away all the commandments. It was in allusion then to these that the blessed Paul, at this time when he wrote to the Ephesians, spoke thus… ‘Sons of disobedience’; he thus calls those who are utterly disobedient, those who disobey Him…. Observe how wisely he urges them forward; first, from the thought of Christ, that you love one another, and do injury to no man; then, on the other hand, from the thought of punishment and hell-fire…. That is to say, thinking what ye once were, and what you are now become, do not run back into your former wickedness, nor do ‘despite to the grace’ (Hebrews 10:29) of God.”

5:11 “…for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.”
Christians are called to be Christ, to be light for the world. To fulfill that calling Christians must expose evil as evil, though prudently. Christians must be courageous in confronting evil, though prudently.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Now he is not saying this with reference to the unbelievers only, for many of the faithful, no less than unbelievers, hold fast by wickedness; nay, some far more.”

5:15-16, 18 “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil…. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit….”
Caution and care are necessary for the Christian; otherwise, he or she will fall into the evil of the world.
Drunkenness is immoral and not Christian. It is a sin to drink to the point of drunkenness. But drinking alcohol in and of itself is not a sin; it’s the intemperance which is the sin.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For indeed intemperance in this renders men passionate and violent, and hot-headed, and irritable and savage. Wine has been given us for cheerfulness, not for drunkenness. Whereas now it appears to be an unmanly and contemptible thing for a man not to get drunk. And what sort of hope then is there of salvation? What? Contemptible, tell me, not to get drunk, where to get drunk ought of all things in the world to be most contemptible?… Would you know where wine is good? Hear what the Scripture says, ‘Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter in soul’ (Proverbs 31:6). And justly, because it can mitigate asperity and gloominess, and drive away clouds from the brow. ‘Wine makes glad the heart of man’ (Psalm 104:15), says the Psalmist. How then does wine produce drunkenness? For it cannot be that one and the same thing should work opposite effects. Drunkenness then surely does not arise from wine, but from intemperance. Wine is bestowed upon us for no other purpose than for bodily health; but this purpose also is thwarted by immoderate use. But hear moreover what our blessed Apostle writes and says to Timothy, ‘Use a little wine for your stomach’s sake, and your frequent infirmities.'”

5:21-24 “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.”
Notice that these verses, unpopular to modern egalitarian ears, are preceded by a general command that everyone “be subject” to one another. Christians are called to serve and love one another, regardless of sex, but according to the truth.
But with respect to marriage and family specifically, the wife is morally obligated to obey her husband, as long as her husband is not commanding evil. Why is she obligated so? Because this is the nature of the feminine as God created it in the female person, body and soul.
Now, contrary to modern thought, authority and dignity are not equivalent or proportional. The fact that the husband has more authority than the wife does not mean he has any greater dignity as a human being . The fact that the wife must obey does not lower her dignity. To be under authority is not in itself to be of lower dignity.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And why so? Because when they are in harmony, the children are well brought up, and the domestics are in good order, and neighbors, and friends, and relations enjoy the fragrance. But if it be otherwise, all is turned upside down, and thrown into confusion. And just as when the generals of an army are at peace one with another, all things are in due subordination, whereas on the other hand, if they are at variance, everything is turned upside down; so, I say, is it also here…. Let us take as our fundamental position then that the husband occupies the place of the ‘head,’ and the wife the place of the ‘body.’… For indeed the head is the saving health of the body. He had already laid down beforehand for man and wife, the ground and provision of their love, assigning to each their proper place, to the one that of authority and forethought, to the other that of submission.”

5:25-31 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'”
The world would be transformed if men, if husbands, took these verses seriously and lived them.
The love of Christ for the Church is fruitful, sacrificial, and joyful. That means the sexual act must be open to procreation, to the creation of a new human life, the primary fruit of marriage. And to deliberarely bring a child into the world is indeed to make a sacrifice of future time, attention, energy, and resources for the sake of the child and the spouse. Lastly, the sexual act should be one of joyful celebration. It should celebrate (and consummate) the love that should already exist between husband and wife. Yes, sex should be pleasurable (otherwise, you’re doing something wrong, haha). But love is a cause for joy, not mere pleasure. The natural physical pleasure of sex should complement the joyful celebration of marital love. But to have pleasure without joy is worse than pain itself. And to take joy in the wrong things is to be a miserable creature.
A husband is also called to sanctify his wife through his love of her, so that she, like the Church, may be “holy and without blemish.” In fact, husband and wife are to sanctify and save each other (1 Cor 7:16).
Jesus washes His Bride the Church through Baptism and thus cleanses her from her sins and saves her.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “You have seen the measure of obedience, hear also the measure of love. Would you have your wife obedient unto you, as the Church is to Christ? Take then yourself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church. Yea, even if it shall be needful for you to give your life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever—refuse it not. Though you should undergo all this, yet will you not, no, not even then, have done anything like Christ. For thou indeed art doing it for one to whom you are already knit; but He for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way then as He laid at His feet her who turned her back on Him, who hated, and spurned, and disdained Him, not by menaces, nor by violence, nor by terror, nor by anything else of the kind, but by his unwearied affection; so also do thou behave yourself toward your wife. Yea, though thou see her looking down upon you, and disdaining, and scorning you, yet by your great thoughtfulness for her, by affection, by kindness, you will be able to lay her at your feet. For there is nothing more powerful to sway than these bonds, and especially for husband and wife. A servant, indeed, one will be able, perhaps, to bind down by fear; nay not even him, for he will soon start away and be gone. But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and menaces, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband himself enjoy, if he dwells with his wife as with a slave, and not as with a free-woman? Yea, though you should suffer anything on her account, do not upbraid her; for neither did Christ do this…. Praise her not for her beauty. Praise and hatred and love based on personal beauty belong to unchastened souls. Seek thou for beauty of soul. Imitate the Bridegroom of the Church. Outward beauty is full of conceit and great license, and throws men into jealousy, and the thing often makes you suspect monstrous things. But has it any pleasure? For the first or second month, perhaps, or at most for the year: but then no longer; the admiration by familiarity wastes away. Meanwhile the evils which arose from the beauty still abide, the pride, the folly, the contemptuousness. Whereas in one who is not such, there is nothing of this kind. But the love having begun on just grounds, still continues ardent, since its object is beauty of soul, and not of body…. And if moreover disease come too, all is at once fled. Let us seek in a wife affectionateness, modest-mindedness, gentleness; these are the characteristics of beauty. But loveliness of person let us not seek, nor upbraid her upon these points, over which she has no power, nay, rather, let us not upbraid at all, (it were rudeness,) nor let us be impatient, nor sullen. Do ye not see how many, after living with beautiful wives, have ended their lives pitiably, and how many, who have lived with those of no great beauty, have run on to extreme old age with great enjoyment. Let us wipe off the “spot” that is within, let us smooth the “wrinkles” that are within, let us do away the “blemishes” that are on the soul. Such is the beauty God requires. Let us make her fair in God’s sight, not in our own. Let us not look for wealth, nor for that high-birth which is outward, but for that true nobility which is in the soul. Let no one endure to get rich by a wife; for such riches are base and disgraceful; no, by no means let any one seek to get rich from this source…. As great love as each entertains towards himself, so great he would have us entertain towards a wife. Not because we partake of the same nature; no, this ground of duty towards a wife is far greater than that; it is that there are not two bodies but one; he the head, she the body.”

5:32-33 “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
The comparison of Christ and the Church to the husband and wife, and vice versa, is so very important for both theology and marriage. Blessed Pope John Paul II delved deeper into this profound mystery with his Theology of the Body discourses.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “The wife is a second authority; let not her then demand equality, for she is under the head; nor let him despise her as being in subjection, for she is the body; and if the head despise the body, it will itself also perish. But let him bring in love on his part as a counterpoise to obedience on her part. For example, let the hands and the feet, and all the rest of the members be given up for service to the head, but let the head provide for the body, seeing it contains every sense in itself. Nothing can be better than this union. And yet how can there ever be love, one may say, where there is fear? It will exist there, I say, preëminently. For she that fears and reverences, loves also; and she that loves, fears and reverences him as being the head, and loves him as being a member, since the head itself is a member of the body at large. Hence he places the one in subjection, and the other in authority, that there may be peace; for where there is equal authority there can never be peace; neither where a house is a democracy, nor where all are rulers; but the ruling power must of necessity be one. And this is universally the case with matters referring to the body, inasmuch as when men are spiritual, there will be peace…. Because he would rather that this principle prevail, this, namely, of love; for where this exists, everything else follows of course, but where the other exists [i.e. fear], not necessarily. For the man who loves his wife, even though she be not a very obedient one, still will bear with everything. So difficult and impracticable is unanimity, where persons are not bound together by that love which is founded in supreme authority; at all events, fear will not necessarily effect this. Accordingly, he dwells the more upon this, which is the strong tie. And the wife though seeming to be the loser in that she was charged to fear, is the gainer, because the principal duty, love, is charged upon the husband. ‘But what,’ one may say, ‘if a wife reverence me not?’ Never mind, you are to love, fulfill your own duty. For though that which is due from others may not follow, we ought of course to do our duty. This is an example of what I mean. He says, ‘submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.’ And what then if another submit not himself? Still obey thou the law of God. Just so, I say, is it also here. Let the wife at least, though she be not loved, still reverence notwithstanding, that nothing may lie at her door; and let the husband, though his wife reverence him not, still show her love notwithstanding, that he himself be not wanting in any point. For each has received his own…. For the man that leaves his father for the sake of his wife, and then again, leaves this very wife herself and abandons her, what forbearance can he deserve?… However, when you hear of ‘fear,’ demand that fear which becomes a free woman, not as though thou were exacting it of a slave. For she is your own body; and if you do this, you reproach yourself in dishonoring your own body…. Supply her with everything. Do everything and endure trouble for her sake. Necessity is laid upon you…. She is a second authority, possessing indeed an authority, and a considerable equality of dignity; but at the same time the husband has somewhat of superiority. In this consists most chiefly the well-being of the house…. If we thus regulate our own houses, we shall be also fit for the management of the Church. For indeed a house is a little Church. Thus it is possible for us by becoming good husbands and wives, to surpass all others. Consider Abraham, and Sarah, and Isaac, and the three hundred and eighteen born in his house…. And he again so loved her, that in all things he obeyed her commands…. If any marry thus, with these views, he will be but little inferior to monks; the married but little below the unmarried…. If thus we regulate ourselves, and attentively study the Scriptures, in most things we shall derive instruction from them.”

6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
A father must rule wisely and lovingly over his wife and children. If he abuses his authority, the entire family suffers. He is obligated to ensure and participate in the bringing up of his children in the faith and discipline them accordingly.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He has spoken of the husband, he has spoken of the wife, who is second in authority, he now goes on by gradual advances to the third rank— which is that of children…. How is it not absurd to send children out to trades, and to school, and to do all you can for these objects, and yet, not to ‘bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord’?… Tempers are wanted, not talking; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These gain a man the kingdom…. Otherwise with what sort of boldness shall we stand before the judgment-seat of Christ? If a man who has unruly children is unworthy to be a Bishop (Titus 1:6), much more is he unworthy of the kingdom of Heaven. What do you say? If we have an unruly wife, or unruly children, shall we have to render account? Yes, we shall, if we do not with exactness bring in that which is due from ourselves; for our own individual virtue is not enough in order to salvation. If the man who laid aside the one talent gained nothing, but was punished even in such a manner, it is plain that one’s own individual virtue is not enough in order to salvation, but there is need of that of another also. Let us therefore entertain great solicitude for our wives, and take great care of our children, and of our servants, and of ourselves…. For He does not vouchsafe us His assistance when we sleep, but when we labor also ourselves. For a helper, (as the name implies,) is not a helper of one that is inactive, but of one who works also himself. But the good God is able of Himself to bring the work to perfection, that we may be all counted worthy to attain to the blessings promised us, through the grace and compassions of His only begotten Son….”

