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Posts Tagged ‘Scripture’

Scripture: Jesus Gave the 12 Apostles & Their Successors Authority to Forgive Sins

Posted by Tony Listi on May 7, 2014

“Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?‘ And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them…’For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk?” But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’–he then said to the paralytic–‘Rise, take up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” Mark 2:6-8/Matthew 9:5-8/Luke 5:24

 

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them…. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples….” Matthew 28:16, 18-19

 

“Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.” John 20:20-24

 

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 18:16-18

 

“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” James 5:14-16

 

 

 

And this authority of the apostolic office (including to forgive sins) was passed on to others by the laying on of hands:

“‘Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry…. For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it;” and “His office let another take.” So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these men must be ordained a witness with us to his resurrection.’ And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:16-26

 

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise your youth…. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you.” 1 Tim 4:14

 

“Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” 2 Tim 1:6

 

“Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Titus 2:15

 

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.” Col 1:24-26

 

“If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task.” 1 Tim 3:1

 

“This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you….” Titus 1:5

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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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The Most Catholic Quotes of the Early Church Fathers on Correct Scriptural Interpretation & Authority