6:5-9 “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ; not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good any one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”
Though St. Paul does not call for the outright abolition of slavery and servitude in his letter, he challenges and undermines the institution. Slaves are not to obey their masters because of any quality of their masters but because in serving their masters they can serve Christ, sacrificing as Christ sacrificed. And masters are serve their servants and to remember that God shows no partiality to the free versus the enslaved; all people have equal dignity in His eyes because all are His creation, His children. For a good explanation of how Christianity historically weakened and paved the way for abolition, click here.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Slavery is nothing but a name. The mastership is ‘according to the flesh,’ brief and temporary; for whatever is of the flesh, is transitory…. He is a brother, or rather he has become a brother, he enjoys the same privileges, he belongs to the same body. Yea, more, he is the brother, not of his own master only, but also of the Son of God, he is partaker of all the same privileges; yet do you say, ‘obey your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling’? Yes, for this very reason, he would say, I say it. For if I charge free men to submit themselves one to another in the fear of God—as he said above, ‘submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ’;— if I charge moreover the wife to fear and reverence her husband, although she is his equal; much more must I so speak to the servant. It is no sign of low birth, rather it is the truest nobility, to understand how to lower ourselves, to be modest and unassuming, and to give way to our neighbor…. For inasmuch as it was probable that many masters, as being unbelievers, would have no sense of shame, and would make no return to their slaves for their obedience, observe how he has given them encouragement, so that they may have no misgiving about the remuneration, but may have full confidence respecting the recompense. For as they who receive a benefit, when they make no return, make God a debtor to their benefactors; so, I say, do masters also, if, when well-treated by you, they fail to requite you, requite you the more, by rendering God your debtor…. For the master himself is a servant. ‘Not as men-pleasers,’ he means, ‘and with fear and trembling’: that is, toward God, fearing lest He one day accuse you for your negligence toward your slaves. ‘And forbear threatening;’ be not irritating, he means, nor oppressive. Ah! How mighty a Master does he hint at here! How startling the suggestion! It is this. ‘With what measure you measure, it shall be measured unto you again’ (Matthew 7:2); lest you hear the sentence, ‘Thou wicked servant. I forgave you all that debt’ (Matthew 18:32).’… Think not, he would say, that what is done towards a servant, He will therefore forgive, because done to a servant. Heathen laws indeed as being the laws of men, recognize a difference between these kinds of offenses. But the law of the common Lord and Master of all, as doing good to all alike, and dispensing the same rights to all, knows no such difference. But should any one ask, whence is slavery, and why it has found entrance into human life, (and many I know are both glad to ask such questions, and desirous to be informed of them,) I will tell you. Slavery is the fruit of covetousness, of degradation, of savagery; since Noah, we know, had no servant, nor had Abel, nor Seth, no, nor they who came after them. The thing was the fruit of sin, of rebellion against parents. Let children hearken to this, that whenever they are undutiful to their parents, they deserve to be servants. Such a child strips himself of his nobility of birth; for he who rebels against his father is no longer a son; and if he who rebels against his father is not a son, how shall he be a son who rebels against our true Father? He has departed from his nobility of birth, he has done outrage to nature. Then come also wars, and battles, and take their prisoners. Well, but Abraham, you will say, had servants. Yes, but he used them not as servants. Observe how everything depends upon the head; the wife, by telling him ‘to love her’; the children, by telling him ‘to bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord’; the servants, by the words, ‘knowing that both their Master and yours is in Heaven.’ So, says he, you also in like manner, as being yourselves servants, shall be kind and indulgent…. But I say that the house of the poor also is a city. Because here too there are offices of authority; for instance, the husband has authority over the wife, the wife over the servants, the servants again over their own wives; again the wives and the husbands over the children.”

6:10-13 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
God has given His people many weapons and defenses against evil. The whole array of God’s armor is in the Catholic faith. The Catholic faith is so rich and comprehensive; it is not limited merely to the Bible and abstract faith. It appeals to habit and the senses to provide a more thorough defense against the devil. Catholicism has Mary and the rosary and a wide variety of sacramentals, blessings, prayers, icons, cards, saints, etc. to draw upon for strength and defense. It is amazing how few Catholics take advantage of the arsenal available to them and how well less-armored Christians fight the good fight.
St. Paul clearly implies here that it is possible that some Ephesian Christians may not “be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” and thus wander away from the path of salvation that they started along.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He speaks not merely of doing the deed, but of completing it, so as not only to slay, but to stand also after we have slain. For many who have gained this victory, have fallen again. ‘Having done,’ says he, ‘all’; not having done one, but not the other. For even after the victory, we must stand. An enemy may be struck, but things that are struck revive again if we do not stand. But if after having fallen they rise up again, so long as we stand, they are fallen. So long as we waver not, the adversary rises not again…. For many there are who are united forsooth to Christ, and who yet love Him not…. If we were not able to trample down one who had fallen, who had been disgraced, who had been despised, who was lying beneath our feet, how shall the Father give us a Father’s rewards? If we subdue not one so placed in subjection to us, what confidence shall we have to enter into our Father’s house? For, tell me, suppose you had a son, and, that he, disregarding the well-disposed part of your household, should associate with them that have distressed you, with them that have been expelled his father’s house, with them that spend their time at the gaming table, and that he should go on so doing to the very last; will he not be disinherited? It is plain enough he will. And so too shall we; if, disregarding the Angels who have well pleased our Father and whom He has set over us, we have our conversation with the devil, inevitably we shall be disinherited, which God forbid; but let us engage in the war we have to wage with him.”

6:18 “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints….”
Perseverance in the faith is necessary for salvation.

6:19-22 “…and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Now that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tych’icus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.”
The apostles spread the gospel by word of mouth, from person to person. And then they wrote letters to churches that had already been established in person by an apostle. Script and letters were not held in higher esteem or authority than in-person apostolic preaching, teaching, and governing.

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Priest’s Blessing or Approval Necessary to Get Married in Early Christianity (with political sidenote)

Posted by Tony Listi on January 22, 2014

Many people incorrectly believe that it was in the 16th century at the Council of Trent that the Catholic Church first began to require a priest’s or bishop’s approval to get married.

Actually, the need for a priest or bishop to bless the union of a man and woman in marriage (when one of them is Christian) goes back to the earliest centuries of Christianity.

Here are two quotes from two early Church fathers that demonstrate this historical fact:

“But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honor of God.” -St. Ignatius of Antioch (died around 98-117 AD)

“Since the contracting of marriage must be sanctified by the veiling and the blessing of the priest, how can there be any mention of a marriage, when unity of faith is wanting?” -St. Ambrose (340-397 AD)

At the Council of Trent in 1563, the Catholic Church merely reaffirmed what was taught by the earliest Christian leaders: “the approval of the bishop” and/or “the blessing of the priest” is necessary for marriage, at least for a sacramental marriage between two baptized Christians. The council did not declare anything new; it merely reaffirmed early Christian doctrine on marriage because Protestant heresiarchs were contradicting and rejecting such apostolic doctrines.

Political Sidenote:
With the cultural and political ascendancy of Christianity in the 4th century, the State began to recognize as valid civil marriages only those marriages blessed by the Catholic Church. The State did not define marriage ultimately but merely recognized in civil law the definition of marriage in ecclesial canon law.

It was only after the Protestant Revolution that the State began to arrogantly presume the authority to define marriage however it wanted (cf. Henry VIII in England). Almost 500 years later, the State now presumes to call a same-sex sexual relationship a “marriage.”

Posted in Christian Apologetics, Christianity and Politics, Church Fathers, Church History, Government and Politics, Marriage, Politics and Religion, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Most Catholic Quotes of Earliest Church Fathers on Papacy & Eucharist

Posted by Tony Listi on September 14, 2013

Pope Clement of Rome (d. c. 101)
“But if certain people should disobey what has been said by him [God] through us [the Church at Rome], let them understand that they will entangle themselves in no small sin and danger…. Right is it, therefore, to approach examples so good and so many, and submit the neck and fulfill the part of obedience, in order that, undisturbed by vain sedition, we may attain unto the goal set before us in truth wholly free from blame. Joy and gladness will you afford us, if you become obedient to the words written by us and through the Holy Spirit root out the lawless wrath of your jealousy according to the intercession which we have made for peace and unity in this letter. (Letter to the Corinthians 59:1)

Ignatius of Antioch (50 – c. 110)
“They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they [heretics] refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up.” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6:2)

Justin Martyr (100-165)
“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, ‘This do in remembrance of Me, (Luke 22:19) this is My body;’ and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, ‘This is My blood;’ and gave it to them alone.” (First Apology, chapter 65 & 66)

Irenaeus (130-202)
“Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” (Against Heresies, 3, 3, 2)

“Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.” (Against Heresies, IV, 18, 5)

“When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?—even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that ‘we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.’ He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup, which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread, which is His body.” (Against Heresies, V, 2, 3)

“Moreover, how could the Lord, with any justice, if He belonged to another father, have acknowledged the bread to be His body, while He took it from that creation to which we belong, and affirmed the mixed cup to be His blood?” (Against Heresies, IV, 33, 2)

“But vain in every respect are they [heretics] who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, ‘In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins.’ And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills ). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies. And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time….” (Against Heresies, V, 2, 2)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215)
“…the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first of the disciples, for whom alone and Himself the Savior paid tribute (Matthew 17:27)….” (Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? 21)

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Augustine on Suffering in Purgatory

Posted by Tony Listi on October 15, 2012

I shall emphasize those places where Augustine specifically indicates temporary suffering for Christian believers after death:

“[T]hough she [the Church] prays even for the wicked so long as they live, she yet does not even in this world pray for the unbelieving and godless who are dead. For some of the dead, indeed, the prayer of the Church or of pious individuals is heard; but it is for THOSE WHO, HAVING BEEN REGENERATED BY CHRIST, did not spend their life so wickedly that they can be judged unworthy of such compassion, nor so well that they can be considered to have no need of it. As also, AFTER THE RESURRECTION, there will be some of the DEAD to whom, after they have endured the PAINS proper to the spirits of the DEAD, mercy shall be accorded, and acquittal from the punishment of the eternal fire. For were there not some whose sins, though not remitted in this life, shall be remitted in that which is to come, it could not be truly said, “They shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in that which is to come’ (Mt 12:32).” City of God, 21:24 (A.D. 426).

“For one who cultivates this field interiorly and gains his bread, albeit with toil, can suffer this toil up to the end of his life, but after this life he need not suffer. The man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and AFTER THIS LIFE he will have either PURGATORIAL FIRE or eternal punishment. Thus NO ONE escapes this sentence [curse of toil and suffering], but we should act so that we feel its punishment only in this life.” Genesis Defended Against the Manicheans, 2, 20, 30

“The prophet Malachi…predicts the last judgment, saying, ‘Behold, He comes, says the Lord Almighty; and who shall abide the day of His entrance? . . . for I am the Lord your God, and I change not.” From these words it more evidently appears that SOME SHALL IN THE LAST JUDGMENT SUFFER SOME KIND OF PURGATORIAL PUNISHMENTS; for what else can be understood by the word, ‘Who shall abide the day of His entrance, or who shall be able to look upon Him? For He enters as a moulder’s fire, and as the herb of fullers: and He shall sit fusing and purifying as if over gold and silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and pour them out like gold and silver?’ Similarly Isaiah says, ‘The Lord shall wash the filthiness of the sons and daughters of Zion, and shall cleanse away the blood from their midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning’ (Isaiah 4:4). Unless perhaps we should say that they are cleansed from filthiness and in a manner clarified, when the wicked are separated from them by penal judgment, so that the elimination and damnation of the one party is the purgation of the others, because they shall henceforth live free from the contamination of such men. But when he says, ‘And he shall purify the sons of Levi, and pour them out like gold and silver, and they shall offer to the Lord sacrifices in righteousness; and the sacrifices of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the Lord,; he declares that those who shall be purified shall then please the Lord with sacrifices of righteousness, and consequently they themselves shall be PURIFIED FROM THEIR OWN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS which made them displeasing to God. Now they themselves, when they have been purified, shall be sacrifices of complete and perfect righteousness; for what more acceptable offering can such persons make to God than themselves? But this question of purgatorial punishments we must defer to another time, to give it a more adequate treatment. By the sons of Levi and Judah and Jerusalem we ought to understand THE CHURCH herself, gathered not from the Hebrews only, but from other nations as well; nor such a Church as she now is, when ‘if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8), but as she shall then be, PURGED BY THE LAST JUDGMENT as a threshing-floor by a winnowing wind, and those of her members who need it being CLEANSED BY FIRE….” City of God, 20:25, “Of Malachi’s Prophecy, in Which He Speaks of the Last Judgment, and of a Cleansing Which Some are to Undergo by Purifying Punishments” (A.D. 426)

“…will any man say this time of faith can be placed on an equal footing with that consummation when they who offer sacrifices in righteousness shall be PURIFIED BY THE FIRE OF THE LAST JUDGMENT? And consequently, since it must be believed that AFTER SUCH A CLEANSING THE RIGHTEOUS SHALL RETAIN NO SIN, assuredly that time, so far as regards its freedom from sin, can be compared to no other period, unless to that during which our first parents lived in paradise in the most innocent happiness before their transgression…. For the animals selected as victims under the old law were required to be immaculate, and free from all blemish whatever, and symbolized holy men free from all sin, the only instance of which character was found in Christ. As, therefore, AFTER THE JUDGMENT THOSE WHO ARE WORTHY OF SUCH PURIFICATION SHALL BE PURIFIED EVEN BY FIRE, and shall be rendered thoroughly sinless, and shall offer themselves to God in righteousness, and be indeed victims immaculate and free from all blemish whatever…. Then, with reference to those who are worthy not of cleansing but of damnation….” City of God, 20:26 (A.D. 426)

“But TEMPORARY PUNISHMENTS are suffered by some in this life only, by others AFTER DEATH, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But of those who suffer TEMPORARY PUNISHMENTS AFTER DEATH, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgment; for to some, as we have already said, what is not remitted in this world is remitted in the next, that is, they are not punished with the eternal punishment of the world to come.” City of God, 21:13 (A.D. 426)

“We shall then ascertain who it is who can be saved by fire (1 Cor 3:15), if we first discover what it is to have Christ for a foundation…. Whoever, then, has Christ in his heart, so that no earthly or temporal things— not even those that are legitimate and allowed— are preferred to Him, has Christ as a foundation. But if these things be preferred, then even though a man seem to have faith in Christ, yet Christ is not the foundation to that man; and much more if he, in contempt of wholesome precepts, seek forbidden gratifications, is he clearly convicted of putting Christ not first but last, since he has despised Him as his ruler, and has preferred to fulfill his own wicked lusts, in contempt of Christ’s commands and allowances….. For so long as he does not prefer such an affection or pleasure to Christ, CHRIST IS HIS FOUNDATION, though on it he builds wood, hay, stubble; and therefore he shall be saved as by fire. For the FIRE OF AFFLICTION shall burn such luxurious pleasures and earthly loves, though they be not damnable, because enjoyed in lawful wedlock. And of this fire the fuel is BEREAVEMENT, and all those CALAMITIES which consume these joys. Consequently the superstructure will be LOSS to him who has built it, for he shall not retain it, but shall be AGONIZED BY THE LOSS of those things in the enjoyment of which he found pleasure. But by this fire he shall be saved through virtue of the foundation, because even if a persecutor demanded whether he would retain Christ or these things, he would prefer Christ…. But some of them it [fire at last judgment] so proves that it does not burn and consume the structure which is found to have been built by them on Christ as the foundation; while others of them it proves in another fashion, so as to burn what they have built up, and thus cause them to SUFFER LOSS, WHILE THEY THEMSELVES ARE SAVED because they have retained Christ, who was laid as their sure foundation, and have loved Him above all. But if they are saved, then certainly they shall stand at the right hand, and shall with the rest hear the sentence, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you;’ and not at the left hand, where those shall be who shall not be saved, and shall therefore hear the doom, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire.'” City of God, 21:26, “What It is to Have Christ for a Foundation, and Who They are to Whom Salvation as by Fire is Promised,” (A.D. 426)

“Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead are benefited by the piety of their living friends, who offer the sacrifice of the Mediator, or give alms in the church on their behalf. But these services are of advantage only to those who during their lives have earned such merit, that services of this kind can help them. For there is a manner of life which is neither so good as not to require these services after death, nor so bad that such services are of no avail after death; there is, on the other hand, a kind of life so good as not to require them; and again, one so bad that when life is over they render no help. Therefore, it is in this life that all the merit or demerit is acquired, which can either RELIEVE OR AGGRAVATE A MAN’S SUFFERINGS AFER THIS LIFE. No one, then, need hope that after he is dead he shall obtain merit with God which he has neglected to secure here. And accordingly it is plain that the services which the church celebrates for the dead are in no way opposed to the apostle’s words: ‘For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad;’ for the merit which renders such services as I speak of profitable to a man, is earned while he lives in the body. It is not to every one that these services are profitable. And why are they not profitable to all, except because of the different kinds of lives that men lead in the body? When, then, sacrifices either of the altar or of alms are offered on behalf of all the baptized dead, they are thank-offerings for the very good, they are propitiatory offerings for the not very bad, and in the case of the very bad, even though they do not assist the dead, they are a species of consolation to the living. And where they are profitable, their benefit consists either in obtaining a full remission of sins, or at least in making the condemnation more tolerable.” Enchiridion Ch. 110

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Pornography vs. The Nude in Art: The Catholic-Christian Perspective

Posted by Tony Listi on December 9, 2011

Many colleges and universities offer art classes which necessarily involve the viewing of the nude male or female human body. There are two extreme and wrong-headed responses or approaches to this kind of situation:

  1. It is always and absolutely wrong to look at the naked human body merely for artistic reproduction or training. It is also always and absolutely wrong to publicly display such artistic reproductions of the nude body. Anybody who engages in such things is engaging in the deadly sin of lust.
  2. Looking at the naked human body, whether in person or through art, is no big deal and shouldn’t be taken seriously at all. Anybody who wants limits upon or has any concerns about the morality of looking at the naked human body are prudes who hate the human body or don’t sufficiently value its beauty and dignity.

The correct, prudent, and temperant approach is the Catholic Christian approach outlined by Blessed Pope John Paul II (JP2) in his Theology of the Body. Artistic representation of nude forms is a very complex issue because it combines very objective truths with very subjective experiences.

Let’s look at JP2’s own words: Read the rest of this entry »

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Peeling Away Lies: The True History of the Spanish Inquisition

Posted by Tony Listi on June 3, 2011

“…historians are now discovering that the common notion of the Spanish Inquisition as some horrible, fanatical, all-encompassing bloodthirsty monster could not be further from the truth. Their conclusions come from the first-time ever study of the actual cases taken from the archives of the Inquisition itself…. Studying the archives of the Inquisition demolished the previous image that all of us had.” (BBC documentary “The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition”)

“The reason why accurate information about the Inquisition fails to penetrate the popular mind is not such a mystery at all. Numerous people have a vested interest in keeping the traditional image alive…. Those who resent the Church’s claim to moral authority use as their most effective weapon the allegation of hypocrisy….” -James Hitchcock, Professor of History at St. Louis University

There are so many myths, lies, and half-truths surrounding the history of the Inquisition. In this post, I’m going to set aside the philosophical, moral, and prudential considerations surrounding the issue. Let’s focus on the historical facts first, shall we? Some historical accuracy and perspective should be enough to defuse much of the hatred and animosity aimed at the Catholic Church.

First, some general historical facts:

The Inquisition technically had jurisdiction only over those professing to be Christians (i.e. Catholics). It did not have jurisdiction over those who did not claim to be Christian like Jews and Muslims.

States and kingdoms of the time explicitly and officially endorsed and embraced the Christian faith as the foundation of their own authority and the peace of civil society. Thus they saw an attack on the unity and purity of the Christian faith as an attack on them, their authority, and the public peace. This was not a new or unique idea in the previous history of the relationship between religion and politics. Furthermore, even by some imperfect modern standards, in point of fact, these heretical sects were indeed in many cases violent and destructive of civil society.

The Inquisition was a response to statist encroachment into doctrinal territory and overzealousness of the State and mobs of people in executing heretics. In the early 13th century, the Inquisition was born most likely in response to popular mobs’ and the State’s aggressive prosecution and punishment of heretics, especially the Cathari, a sect that taught that sexual intercourse and marriage was evil and that suicide was good under certain circumstances. The Church likely saw these secular tribunals as an encroachment on its authority with regard to what is true doctrine and what is heresy. So it decided to create its own body of judges that would exercise doctrinal authority and judgment in the name of the pope.

The Inquisition was not an all-powerful institution with unlimited power and supreme authority. Rather, it was under the authority of the pope and diocesan bishops and competed with the State and the local aristocracy in many instances. It was often overshadowed in the city and powerless in the country.

This rest of this post is going to focus on the Spanish Inquisition.

My primary source of historical information is going to be a TV program that the BBC that aired in 1995 called The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition (see videos below). Why? Because this TV documentary presents the views of scholars who actually examined the original and detailed achival records of the cases that came before the Spanish Inquisition. These internal records were never intended for public viewing. The documentary draws primarily upon the work of Professors Henry Kamen and Stephen Haliczer. There is also a Wikipedia article devoted to the new historical findings.

You can watch the documentary yourself, starting with the first YouTube video below (of five videos):

The documentary is no more than an hour long and well worth the watch. For those who don’t want to watch it or don’t have the time to, I’m going to highlight some key facts that it brings to light.

Read the rest of this entry »

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A Catholic Reading of Galatians

Posted by Tony Listi on March 14, 2011

Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times. This practice also makes it easier for Christians to cherry-pick the verses that they like (often out of context) and that support their denominational beliefs and to avoid verses that they don’t like and that contradict their denominational beliefs.

We Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book, carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book and author. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation. None of the books were written by their authors with the Bible’s compilation in mind.

Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be…. Plus I’m tired of Protestants telling me that I’ve never read the Bible (when I have) and that they are the “champions” of Scripture (when they aren’t).

St. Paul’s  Letter to the Galatians

This letter is addressed to several churches in the region of Galatia. It begins as a strong condemnation of the Galatians for abandoning the faith in their works, their actions. Paul goes on to defend his own divine authority as an apostle of Christ and to denounce the backsliding of the Galatian Christians into evil works and Jewish rituals.

  • Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and discipline in person (1:9; 4:13; 5:10)
  • Affirms Peter’s primacy over the other apostles (1:18; 2:1-3)
  • Affirms the authority of Church councils in consonance with Peter (2:1-3)
  • Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1)
  • Affirms the necessity of perseverance in obedience and works of love and the necessity of continual repentance for salvation/to obtain heaven (1:6; 3:3; 4:8-11, 15-17; 5:1, 4, 6-8, 13-26; 6:1, 7-10)
  • Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (1:6; 3:3-4; 4:11, 19-20; 5:4; 6:1, 9)
  • Affirms the Catholic practice of calling priests “father” (4:19)
  • Supports the Catholic doctrine and practice of indulgences (6:2)

I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Very often, I will supplement my commentary with that of St. John Chrysostom (347-407). His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

1:1-2 “Paul an apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia” Paul is an apostle, one who has been sent out by those with authority (namely, Peter and James) to spread the gospel. Click here to learn more about the difference between a disciple and an apostle. In this letter, he is adamant in asserting that his authority comes from Jesus, from God, not from any mere man.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Some of the Jews who believed, being held down by the preposessions of Judaism, and at the same time intoxicated by vain-glory, and desirous of obtaining for themselves the dignity of teachers, came to the Galatians, and taught them that the observance of circumcision, sabbaths, and new-moons, was necessary, and that Paul in abolishing these things was not to be borne. For, said they, Peter and James and John, the chiefs of the Apostles and the companions of Christ, forbade them not. Now in fact they did not forbid these things, but this was not by way of delivering positive doctrine, but in condescension to the weakness of the Jewish believers, which condescension Paul had no need of when preaching to the Gentiles; but when he was in Judæa, he employed it himself also. But these deceivers, by withholding the causes both of Paul’s condescension and that of his brethren, misled the simpler ones, saying that he was not to be tolerated, for he appeared but yesterday, while Peter and his colleagues were from the first—that he was a disciple of the Apostles, but they of Christ—that he was single, but they were many, and pillars of the Church. They accused him too of acting a part; saying, that this very man who forbids circumcision observes the rite elsewhere, and preaches one way to you and another way to others…. For, these deceivers, as I was saying before, had said that this man was the last of all the Apostles and was taught by them, for Peter, James, and John, were both first called, and held a primacy among the disciples, and had also received their doctrines from Christ Himself; and that it was therefore fitting to obey them rather than this man; and that they forbad not circumcision nor the observance of the Law. By this and similar language and by depreciating Paul, and exalting the honor of the other Apostles, though not spoken for the sake of praising them, but of deceiving the Galatians, they induced them to adhere unseasonably to the Law. Hence the propriety of his commencement…. Thus it appears, that the flame of error had spread over not one or two cities merely, but the whole Galatian people. Consider too the grave indignation contained in the phrase, ‘unto the Churches of Galatia:’ he does not say, ‘to the beloved’ or ‘to the sanctified,’ and this omission of all names of affection or respect, and this speaking of them as a society merely, without the addition ‘Churches of God,’ for it is simply ‘Churches of Galatia,’ is strongly expressive of deep concern and sorrow. Here at the outset, as well as elsewhere, he attacks their irregularities, and therefore gives them the name of ‘Churches,’ in order to shame them, and reduce them to unity. For persons split into many parties cannot properly claim this appellation, for the name of ‘Church’ is a name of harmony and concord.”

1:6 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel….” St. Paul immediately expresses surprise and disappointment with the Galatians’ abandonment of the gospel and grace. He indirectly and secondarily refers to himself as the one they have abandoned, for we know from the Acts of the Apostles (16:6, 18:23) that Paul was the instrument of God in calling them to Christ.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Like the Jews who persecuted Christ, they imagined their observance of the Law was acceptable to the Father, and he therefore shows that in doing this they displeased not only Christ, but the Father also, for that they fell away thereby not from Christ only, but from the Father also…. By saying that they had fallen off from the Father, he brings a twofold charge against them, of an apostasy, and of an immediate apostasy. The opposite extreme a late apostasy, is also blameworthy, but he who falls away at the first onset, and in the very skirmishing, displays an example of the most extreme cowardice, of which very thing he accuses them also saying: ‘How is this that your seducers need not even time for their designs, but the first approaches suffice for your overthrow and capture?’… Their seducers did not act abruptly but gradually, and while they removed them from the faith in fact, left names unchanged. It is the policy of Satan not to set his snares in open view; had they urged them to fall away from Christ, they would have been shunned as deceivers and corrupters, but suffering them so far to continue in the faith, and putting upon their error the name of the Gospel, without fear they undermined the building employing the terms which they used as a sort of curtain to conceal the destroyers themselves. As therefore they gave the name of Gospel to this their imposture, he contends against the very name….”

1:7-9 “…not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Paul is adamant that there is only one gospel, one body of true Christian doctrine. He condemns all others who teach different doctrines than those he and his brethren have taught. Moreover, he says strongly, though indirectly, that the gospel does not change. Even the angels and apostles cannot change the gospel. Of course, the Catholic perspective is that Protestantism changed the gospel, mostly by means of subtraction, and thus is heresy.
Notice that Paul emphasizes in this letter what he preached and said to the Galatians in person. The apostles preach with authority; individual believers receive. These words undermine sola Scriptura.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “They had, in fact, only introduced one or two commandments, circumcision and the observance of days, but he says that the Gospel was subverted, in order to show that a slight adulteration vitiates the whole. For as he who but partially pares away the image on a royal coin renders the whole spurious, so he who swerves ever so little from the pure faith, soon proceeds from this to graver errors, and becomes entirely corrupted. Where then are those who charge us with being contentious in separating from heretics, and say that there is no real difference between us except what arises from our ambition? Let them hear Paul’s assertion, that those who had but slightly innovated, subverted the Gospel. Not to say that the Son of God is a created Being, is a small matter. Know you not that even under the elder covenant, a man who gathered sticks on the sabbath, and transgressed a single commandment, and that not a great one, was punished with death?… A want of zeal in small matters is the cause of all our calamities; and because slight errors escape fitting correction, greater ones creep in. As in the body, a neglect of wounds generates fever, mortification, and death; so in the soul, slight evils overlooked open the door to graver ones. It is accounted a trivial fault that one man should neglect fasting; that another, who is established in the pure faith, dissembling on account of circumstances, should surrender his bold profession of it, neither is this anything great or dreadful; that a third should be irritated, and threaten to depart from the true faith, is excused on the plea of passion and resentment. Thus a thousand similar errors are daily introduced into the Church, and we have become a laughing-stock to Jews and Greeks, seeing that the Church is divided into a thousand parties. But if a proper rebuke had at first been given to those who attempted slight perversions, and a deflection from the divine oracles, such a pestilence would not have been generated, nor such a storm have seized upon the Churches. You will now understand why Paul calls circumcision a subversion of the Gospel. There are many among us now, who fast on the same day as the Jews, and keep the sabbaths in the same manner; and we endure it nobly or rather ignobly and basely. And why do I speak of Jews seeing that many Gentile customs are observed by some among us; omens, auguries, presages, distinctions of days, a curious attention to the circumstances of their children’s birth, and, as soon as they are born, tablets with impious inscriptions are placed upon their unhappy heads, thereby teaching them from the first to lay aside virtuous endeavors, and drawing part of them at least under the false domination of fate. But if Christ in no way profits those that are circumcised, what shall faith hereafter avail to the salvation of those who have introduced such corruptions? Although circumcision was given by God, yet Paul used every effort to abolish it, because its unseasonable observance was injurious to the Gospel. If then he was so earnest against the undue maintenance of Jewish customs, what excuse can we have for not abrogating Gentile ones? Hence our affairs are now in confusion and trouble, hence have our learners being filled with pride, reversed the order of things throwing every thing into confusion, and their discipline having been neglected by us their governors, they spurn our reproof however gentle. And yet if their superiors were even more worthless and full of numberless evils, it would not be right for the disciple to disobey. It is said of the Jewish doctors, that as they sat in Moses’ seat, their disciples were bound to obey them, though their works were so evil, that the Lord forbad His disciples to imitate them. What excuse therefore is there for those who insult and trample on men, rulers of the Church, and living, by the grace of God, holy lives? If it be unlawful for us to judge each other, much more is it to judge our teachers. See the Apostle’s wisdom; to obviate the objection that he was prompted by vainglory to applaud his own doctrine, he includes himself also in his anathema; and as they betook themselves to authority, that of James and John, he mentions angels also saying, ‘Tell me not of James and John; if one of the most exalted angels of heaven corrupt the Gospel, let him be anathema.’… And he says not, if they preach a contrary Gospel, or subvert the whole of the true one, let them be anathema; but, if they even slightly vary, or incidentally disturb, my doctrine…. He says, if ‘any man’ preach another Gospel to you than that which we have preached—not ‘if this or that man:’ and herein appears his prudence, and care of giving offense, for what needed there still any mention of names, when he had used such extensive terms as to embrace all, both in heaven and earth? In that he anathemized evangelists and angels, he included every dignity, and his mention of himself included every intimacy and affinity. ‘Tell me not,’ he exclaims, ‘that my fellow apostles and colleagues have so spoken; I spare not myself if I preach such doctrine.’ And he says this not as condemning the Apostles for swerving from the message they were commissioned to deliver; far from it, (for he says, whether we or they thus preach;) but to show, that in the discussion of truth the dignity of persons is not to be considered…. For since he is compelled to justify himself to his disciples, being their teacher, he submits to it; but he is grieved at it, not on account of chagrin, far from it, but on account of the instability of the minds of those led away and on account of not being fully trusted by them…. He thus expressed himself, as much with a view of withstanding their opinions, as in self-defence; for it becomes disciples to obey, not to judge, their master. But now, says he, that the order is reversed, and you sit as judges, know that I am but little concerned to defend myself before you; all, I do for God’s sake, and in order that I may answer to Him concerning my doctrine.”

1:11-12 “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul received a special, extraordinary revelation from God and thus the gospel. Again, he is adamant that his gospel is not man-made or derived from men. Protestants act as if they too have been given the gospel in an extraordinary manner like Paul, that they have such a special relationship with God that they have no need of the Church which Jesus established and gave to us for doctrinal instruction and stability. Yet God chose Paul and gave proof of it in the fact of Paul’s radical and quick conversion; Protestants choose themselves and believe themselves to have an individual and supernatural intelligence and authority that God has not given them. They claim the Spirit of Truth, but the Spirit of Truth has not claimed them.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “You observe how sedulously he affirms that he was taught of Christ, who Himself, without human intervention, condescended to reveal to him all knowledge. And if he were asked for his proof that God Himself thus immediately revealed to him these ineffable mysteries, he would instance his former manner of life, arguing that his conversion would not have been so sudden, had it not been by Divine revelation. For when men have been vehement and eager on the contrary side, their conviction, if it is effected by human means, requires much time and ingenuity. It is clear therefore that he, whose conversion is sudden, and who has been sobered in the very height of his madness, must have been vouchsafed a Divine revelation and teaching, and so have at once arrived at complete sanity.”

1:16-17 “I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.” Paul is again eager to assert is own unique authority. He is not trying to deny the authority of the apostles in Jerusalem, Peter, James, and John. Again, Protestants act as if they too have been given the gospel truth in an extraordinary manner like Paul, that they have such a special relationship with God that they have no need of the Church which Jesus established and gave to us for doctrinal instruction and stability. Yet God chose Paul and gave proof of it in the fact of Paul’s radical and quick conversion; Protestants choose themselves and believe themselves to have an individual and supernatural intelligence and authority that God has not given them. They claim the Spirit of Truth, but the Spirit of Truth has not claimed them.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “These words weighed by themselves seem to breath an arrogant spirit, and to be foreign to the Apostolic temper. For to give one’s suffrage for one’s self, and to admit no man to share one’s counsel, is a sign of folly…. Nevertheless, as I said, this expression nakedly considered may easily prove a snare and offense to many hearers. But if the cause of it is subjoined, all will applaud and admire the speaker. This then let us do; for it is not the right course to weigh the mere words, nor examine the language by itself, as many errors will be the consequence, but to attend to the intention of the writer. And unless we pursue this method in our own discourses, and examine into the mind of the speaker, we shall make many enemies, and every thing will be thrown into disorder…. Let us then inquire into the intention of Paul in thus writing, let us consider his scope, and general deportment towards the Apostles, that we may arrive at his present meaning. Neither formerly, nor in this case, did he speak with a view of disparaging the Apostles or of extolling himself, (how so? When he included himself under his anathema?) but always in order to guard the integrity of the Gospel. Since the troublers of the Church said that they ought to obey the Apostles who suffered these observances, and not Paul who forbade them, and hence the Judaizing heresy had gradually crept in, it was necessary for him manfully to resist them, from a desire of repressing the arrogance of those who improperly exalted themselves, and not of speaking ill of the Apostles. And therefore he says, ‘I conferred not with flesh and blood;’ for it would have been extremely absurd for one who had been taught by God, afterwards to refer himself to men. For it is right that he who learns from men should in turn take men as his counsellors. But he to whom that divine and blessed voice had been vouchsafed, and who had been fully instructed by Him that possesses all the treasures of wisdom, wherefore should he afterwards confer with men? It were meet that he should teach, not be taught by them. Therefore he thus spoke, not arrogantly, but to exhibit the dignity of his own commission. ‘Neither went I up,’ says he, ‘to Jerusalem to them which were Apostles before me.’ Because they were continually repeating that the Apostles were before him, and were called before him, he says, ‘I went not up to them.’ Had it been needful for him to communicate with them, He, who revealed to him his commission, would have given him this injunction. Is it true, however, that he did not go up there? nay, he went up, and not merely so, but in order to learn somewhat of them. When a question arose on our present subject in the city of Antioch, in the Church which had from the beginning shown so much zeal, and it was discussed whether the Gentile believers ought to be circumcised, or were under no necessity to undergo the rite, this very Paul himself and Silas went up. How is it then that he says, I went not up, nor conferred? First, because he went not up of his own accord, but was sent by others; next, because he came not to learn, but to bring others over. For he was from the first of that opinion, which the Apostles subsequently ratified, that circumcision was unnecessary. But when these persons deemed him unworthy of credit and applied to those at Jerusalem he went up not to be farther instructed, but to convince the gain-sayers that those at Jerusalem agreed with him. Thus he perceived from the first the fitting line of conduct, and needed no teacher, but, primarily and before any discussion, maintained without wavering what the Apostles, after much discussion, (Acts 15:2-7) subsequently ratified. This Luke shows by his own account, that Paul argued much at length with them on this subject before he went to Jerusalem. But since the brethren chose to be informed on this subject, by those at Jerusalem, he went up on their own account, not on his own. And his expression, ‘I went not up,’ signifies that he neither went at the outset of his teaching, nor for the purpose of being instructed. Both are implied by the phrase, ‘Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.’ He says not, ‘I conferred,’ merely, but, ‘immediately;’ and his subsequent journey was not to gain any additional instruction.”

1:18-19 “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.” Before Paul began in ministry among the Gentiles, he visited with Peter and James, the pillars of the Church. This fact is significant. According to Protestant biblical scholar Gary Habermas, Paul uses the Greek word historeo, which “indicates that he didn’t just casually shoot the breeze when he met with them. It shows this was an investigative inquiry. Paul was playing the role of an examiner, someone who was carefully checking this out. So the fact that Paul personally confirmed matters with two eyewitnesses who are specifically mentioned in the creed–Peter and James–gives this extra weight.” Paul received confirmation for the authority of the gospel from the pillars of the Church. This is evidence of hierarchy within the Church and Peter’s primacy in particular.
Notice also that Paul calls Peter “Cephas,” the Aramaic word “Rock,” the title Jesus gives Peter in Mt 16:18. The title had such a special significance that the Aramaic word is preserved in Scripture, not translated. Is there any doubt that the early Church, including Paul, considered Peter to be the “Rock” of the Church, as Jesus called him?
Click here for 50 Scriptural citations throughout the Bible that evidence Peter’s pre-eminence.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “What can be more lowly than such a soul? After such successes, wanting nothing of Peter, not even his assent, but being of equal dignity with him, (for at present I will say no more,) he comes to him as his elder and superior. And the only object of this journey was to visit Peter; thus he pays due respect to the Apostles, and esteems himself not only not their better but not their equal. Which is plain from this journey, for Paul was induced to visit Peter by the same feeling from which many of our brethren sojourn with holy men: or rather by a humbler feeling for they do so for their own benefit, but this blessed man, not for his own instruction or correction, but merely for the sake of beholding and honoring Peter by his presence. He says, ‘to visit Peter;’ he does not say to see, (ἰ δεῖν,) but to visit and survey, (ἰ στορῆσαι,) a word which those, who seek to become acquainted with great and splendid cities, apply to themselves. Worthy of such trouble did he consider the very sight of Peter; and this appears from the Acts of the Apostles also (Acts 21:17-18 etc.). For on his arrival at Jerusalem, on another occasion, after having converted many Gentiles, and, with labors far surpassing the rest, reformed and brought to Christ Pamphylia, Lycaonia, Cilicia, and all nations in that quarter of the world, he first addresses himself with great humility to James, as to his elder and superior. Next he submits to his counsel, and that counsel contrary to this Epistle. ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them which have believed; therefore shave your head, and purify yourself’ (Acts 21:20 ff.). Accordingly he shaved his head, and observed all the Jewish ceremonies; for where the Gospel was not affected, he was the humblest of all men. But where by such humility he saw any injured, he gave up that undue exercise of it, for that was no longer to be humble but to outrage and destroy the disciples…. To take a journey on account of him [Peter] was a mark of respect; but to remain so many days, of friendship and the most earnest affection. See what great friends he was with Peter especially; on his account he left his home, and with him he tarried. This I frequently repeat, and desire you to remember, that no one, when he hears what this Apostle seems to have spoken against Peter, may conceive a suspicion of him. He premises this, that when he says, ‘I resisted Peter,’ no one may suppose that these words imply enmity and contention; for he honored and loved his person more than all and took this journey for his sake only, not for any of the others. ‘But other of the Apostles saw I none, save James.’ ‘I saw him merely, I did not learn from him,’ he means. But observe how honorably he mentions him, he says not ‘James’ merely, but adds this illustrious title, so free is he from all envy. Had he only wished to point out whom he meant, he might have shown this by another appellation, and called him the son of Cleophas, as the Evangelist does. But as he considered that he had a share in the august titles of the Apostles, he exalts himself by honoring James; and this he does by calling him ‘the Lord’s brother,’ although he was not by birth His brother, but only so reputed. Yet this did not deter him from giving the title; and in many other instances he displays towards all the Apostles that noble disposition, which beseemed him…. After his interview with Peter, he resumes his preaching and the task which lay before him….”

2:1-3 “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” What Paul is referring to here is the Council of Jerusalem as detailed in the Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 15). Paul, an individual believer and apostle, did not have the authority himself to settle this controversy and dispute that had arisen in the Church over whether Christians had to observe various Jewish rituals like circumcision and abstinence from “unclean” animals.
Notice again that Paul distinguishes between those in Jerusalem who were “of repute” (namely Peter and James, who respectively dominate and preside over the council, according to the Acts of the Apostles) and those who were not. Paul had to present his gospel for approval or disapproval to Peter and James privately and then to the entire council. He was under the authority of Peter, James, and the council, and he admits the remote possibility that his gospel ministry could have been “in vain.”
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “His first journey was owing to his desire to visit Peter, his second, he says, arose from a revelation of the Spirit. What is this, O Paul! Thou who neither at the beginning nor after three years wouldest confer with the Apostles, do you now confer with them, after fourteen years are past, lest you should be running in vain? Better would it have been to have done so at first, than after so many years; and why did you run at all, if not satisfied that thou were not running in vain? Who would be so senseless as to preach for so many years, without being sure that his preaching was true? And what enhances the difficulty is, that he says he went up by revelation; this difficulty, however, will afford a solution of the former one. Had he gone up of his own accord, it would have been most unreasonable, nor is it possible that this blessed soul should have fallen into such folly; for it is himself who says, ‘I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air’ (1 Corinthians 9:26). If therefore he runs, ‘not uncertainly,’ how can he say, ‘lest I should be running, or had run, in vain?’ It is evident from this, that if he had gone up without a revelation, he would have committed an act of folly…. As when he went up before from Antioch to Jerusalem, it was not for his own sake, (for he saw clearly that his duty was simply to obey the doctrines of Christ,) but from a desire to reconcile the contentious; so now his object was the complete satisfaction of his accusers, not any wish of his own to learn that he had not run in vain. They conceived that Peter and John, of whom they thought more highly than of Paul, differed from him in that he omitted circumcision in his preaching, while the former allowed it, and they believed that in this he acted unlawfully, and was running in vain. I went up, says he, and communicated unto them my Gospel, not that I might learn anything myself, (as appears more clearly further on,) but that I might convince these suspicious persons that I do not run in vain. The Spirit forseeing this contention had provided that he should go up and make this communication…. What means ‘privately?’ Rather, he who wishes to reform doctrines held in common, proposes them, not privately, but before all in common; but Paul did this privately, for his object was, not to learn or reform any thing, but to cut off the grounds of those who would fain deceive. All at Jerusalem were offended, if the law was transgressed, or the use of circumcision forbidden; as James says, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them which have believed; and they are informed of you, that you teach to forsake the law’ (Acts 21:20, et seq). Since then they were offended he did not condescend to come forward publicly and declare what his preaching was, but he conferred privately with those who were of reputation before Barnabas and Titus, that they might credibly testify to his accusers, that the Apostles found no discrepancy in his preaching, but confirmed it. The expression, ‘those that were of repute,’ (τοῖς δοκοῦσιν) does not impugn the reality of their greatness; for he says of himself, ‘And I also seem (δοκῶ) to have the Spirit of God,’ thereby not denying the fact, but stating it modestly. And here the phrase implies his own assent to the common opinion.”

2:6-10 ” And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do.” Paul confirms the reputation of some apostles to be pillars and that Peter had a special mission to the Jews. For the purpose of establishing his own authority over the Galatians (who were Gentiles), he also seems eager to justify his own authority in its own right relative to that of the chief apostles. Considering the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Paul’s call to apostleship, his claim to special grace and authority is valid. But the fact remains that he did not claim equal or greater authority than Peter and submitted himself to the authority of the pillars and the Council of Jerusalem. The pillars also told Paul and Barnabas to be mindful of the poor.
The fact that some have authority and some don’t is not God showing partiality to some over others. God has never conferred authority on everyone. Authority is not a characteristic of worth or value but of role and vocation.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here he not only does not defend the Apostles, but even presses hard upon those holy men, for the benefit of the weak. His meaning is this: although they permit circumcision, they shall render an account to God, for God will not accept their persons, because they are great and in station. But he does not speak so plainly, but with caution. He says not, if they vitiate their doctrine, and swerve from the appointed rule of their preaching, they shall be judged with the utmost rigor, and suffer punishment; but he alludes to them more reverently, in the words, ‘of those who were reputed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were.’ He says not, ‘whatsoever they “are,”‘ but ‘were,’ showing that they too had thenceforth ceased so to preach, the doctrine having extended itself universally. The phrase, ‘whatsoever they were,’ implies, that if they so preached they should render account, for they had to justify themselves before God, not before men. This he said, not as doubtful or ignorant of the rectitude of their procedure, but (as I said before) from a sense of the expediency of so forming his discourse. Then, that he may not seem to take the opposite side and to accuse them, and so create a suspicion of their disagreement, he straightway subjoins this correction: ‘for those who were reputed to be somewhat, in conference imparted nothing to me.’ This is his meaning; What you may say, I know not; this I know well, that the Apostles did not oppose me, but our sentiments conspired and accorded. This appears from his expression, ‘they gave me the right hand of fellowship;’ but he does not say this at present, but only that they neither informed or corrected him on any point, nor added to his knowledge…. He calls the Gentiles the Uncircumcision and the Jews the Circumcision, and declares his own rank to be equal to that of the Apostles; and, by comparing himself with their Leader not with the others, he shows that the dignity of each was the same. After he had established the proof of their unanimity, he takes courage, and proceeds confidently in his argument, not stopping at the Apostles, but advances to Christ Himself, and to the grace which He had conferred upon him, and calls the Apostles as his witnesses…. He says not when they ‘heard,’ but when they ‘perceived,’ that is, were assured by the facts themselves, ‘they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship.’ Observe how he gradually proves that his doctrine was ratified both by Christ and by the Apostles. For grace would neither have been implanted, nor been operative in him, had not his preaching been approved by Christ. Where it was for the purpose of comparison with himself, he mentioned Peter alone; here, when he calls them as witnesses, he names the three together, ‘Cephas, James, John,’ and with an encomium, ‘who were reputed to be pillars.’ Here again the expression ‘who were reputed’ does not impugn the reality of the fact, but adopts the estimate of others, and implies that these great and distinguished men, whose fame was universal, bore witness that his preaching was ratified by Christ, that they were practically informed and convinced by experience concerning it…. This is his meaning: In our preaching we divided the world between us, I took the Gentiles and they the Jews, according to the Divine decree; but to the sustenance of the poor among the Jews I also contributed my share, which, had there been any dissension between us, they would not have accepted…. Having by these means declared the unanimity and harmony between the Apostles and himself, he is obliged to proceed to mention his debate with Peter at Antioch.”

2:11-14 “But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?'” Paul is not questioning Peter’s authority or teachings here in this episode; he’s judging Peter’s personal behavior and correcting him. Peter was guilty of hypocrisy, not heresy. The sins of Peter and the other apostles (including Paul) did not undermine their teaching authority. This was the case of an inferior correcting a superior for not following the superior’s own teachings. Chrysostom, however, believes that Peter and Paul merely acted out the rebuke and has a complex explanation/rationalization for it.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Many, on a superficial reading of this part of the Epistle, suppose that Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. But this is not so, indeed it is not, far from it; we shall discover great wisdom, both of Paul and Peter, concealed herein for the benefit of their hearers. But first a word must be said about Peter’s freedom in speech, and how it was ever his way to outstrip the other disciples. Indeed it was upon one such occasion that he gained his name from the unbending and impregnable character of his faith. For when all were interrogated in common, he stepped before the others and answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16). This was when the keys of heaven were committed to him. So too, he appears to have been the only speaker on the Mount (Matthew 17:4); and when Christ spoke of His crucifixion, and the others kept silence, he said, ‘Be it far from You’ (Matthew 16:22). These words evince, if not a cautious temper, at least a fervent love; and in all instances we find him more vehement than the others, and rushing forward into danger. So when Christ was seen on the beach, and the others were pushing the boat in, he was too impatient to wait for its coming to land (John 21:7). And after the Resurrection, when the Jews were murderous and maddened, and sought to tear the Apostles in pieces, he first dared to come forward, and to declare, that the Crucified was taken up into heaven (Acts 2:14, 36). It is a greater thing to open a closed door, and to commence an action, than to be free-spoken afterwards. How could he ever dissemble who had exposed his life to such a populace? He who when scourged and bound would not bate a jot of his courage, and this at the beginning of his mission, and in the heart of the chief city where there was so much danger—how could he, long afterwards in Antioch, where no danger was at hand, and his character had received lustre from the testimony of his actions, feel any apprehension of the believing Jews? How could he, I say, who at the very first and in their chief city feared not the Jews while Jews, after a long time and in a foreign city, fear those of them who had been converted? Paul therefore does not speak this against Peter, but with the same meaning in which he said, ‘for they who were reputed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it makes no matter to me.’ But to remove any doubt on this point, we must unfold the reason of these expressions. The Apostles, as I said before, permitted circumcision at Jerusalem, an abrupt severance from the law not being practicable; but when they come to Antioch, they no longer continued this observance, but lived indiscriminately with the believing Gentiles which thing Peter also was at that time doing. But when some came from Jerusalem who had heard the doctrine he delivered there, he no longer did so fearing to perplex them, but he changed his course, with two objects secretly in view, both to avoid offending those Jews, and to give Paul a reasonable pretext for rebuking him. For had he, having allowed circumcision when preaching at Jerusalem, changed his course at Antioch, his conduct would have appeared to those Jews to proceed from fear of Paul, and his disciples would have condemned his excess of pliancy. And this would have created no small offense; but in Paul, who was well acquainted with all the facts, his withdrawal would have raised no such suspicion, as knowing the intention with which he acted. Wherefore Paul rebukes, and Peter submits, that when the master is blamed, yet keeps silence, the disciples may more readily come over. Without this occurrence Paul’s exhortation would have had little effect, but the occasion hereby afforded of delivering a severe reproof, impressed Peter’s disciples with a more lively fear. Had Peter disputed Paul’s sentence, he might justly have been blamed as upsetting the plan, but now that the one reproves and the other keeps silence, the Jewish party are filled with serious alarm; and this is why he used Peter so severely. Observe too Paul’s careful choice of expressions, whereby he points out to the discerning, that he uses them in pursuance of the plan, (οἰκονομίας) and not from anger. His words are, ‘When Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned;’ that is, not by me but by others; had he himself condemned him, he would not have shrunk from saying so. And the words, ‘I resisted him to the face,’ imply a scheme for had their discussion been real, they would not have rebuked each other in the presence of the disciples, for it would have been a great stumblingblock to them. But now this apparent contest was much to their advantage; as Paul had yielded to the Apostles at Jerusalem, so in turn they yield to him at Antioch. The cause of censure is this, ‘For before that certain came from James,’ who was the teacher at Jerusalem, ‘he did eat with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the Circumcision:’ his cause of fear was not his own danger, (for if he feared not in the beginning, much less would he do so then,) but their defection. As Paul himself says to the Galatians, ‘I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labor upon you in vain:’ (Galatians 4:11) and again, ‘I fear lest by any means as the serpent beguiled Eve,…so your minds should be corrupted’ (2 Corinthians 11:3). Thus the fear of death they knew not, but the fear lest their disciples should perish, agitated their inmost soul. Be not surprised at his giving this proceeding the name of dissimulation, for he is unwilling, as I said before, to disclose the true state of the case, in order to the correction of his disciples. On account of their vehement attachment to the Law, he calls the present proceeding ‘dissimulation,’ and severely rebukes it, in order effectually to eradicate their prejudice. And Peter too, hearing this joins in the feint, as if he had erred, that they might be corrected by means of the rebuke administered to him. Had Paul reproved these Jews, they would have spurned at it with indignation, for they held him in slight esteem; but now, when they saw their Teacher silent under rebuke, they were unable to despise or resist Paul’s sentence…. Neither let this phrase disturb you, for in using it he does not condemn Peter, but so expresses himself for the benefit of those who were to be reformed by the reproof of Peter…. His object then is to remove suspicion from his rebuke; had he blamed Peter for observing the Law, the Jews would have censured him for his boldness towards their Teacher. But now arraigning him in behalf of his own peculiar disciples, I mean the Gentiles, he facilitates thereby the reception of what he has to say which he also does by abstaining from reproof of the others, and addressing it all to the Apostle. ‘If you,’ he says, ‘being a Jew, livest as do the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews;’ which almost amounts to an explicit exhortation to imitate their Teacher, who, himself a Jew, lived after the manner of the Gentiles. This however he says not, for they could not have received such advice, but under color of reproving him in behalf of the Gentiles, he discloses Peter’s real sentiments.”

2:15-17 ” We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not!” Works of the law refer to circumcision, abstinence from “unclean” food, ritual washings, etc., not to obedience to the moral law. This passage does not support sola fide. Moreover, it indirectly makes the point I made above: just because the apostles “were found to be sinners” just like the rest of us doesn’t mean that they had any less authority from Christ.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Observe here too how cautiously he expresses himself; he does not say that they had abandoned the Law as evil, but as weak. If the law cannot confer righteousness, it follows that circumcision is superfluous; and so far he now proves; but he proceeds to show that it is not only superfluous but dangerous. It deserves special notice, how at the outset he says that a man is not justified by the works of the Law; but as he proceeds he speaks more strongly…. Wherefore do you urge this upon Peter, who is more intimately acquainted with it than any one? Hath not God declared to him, that an uncircumcised man ought not to be judged by circumcision; and did he not in his discussion with the Jews rest his bold opposition upon the vision which he saw? Did he not send from Jerusalem unequivocal decrees upon this subject? Paul’s object is not therefore to correct Peter, but his animadversion required to be addressed to him, though it was pointed at the disciples; and not only at the Galatians, but also at others who labor under the same error with them. For though few are now circumcised, yet, by fasting and observing the sabbath with the Jews, they equally exclude themselves from grace…. If it ought to be kept, those who keep it not are transgressors, and Christ will be found to be the cause of this transgression, for He annulled the Law as regards these things Himself, and bid others annul it. Do you not understand what these Judaizers are compassing? They would make Christ, who is to us the Author of righteousness, the Author of sin, as Paul says, ‘Therefore Christ is the minister of sin.’ Having thus reduced the proposition to an absurdity, he had nothing further to do by way of overthrowing it….”

2:19-21 “For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.” This passage is reminscent of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I encourage you to read my commentary on that letter.
Forgiveness for our sins comes only through grace and faith. In receiving this forgivessness, we become justified before God. But to ultimately enter heaven, we must be not only forgiven but obedient and love God,  doing the good works He has ordained for us to do.
Do not mistake these words of Paul to be saying that the Christian need not be obedient to God’s moral law, for later in this same letter he condemns the Galatians for their abandonment of the faith in returning to do evil, questioning whether they are saved (3:2-5; 4:8-11).
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here observe, how guardedly he assails it; he says not, ‘the Law is dead to me;’ but, ‘I am dead to the Law;’ the meaning of which is, that, as it is impossible for a dead corpse to obey the commands of the Law, so also is it for me who have perished by its curse, for by its word am I slain. Let it not therefore lay commands on the dead, dead by its own act, dead not in body only, but in soul, which has involved the death of the body…. He adds the cause of his living, and shows that when alive the Law slew him, but that when dead Christ through death restored him to life. He shows the wonder to be twofold; that by Christ both the dead was begotten into life, and that by means of death. He here means the immortal life…. In these words, ‘I am crucified with Christ,’ he alludes to Baptism and in the words ‘nevertheless I live, yet not I,’ our subsequent manner of life whereby our members are mortified. By saying ‘Christ lives in me,’ he means nothing is done by me, which Christ disapproves; for as by death he signifies not what is commonly understood, but a death to sin; so by life, he signifies a delivery from sin. For a man cannot live to God, otherwise than by dying to sin; and as Christ suffered bodily death, so does Paul a death to sin. ‘Mortify,’ says he, ‘your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion’ (Colossians 3:5), and again, ‘our old man was crucified’ (Romans 6:6) which took place in the Bath. After which, if you remain dead to sin, you live to God, but if you let it live again, you are the ruin of your new life.”

3:2-5 ” Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain? — if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” In chapter 3, Paul continues to emphasize faith and denounce the works of the law. Again, works of the law refer specifically to circumcision, abstinence from “unclean” food, ritual washings, etc., not to obedience to the moral law. This passage does not support sola fide.
It is true though that one cannot earn or merit the Spirit, which is supplied to us in grace. But this fact does not mean that our freely chosen behavior has no bearing on our eternal fate and on whether our faith is a living faith that saves or a dead “faith” that does not.
Moreover, notice that Paul is questioning whether the Galatians are really saved. He points out the possibility that someone could begin with the Spirit (be saved) and then end with the flesh (lose salvation/be damned). He poses the possibility that the Galatians experienced the grace and power of God in vain (again, lost their salvation).
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here he passes to another subject; in the former chapters he had shown himself not to be an Apostle of men, nor by men, nor in want of Apostolic instruction. Now, having established his authority as a teacher, he proceeds to discourse more confidently, and draws a comparison between faith and the Law…. Here again he seasonably interposes a rebuke; time, he says, should have brought improvement; but, so far from advancing, you have even retrograded. Those who start from small beginnings make progress to higher things; you, who began with the high, have relapsed to the low. Even had your outset been carnal, your advance should have been spiritual, but now, after starting from things spiritual, you have ended your journey in that which is carnal; for to work miracles is spiritual, but to be circumcised is carnal…. This remark is far more piercing than the former, for the remembrance of their miracles would not be so powerful as the exhibition of their contests and endurance of sufferings for Christ’s sake. All that you have endured, says he, these men would strip you of, and would rob you of your crown. Then, lest he should dismay and unnerve, he proceeds not to a formal judgment, but subjoins, ‘if it be indeed in vain;’ if you have but a mind to shake off drowsiness and recover yourselves, he says, it is not in vain. Where then be those who would cut off repentance? Here were men who had received the Spirit, worked miracles, become confessors, encountered a thousand perils and persecutions for Christ’s sake, and after so many achievements had fallen from grace; nevertheless he says, if you have the purpose, you may recover yourselves.”

3:9-14 “So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live;’ but the law does not rest on faith, for ‘He who does them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’ — that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” This passage is also reminscent of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I encourage you to read my commentary on that letter.
No one is justified by the law because no one abides “by all the things written in the book of the law,” and thus everyone is “under a curse” of death. It is through faith, the Spirit, and Jesus that we can receive forgiveness for our sins and thus be justified. But to ultimately enter heaven, we must not only be forgiven but obedient and love God, doing the good works He has ordained for us to do. To enter the kingdom, we must abandon evil and strictly obey the law after our former sins have been forgiven through faith and baptism. We are not to return to our former evil; otherwise, we will be rejecting faith and God’s promise and cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
But again, do not mistake these words of Paul to be saying that the Christian need not be obedient to God’s moral law, for in this same letter he condemns the Galatians for their abandonment of the faith in returning to do evil, questioning whether they are saved (3:2-5; 4:8-11).
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.

3:19-20 “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one; but God is one.” The law was given to restrain men from sinning through fear and threats until Jesus could come to offer forgiveness and change our hearts. But forgiveness cannot be given to those who unrepentantly persevere in transgressions of the moral law, even though they accepted forgiveness in faith in the beginning.
Again, do not mistake these words of Paul to be saying that the Christian need not be obedient to God’s moral law, for in this same letter he condemns the Galatians for their abandonment of the faith in returning to do evil, questioning whether they are saved (3:2-5; 4:8-11).
Paul tells us that the law was not given to us directly by God but through an intermediary, namely Moses. But salvation from sin through grace and forgiveness was given to us directly by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ through the Incarnation. But of course, Jesus no longer walks the earth (least not visibly), so His apostles and their successors did and do indeed serve as intermediaries and servants of God. This apostolic ministry is clearly present in Scripture. Protestants may be tempted to twist the above verses into saying that this apostolic/sacramental ministry and the priesthood doesn’t really exist. But even Paul acts as an intermediary in 2 Corinthians (2:5-11) when he forgives sins in the person of Jesus Christ.
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “This remark again is not superfluous; observe too how he glances round at every thing, as if he had an hundred eyes. Having exalted Faith, and proved its elder claims, that the Law may not be considered superfluous, he sets right this side of the doctrine also, and proves that the Law was not given without a view, but altogether profitably. ‘Because of transgressions;’ that is to say, that the Jews might not be let live carelessly, and plunge into the depth of wickedness, but that the Law might be placed upon them as a bridle, guiding, regulating, and checking them from transgressing, if not all, at least some of the commandments. Not slight then was the advantage of the Law; but for how long?”

3:21-22 “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” The law and the promises of God are not in opposition to each other. They complement each other and both work toward the same end. But the law in itself  cannot make a sinner righteous; it merely defines what righteousness is and what evil is. And Scripture tells us how everyone is under the dominion of sin and death, or rather, was under their dominion until the death and resurrection of Jesus and the beginning of the Christian faith. Thus righteousness comes from both obedience to the law (which none have done perfectly) and from forgiveness, through faith alone, of unrighteousness. God did not intend for the law alone to make men righteous or to fulfill His promises. It was not in the nature of law to do such things.
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “If we had our hope of life in the Law, and our salvation depended on it, the objection might be valid. But if it save you, by means of Faith, though it brings you under the curse, you suffer nothing from it, gain no harm, in that Faith comes and sets all right. Had the promise been by the Law, you had reasonably feared lest, separating from the Law, you should separate from righteousness, but if it was given in order to shut up all, that is, to convince all and expose their individual sins, far from excluding you from the promises, it now aids you in obtaining them….. As the Jews were not even conscious of their own sins, and in consequence did not even desire remission; the Law was given to probe their wounds, that they might long for a physician. And the word ‘shut up’ means ‘convinced’ and conviction held them in fear. You see then it is not only not against, but was given for the promises. Had it arrogated to itself the work and the authority, the objection would stand; but if its drift is something else, and it acted for that, how is it against the promises of God? Had the Law not been given, all would have been wrecked upon wickedness, and there would have been no Jews to listen to Christ; but now being given, it has effected two things; it has schooled its followers in a certain degree of virtue, and has pressed on them the knowledge of their own sins. And this especially made them more zealous to seek the Son, for those who disbelieved, disbelieved from having no sense of their own sins, as Paul shows; ‘For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God’ (Romans 10:3).”

3:23-27 “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The law was meant to restrain our evil until faith in Jesus could come to bring forgiveness and transform our lives. The law has not been abolished and we are still bound to obey the law (as interpretted and modified by the authority of Jesus, the apostles, and their successors). But we are no longer “under” the law in the sense of condemnation. Through faith and baptism together, we have been freed from sin and from death, which is the just punishment for our breaking the law. After faith and baptism, we are sons of God and thus must choose to act accordingly. But if after faith and baptism we again sin and break the law, losing our faith in effect, we have to return to the faith in repentance to receive forgiveness again.
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here he clearly puts forward what I have stated: for the expressions “we were kept” and “shut up,” signify nothing else than the security given by the commandments of the Law; which like a fortress fenced them round with fear and a life conformable to itself, and so preserved them unto Faith. Now the Tutor is not opposed to the Preceptor, but cooperates with him, ridding the youth from all vice, and having all leisure to fit him for receiving instructions from his Preceptor. But when the youth’s habits are formed, then the Tutor leaves him…. The Law then, as it was our tutor, and we were kept shut up under it, is not the adversary but the fellow-worker of grace; but if when grace has come, it continues to hold us down, it becomes an adversary; for if it confines those who ought to go forward to grace, then it is the destruction of our salvation. If a candle which gave light by night, kept us, when it became day, from the sun, it would not only not benefit, it would injure us; and so does the Law, if it stands between us and greater benefits. Those then are the greatest traducers of the Law, who still keep it, just as the tutor makes a youth ridiculous, by retaining him with himself, when time calls for his departure.”

3:28-29 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” This popular verse is often take out of context and twisted by liberals to rationalize sexual depravity, perversion, and egalitarianism. But these verses are about a spiritual reality, not a social or political reality. When it comes to the promises of God, the inheritance of the kingdom, then distinctions such as Paul cites have no relevance. But when it comes to the law, the Jew has something superior to Greek laws, as Paul implies elsewhere. And when it comes to work and labor, the slave (or servant, more precisely) is the inferior to the free master and must obey, as Paul says elsewhere. And when it comes to the family, the husband is the authoritative head of the household, as Paul says elsewhere. National origin, social or economic status, and sex have no bearing on whether we belong to Christ or not, whether we are Abraham’s offspring or not, whether we will inherit the promise of eternal life or not. This theological fact is why Christianity transcends nationality, class, and sex (and could never embrace Marxism). This fact is also the origin of international law, the abolition of chattel slavery, Christian humility and magnanimity, and legitimate forms social and political equality.
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.

4:1-7 “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.” The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of these first verses of Chapter 4. One can see clearly here that Paul does not mean to say that the moral law is no longer binding on Christians. He clarifies his previous words by explaining further the analogy he started in 3:15, 24-26. The law is meant especially for those who have not yet reached spiritual  maturity in faith, obedience, and sonship. But just because one reaches maturity, that doesn’t mean the law is no longer binding. It merely means that a mature person is already faithful, obedient, and worthy to be called a son of God.

4:8-11 “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.” Notice that St. Paul clearly says that the Christian can turn back to evil and become the slave of sin once more, as he or she was before becoming a Christian and receiving baptism. Because this spiritual backsliding and betrayal is possible, Paul fears that his labor to save the souls of the Galatians has been in vain. He fears that those who once accepted the gospel and were baptized have now abandoned the faith by their actions and will not be saved.
The reference to “days, and months, and seasons, and years” likely refers to Jewish observances, festivals, and holy days. It is also a reflection of the early Christian belief that Jesus would return again very soon, which did not happen.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Observe the tender compassion of the Apostle; they were shaken and he trembles and fears. And hence he has put it so as thoroughly to shame them, I have bestowed labor upon you, saying, as it were, make not vain the labors which have cost me sweat and pain. By saying I fear, and subjoining the word lest, he both inspires alarm, and encourages good hope. He says not I have labored in vain, but lest, which is as much as to say, the wreck has not happened, but I see the storm big with it; so I am in fear, yet not in despair; you have the power to set all right, and to return into your former calm.”

4:12 “Brethren, I beseech you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” In his letters, Paul often implores Christians to imitate himself. It is these Scriptural exhortations to imitation that justify the Catholic practice of canonizing, venerating, and imitating saints.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “This is addressed to his Jewish disciples, and he brings his own example forward, to induce them thereby to abandon their old customs. Though you had none other for a pattern, he says, to look at me only would have sufficed for such a change, and for your taking courage. Therefore gaze on me; I too was once in your state of mind, especially so; I had a burning zeal for the Law; yet afterwards I feared not to abandon the Law, to withdraw from that rule of life. And this you know full well how obstinately I clung hold of Judaism, and how with yet greater force I let it go. He does well to place this last in order: for most men, though they are given a thousand reasons, and those just ones, are more readily influenced by that which is like their own case, and more firmly hold to that which they see done by others.

4:12-13 “You did me no wrong; you know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first….” The gospel was preached in person first and foremost. Paul’s letters came after the gospel has already been preached to certain people and churches had already been established. The written word was NOT the primary mode of spreading the gospel and teaching Christian doctrines.

4:15-17 “What has become of the satisfaction you felt? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.” Here again implicitly, Paul is questioning why the Galatians have abandoned the one, true faith, especially since their fervor for the faith and loyalty to Paul was such that they would have plucked out their own eyes, if it had been necessary (reminscent of Christ’s “command” if our eyes should cause us to sin). Now they have fallen so far as to even become the “enemy” of Paul perhaps. He makes mention briefly and vaguely of others who, for their own pride and self-interest, wish to isolate the Galatian Christians from the Church.

4:19-20 “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you! I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” Paul calls the Galatian Christians his children because he was their father in faith. Thus why Catholics call their priests, bishops, and pope “father.” (In fact, the title “pope” derives from the Greek and Latin for “father” or “tutor.”) Why is Paul in travail and perplexion? Because the Galatian Christians are falling away from the faith and may not enter the kingdom despite Paul’s labor on their behalf.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Observe his perplexity and perturbation, Brethren, I beseech you: My little children, of whom I am again in travail: He resembles a mother trembling for her children. Until Christ be formed in you. Behold his paternal tenderness, behold this despondency worthy of an Apostle. Observe what a wail he utters, far more piercing than of a woman in travail—You have defaced the likeness, you have destroyed the kinship, you have changed the form, you need another regeneration and refashioning; nevertheless I call you children, abortions and monsters though you be. However, he does not express himself in this way, but spares them, unwilling to strike, and to inflict wound upon wound…. Observe his warmth, his inability to refrain himself, and to conceal these his feelings; such is the nature of love; nor is he satisfied with words, but desires to be present with them, and so, as he says, to change his voice, that is, to change to lamentation, to shed tears, to turn every thing into mourning. For he could not by letter show his tears or cries of grief, and therefore he ardently desires to be present with them.”

4:30-31, 5:1 “But what does the scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Freedom and Christianity are not at odds; in fact, the latter leads to the former. Without Christ, no one can be free.
To sin again after one has become a Christian through baptism is to “submit again to a yoke of slavery,” to lose one’s sonship, and thus to forfeit one’s inheritance of eternal life. How does one avoid the slavery of sin again? By being steadfast in obedience to the faith and the moral law.
Paul tells an elaborate analogy using Abraham’s wives (4:21-31) in order to illustrate the point he has been making over and over again in this letter. This analogy also blunts the force of his condemnation of the Galatians sinfulness and apostasy, but his condemnation is still clear for those who approach his words from the correct perspective.

5:2-6 “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” As long as one is a religious Jew (represented here by circumcision), one is bound to keep the whole law with all its ritual observances. But one should not remain a Jew; one should accept Jesus Christ and His law of faith, love, and obedience. Unless one becomes a Christian through faith, one’s sins cannot be forgiven. All have sinned (besides Jesus, Mary, and perhaps John the Baptist), and the law does not forgive sins. To know and embrace the Christian faith and then to return to Jewish rituals like circumcision is to fall away from grace.
The passage is not a condemnation of circumcision in itself; it merely has no spiritual advantage. Peter, Paul, and other Jewish converts were circumcised in their youth; Christ (who Himself was circumcised) was of great advantage to them, and they were not bound to keep the whole law of the Old Testament. I believe there are also hygenic and health advantages to circumcision.
Lastly, notice that Paul says “faith working through love” is effective, of advantage, and of righteousness. He does not say faith alone but a faith that works loving acts.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “How then shall Christ profit them nothing? For he has not supported this by argument, but only declared it, the credence due to his authority, compensating, as it were, for all subsequent proof…. Having established his point, he at length declares their danger of the severest punishment. When a man recurs to the Law, which cannot save him, and falls from grace, what remains but an inexorable retribution, the Law being powerless, and grace rejecting him? Thus having aggravated their alarm, and disquieted their mind, and shown them all the shipwreck they were about to suffer, he opens to them the haven of grace which was near at hand. This is ever his wont, and he shows that in this quarter salvation is easy and secure…. Having before said that Circumcision was hurtful, how is it that he now considers it indifferent? It is indifferent as to those who had it previously to the Faith, but not as to those who are circumcised after the Faith was given. Observe too the view in which he places it, by setting it by the side of Uncircumcision; it is Faith that makes the difference. As in the selection of wrestlers, whether they be hook-nosed or flat-nosed, black or white, is of no importance in their trial, it is only necessary to seek that they be strong and skilful; so all these bodily accidents do not injure one who is to be enrolled under the New Covenant, nor does their presence assist him. What is the meaning of ‘working through love?’ Here he gives them a hard blow, by showing that this error had crept in because the love of Christ had not been rooted within them. For to believe is not all that is required, but also to abide in love. It is as if he had said, Had you loved Christ as you ought, you would not have deserted to bondage, nor abandoned Him who redeemed you, nor treated with contumely Him who gave you freedom. Here he also hints at those who have plotted against them, implying that they would not have dared to do so, had they felt affection towards them. He wishes too by these words to correct their course of life.”

5:7-8 ” You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you.” St. Paul often compares salvation to running a race. Thus Paul is implicitly telling the Galation Christians that they were on the right path to salvation until they became disobedient, until they stopped “obeying the truth.” Notice the past tense. Their salvation is now much more uncertain.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “This is not an interrogation, but an expression of doubt and sorrow. How has such a course been cut short? Who has been able to do this? You who were superior to all and in the rank of teachers, have not even continued in the position of disciples. What has happened? Who could do this? These are rather the words of one who is exclaiming and lamenting, as he said before, ‘Who did bewitch you?’ (Galatians 3:1). He who called you, called you not to such fluctuations….”

5:10 “I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.” St. Paul asserts his authority over doctrine and heretics.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “I have good hopes, partly because of the Lord who suffers nothing, however trivial, to perish, partly because of you who are quickly to recover yourselves. At the same time he exhorts them to use diligence on their own parts, it not being possible to obtain aid from God, if our own efforts are not contributed. Not only by words of encouragement, but by uttering a curse or a prophecy against their teachers, he applies to them an incentive. And observe that he never mentions the name of these plotters, that they might not become more shameless. His meaning is as follows. Not because ‘you will be none otherwise minded,’ are the authors of your seduction relieved from punishment. They shall be punished….”

5:13-18 “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” When St. Paul refers to not being “under the law” throughout his letters, he does not mean that the law has been abolished for the Christian but that the law no longer condemns those who receive forgiveness through faith and repentance. Notice what Paul is really saying here to the Galatian Christians: you will be back under the condemnation of the law if you “use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,” “if you bite and devour one another,” if you “gratify the desires of the flesh.” The Christian must be holy; otherwise, salvation is lost and repentance is necessary to gain forgiveness again. Certain mortal sins rupture our relationship with God and take away our salvation. Which sins? St. Paul tells us in the following verses (19-21).
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Henceforward he appears to digress into a moral discourse, but in a new manner, which does not occur in any other of his Epistles. For all of them are divided into two parts, and in the first he discusses doctrine, in the last the rule of life, but here, after having entered upon the moral discourse, he again unites with it the doctrinal part. For this passage has reference to doctrine in the controversy with the Manichees. What is the meaning of, ‘Use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh?’ Christ has delivered us, he says, from the yoke of bondage, He has left us free to act as we will, not that we may use our liberty for evil, but that we may have ground for receiving a higher reward, advancing to a higher philosophy. Lest any one should suspect, from his calling the Law over and over again a yoke of bondage, and a bringing on of the curse, that his object in enjoining an abandonment of the Law, was that one might live lawlessly, he corrects this notion, and states his object to be, not that our course of life might be lawless, but that our philosophy might surpass the Law. For the bonds of the Law are broken, and I say this not that our standard may be lowered, but that it may be exalted. For both he who commits fornication, and he who leads a virgin life, pass the bounds of the Law, but not in the same direction; the one is led away to the worse, the other is elevated to the better; the one transgresses the Law, the other transcends it. Thus Paul says that Christ has removed the yoke from you, not that you may prance and kick, but that though without the yoke you may proceed at a well-measured pace…. Here again he hints that strife and party-spirit, love of rule and presumptousness, had been the causes of their error, for the desire of rule is the mother of heresies. By saying, ‘Be servants one to another,’ he shows that the evil had arisen from this presumptuous and arrogant spirit, and therefore he applies a corresponding remedy. As your divisions arose from your desire to domineer over each other, ‘serve one another;’ thus will you be reconciled again. However, he does not openly express their fault, but he openly tells them its corrective, that through this they may become aware of that; as if one were not to tell an immodest person of his immodesty, but were continually to exhort him to chastity. He that loves his neighbor as he ought, declines not to be servant to him more humbly than any servant. As fire, brought into contact with wax, easily softens it, so does the warmth of love dissolve all arrogance and presumption more powerfully than fire. Wherefore he says not, ‘love one another,’ merely, but, ‘be servants one to another,’ thus signifying the intensity of the affection. When the yoke of the Law was taken off them that they might not caper off and away another was laid on, that of love, stronger than the former, yet far lighter and pleasanter…. That he may not distress them, he does not assert this, though he knew it was the case, but mentions it ambiguously. For he does not say, ‘Inasmuch as you bite one another,’ nor again does he assert, in the clause following, that they shall be consumed by each other; but ‘take heed that you be not consumed one of another,’ and this is the language of apprehension and warning, not of condemnation. And the words which he uses are expressly significant; he says not merely, ‘you bite,’ which one might do in a passion, but also ‘you devour,’ which implies a bearing of malice. To bite is to satisfy the feeling of anger, but to devour is a proof of the most savage ferocity. The biting and devouring he speaks of are not bodily, but of a much more cruel kind; for it is not such an injury to taste the flesh of man, as to fix one’s fangs in his soul. In proportion as the soul is more precious than the body, is damage to it more serious. ‘Take heed that you be not consumed one of another.’ For those who commit injury and lay plots, do so in order to destroy others; therefore he says, Take heed that this evil fall not on your own heads. For strife and dissensions are the ruin and destruction as well of those who admit as of those who introduce them, and eats out every thing worse than a moth does…. Here he points out another path which makes duty easy, and secures what had been said, a path whereby love is generated, and which is fenced in by love. For nothing, nothing I say, renders us so susceptible of love, as to be spiritual, and nothing is such an inducement to the Spirit to abide in us, as the strength of love. Therefore he says, ‘Walk by the Spirit and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh:’ having spoken of the cause of the disease, he likewise mentions the remedy which confers health…. Here some make the charge that the Apostle has divided man into two parts, and that he states the essence of which he is compounded to be conflicting with itself, and that the body has a contest with the soul. But this is not so, most certainly; for by ‘the flesh,’ he does not mean the body; if he did, what would be the sense of the clause immediately following, ‘for it lusts,’ he says, ‘against the Spirit?’ yet the body moves not, but is moved, is not an agent, but is acted upon. How then does it lust, for lust belongs to the soul not to the body…. It is the earthly mind, slothful and careless, that he here calls the flesh, and this is not an accusation of the body, but a charge against the slothful soul. The flesh is an instrument, and no one feels aversion and hatred to an instrument, but to him who abuses it. For it is not the iron instrument but the murderer, whom we hate and punish. But it may be said that the very calling of the faults of the soul by the name of the flesh is in itself an accusation of the body. And I admit that the flesh is inferior to the soul, yet it too is good, for that which is inferior to what is good may itself be good, but evil is not inferior to good, but opposed to it…. Again, the Scripture is wont to give the name of the Flesh to the Mysteries of the Eucharist, and to the whole Church, calling them the Body of Christ (Colossians 1:24). Nay, to induce you to give the name of blessings to the things of which the flesh is the medium, you have only to imagine the extinction of the senses, and you will find the soul deprived of all discernment, and ignorant of what it before knew. For if the power of God is since ‘the creation of the world clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made’ (Romans 1:20), how could we see them without eyes? And if ‘faith comes of hearing’ (Romans 10:17), how shall we hear without ears? And preaching depends on making circuits wherein the tongue and feet are employed. ‘For how shall they preach, except they be sent?’ (Romans 10:15). In the same way writing is performed by means of the hands. Do you not see that the ministry of the flesh produces for us a thousand benefits? In his expression, ‘the flesh lusts against the Spirit,’ he means two mental states. For these are opposed to each other, namely virtue and vice, not the soul and the body. Were the two latter so opposed they would be destructive of one another, as fire of water, and darkness of light. But if the soul cares for the body, and takes great forethought on its account, and suffers a thousand things in order not to leave it, and resists being separated from it, and if the body too ministers to the soul, and conveys to it much knowledge, and is adapted to its operations, how can they be contrary, and conflicting with each other? For my part, I perceive by their acts that they are not only not contrary but closely accordant and attached one to another. It is not therefore of these that he speaks as opposed to each other, but he refers to the contest of bad and good principles (cf. Romans 7:23). To will and not to will belongs to the soul; wherefore he says, ‘these are contrary the one to the other,’ that you may not suffer the soul to proceed in its evil desires. For he speaks this like a Master and Teacher in a threatening way…. If it be asked in what way are these two connected, I answer, closely and plainly; for he that has the Spirit as he ought, quenches thereby every evil desire, and he that is released from these needs no help from the Law, but is exalted far above its precepts. He who is never angry, what need has he to hear the command, You shall not kill? He who never casts unchaste looks, what need has he of the admonition, You shall not commit adultery? Who would discourse about the fruits of wickedness with him who had plucked up the root itself? For anger is the root of murder, and of adultery the inquisitive gazing into faces…. But we are not on that account obliged to continue apart with our schoolmaster. Then we were justly subject to the Law, that by fear we might chasten our lusts, the Spirit not being manifested; but now that grace is given, which not only commands us to abstain from them, but both quenches them, and leads us to a higher rule of life, what more need is there of the Law? He who has attained an exalted excellence from an inner impulse, has no occasion for a schoolmaster, nor does any one, if he is a philosopher, require a grammarian.”

5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” St. Paul says very plainly that Christians who do such things (and then do not repent) will not enter heaven. Actions matter, not just mental assent to the content of the faith.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Answer me now, you that accusest your own flesh, and supposest that this is said of it as of an enemy and adversary. Let it be allowed that adultery and fornication proceed, as you assert, from the flesh; yet hatred, variance, emulations, strife, heresies, and witchcraft, these arise merely from a depraved moral choice. And so it is with the others also, for how can they belong to the flesh? You observe that he is not here speaking of the flesh, but of earthly thoughts, which trail upon the ground. Wherefore also he alarms them by saying, that ‘they which practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.’ If these things belonged to nature and not to a bad moral choice, his expression, ‘they practice,’ is inappropriate, it should be, ‘they suffer.’ And why should they be cast out of the kingdom, for rewards and punishments relate not to what proceeds from nature but from choice?”

5:22-26 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.” Again, Paul says that only those who are “led by the Spirit” and thus produce “the fruit of the Spirit” will not be condemned by the law of God, which is still in force for Christians. Only those who have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” belong to Christ; those who do not resist the flesh do not belong to Christ.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And why does he say, ‘the fruit of the Spirit?’ it is because evil works originate in ourselves alone, and therefore he calls them ‘works,’ but good works require not only our diligence but God’s loving kindness…. For who would lay any command on him who has all things within himself, and who has love for the finished mistress of philosophy? As horses, who are docile and do every thing of their own accord, need not the lash, so neither does the soul, which by the Spirit has attained to excellence, need the admonitions of the Law. Here too he completely and strikingly casts out the Law, not as bad, but as inferior to the philosophy given by the Spirit…. That they might not object, ‘And who is such a man as this?’ he points out by their works those who have attained to this perfection, here again giving the name of the ‘flesh’ to evil actions. He does not mean that they had destroyed their flesh, otherwise how were they going to live? For that which is crucified is dead and inoperative, but he indicates the perfect rule of life. For the desires, although they are troublesome, rage in vain. Since then such is the power of the Spirit, let us live therein and be content therewith…. ‘If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk,’ — being governed by His laws. For this is the force of the words ‘let us walk,’ that is, let us be content with the power of the Spirit, and seek no help from the Law.”

6:1 “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” If anyone is sinning, including those within the Christian community, the true Christian should seek to restore that person to the path of holiness. After he has repented, sinner should be restored to full communion with the Church community. All this is to be done in a spirit of gentleness and humility, for we are all sinners and sometimes succumb to sin ourselves.
But more importantly, notice that Paul says that the Christian may actually be “overtaken” by sin and thus lose the salvation he had.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He said not if a man commit but if he be ‘overtaken’ that is, if he be carried away. He says not ‘chastise’ nor ‘judge,’ but ‘set right.’ Nor does he stop here, but in order to show that it behooved them to be very gentle towards those who had lost their footing, he subjoins, ‘In a spirit of meekness.’ He says not, ‘in meekness,’ but, ‘in a spirit of meekness,’ signifying thereby that this is acceptable to the Spirit, and that to be able to administer correction with mildness is a spiritual gift. Then, to prevent the one being unduly exalted by having to correct the other, puts him under the same fear, saying, ‘Looking to yourself, lest you also be tempted.'”

6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Christians can help other Christians bear the burdens of sin and repentance. In fact, this is what indulgences are. The Church absolves some Christians from the temporal consequences of sin and requirements of repentance (penance) because the saints/those in heaven can bear the burdens of other members of the Body who have not yet attained eternal life.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “It being impossible for man to be without failings, he exhorts them not to scrutinize severely the offenses of others, but even to bear their failings, that their own may in turn be borne by others. As, in the building of a house, all the stones hold not the same position, but one is fitted for a corner but not for the foundations, another for the foundations, and not for the corner so too is it in the body of the Church. The same thing holds in the frame of our own flesh; notwithstanding which, the one member bears with the other, and we do not require every thing from each, but what each contributes in common constitutes both the body and the building. For example, this man is irascible, you are dull-tempered; bear therefore with his vehemence that he in turn may bear with your sluggishness; and thus neither will he transgress, being supported by you, nor will you offend in the points where your defects lie, because of your brother’s forbearing with you. So do you by reaching forth a hand one to another when about to fall, fulfil the Law in common, each completing what is wanting in his neighbor by his own endurance. But if you do not thus, but each of you will investigate the faults of his neighbor, nothing will ever be performed by you as it ought. For as in the case of the body, if one were to exact the same function from every member of it, the body could never consist, so must there be great strife among brethren if we were to require all things from all.”

6:7-10 “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Protestants deceive others and mock God if/when they say that the Christian who persists in mortal sin can still by saved by “faith alone.” There can be no co-existence between “the flesh” (sin) and the Spirit, as Paul says earlier in 5:17. The Christian must sow good works to reap eternal life. But if the Christian “lose[s] heart,” he will lose his salvation too. And notice Paul includes himself in these teachings by saying “we.”

6:15-16 “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.” I quote this verse to contradict Christian Zionists. The Christian Church, those who care nothing about circumcision but are a new creation, is the new Israel of God. Replacement theology is true theology.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “This our rule of life he calls ‘a new creature,’ both on account of what is past, and of what is to come; of what is past, because our soul, which had grown old with the oldness of sin, has been all at once renewed by baptism, as if it had been created again. Wherefore we require a new and heavenly rule of life. And of things to come, because both the heaven and the earth, and all the creation, shall with our bodies be translated into incorruption. Tell me not then, he says, of circumcision, which now avails nothing; (for how shall it appear, when all things have undergone such a change?) but seek the new things of grace. For they who pursue these things shall enjoy peace and amity, and may properly be called by the name of ‘Israel.’ While they who hold contrary sentiments, although they be descended from him (Israel) and bear his appellation, have yet fallen away from all these things, both the relationship and the name itself. But it is in their power to be true Israelites, who keep this rule, who desist from the old ways, and follow after grace.”

6:17 “Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” This is a possible reference to Paul bearing the stigmata, literally the wounds that Jesus had, on his own body. Nothing can be said for certain though.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Wherefore does he say this? It is to gird up their slothful mind, and to impress them with deeper fear, and to ratify the laws enacted by himself, and to restrain their perpetual fluctuations.”

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A Catholic Reading of 1 Corinthians

Posted by Tony Listi on November 21, 2010

Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times. This practice also makes it easier for Christians to cherry-pick the verses that they like (often out of context) and that support their denominational beliefs and to avoid verses that they don’t like and that contradict their denominational beliefs.

We Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book, carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book and author. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation.

Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be…. Plus I’m tired of Protestants telling me that I’ve never read the Bible (when I have) and that they are the “champions” of Scripture (when they aren’t).

St. Paul’s  First Letter to the Corinthians

Paul wrote this letter because he had heard disturbing reports about what was happening in the Church at Corinth and because the church had written a letter to him. These are the specific, chance circumstances that drove him to write this letter. He in no way intended this letter alone or together with his other letters and the writings of others to be the comprehensive and sole source of correct doctrine.

He addresses several specific issues:

  • divisions and factions within the Church at Corinth
  • the questions of the Corinthians regarding marriage, virginity, and food offered to idols
  • liturgical problems and disgraces regarding women’s headcoverings, the Eucharist, and various spiritual gifts like tongues
  • the theology of the Resurrection

Paul’s letter does the following things with regard to the Protestant-Catholic divide:

  • Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and tradition (1:5-7, 17, 19-21; 2:1, 4-5; 3:1-4; 5:1, 9-11; 7:1; 10:4; 11:2, 34; 15:3, 11; 16:5-7)
  • Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1; 3:1-4; 4:14-15, 17-21; 5:2-5; 9:1-18; 11:16; 12:28-31; 16:1, 15-16)
  • Contradicts the fallibilism of Protestantism (2:4-5, 10-13)
  • Affirms the necessity of the institutional and doctrinal unity of the Church (1:1, 10-13; 4:17; 7:17; 10:17; 11:17-19; 12:12-14, 20, 24-25)
  • Contradicts sola fide (3:5-9, 12-15; 6:8-11; 7:19; 9:23-27; 10:5-14; 15:1-2, 58)
  • Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (4:1-5; 9:23-27; 10:5-14; 15:1-2; 16:13)
  • Affirms the necessity of perseverance for salvation/to obtain heaven (1:8-9, 18; 9:23-27; 10:12-13; 15:2, 58; 16:13)
  • Affirms Catholics doctrines about the Eucharist (10:1-3, 16-21; 11:20-30)
  • Affirms the Catholic practice of excommunication by apostolic authority (5:2-5)
  • Affirms the Catholic belief that God uses human beings for salvific purposes (7:12-16)
  • Affirms the Catholic discipline of priestly celibacy (7:5, 25-40)
  • Affirms Catholic teaching on husband’s headship of the family (11:3; 14:33-37)
  • Affirms the absolute Catholic prohibition of divorce (7:10-11, 39)
  • Supports the primacy of Peter (9:5; 15:5)
  • Supports the authority of apostolic succession (3:10-11; 4:17-21)
  • Supports the doctrine of Purgatory and perhaps praying for the dead (3:12-15; 15:28-29)
  • Supports the Catholic belief that the saints in heaven are not mere spectators (6:1-3)
  • Supports the practice of infant baptism (1:16; 7:14)
  • Supports Catholic doctrine on the purpose of baptism (12:13)
  • Supports the Catholic practice of indulgences (5:2-5)

I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Very often, I will supplement my commentary with that of St. John Chrysostom (347-407). His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

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1 Cor 7, Being Single, and Discerning One’s Vocation

Posted by Tony Listi on November 7, 2010

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another…. Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife? Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches…. Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. If any one thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry — it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. (1 Cor 7:7, 16-17, 25-40)

Chapter 7 of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has a consoling and refocusing effect for those who take Paul’s words seriously and are single (not dating) in today’s perverse society, which seems to look down upon people who are single as inferior.

Many people often assume there is something wrong with themselves or others if they are not dating someone or haven’t dated in awhile. Sure, maybe they just haven’t found the right person. But who knows, maybe there is something “wrong.” It is just a fact that some are not as attractive as others to the opposite sex according to various criteria. But when the modern American asks, “What quality could possibly be superior to attractiveness to the opposite sex?” St. Paul answers, “Undivided devotion to the Lord” (7:35). We should not judge people based on how attractive we or others do or do not find them but rather on their devotion to the Lord.

But what about when one finds “undivided devotion to the Lord” itself to be attractive?

A nice saying that reflects this wise disposition and that I’ve seen on various Facebook profiles of young Christians (always women, I think) is something along the lines of “My beloved should be so deeply immersed in God that I have to draw closer to Him to find him/her” or rather “I want to be so immersed in God that he/she will have to draw closer to Him to find me.” But the Catholic/St. Paul commentary on this half-baked insight would be this: “Sometimes it’s best for the beloved to remain apart from you (and you from the beloved) so that one or both of you can remain so immersed or become more immersed in God and His holiness.”

There is no point in dating or marrying away from God; in fact, it’s positively harmful and sinful. I don’t think people realize how often that happens or how easily it can happen, even to the most devout men and women. This serious danger should inform the discernment of our vocations, of God’s will, of His gift and assignment to us. 

But supposing one is in fact called to marriage, one should make choices about dating and marriage primarily by how they will affect one’s spiritual life, for nothing else is more important. We should carefully and seriously discern how certain relationships with others will affect us and our relationship with God (and how it will affect the other person and their relationship with God), keeping in mind St. Paul’s warnings of the dangers inherent in erotic love and married life.

Yes, even St. Paul acknowledges that spouses can be God’s means and instruments for each other’s sanctification and salvation (7:16). But we should not think that marriage is necessarily the ideal context for such ministry. We certainly shouldn’t date or marry merely for the purpose of such ministry. Moreover, supposing the man and woman are spiritual equals, even at a very high level of holiness, we should not presume greater love and holiness will result from their combination in marriage rather than from them being single. The example of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi comes to mind.

With all this in mind, one might even say that celibacy should be the default assumption for the Christian rather than marriage. The burden of proof rests upon marriage, not celibacy. The only danger with such an assumption, as St. Paul recognizes, is that the temptation to lust is generally very strong, and so many might perish reaching for a standard that they are too weak to achieve. Still, all things are possible through the Lord who gives us strength and forgives us of all our sins each time we confess them and truly repent.

Judging by the current state of American culture, St. Paul’s words are not taken seriously enough, even in Christian circles that are supposedly fond of the Bible. There has never been a better time for us to reflect on his words and how they apply to our own lives.

Click HERE to learn more about the Historical and Scriptural evidence for celibacy, esp. for clergy.

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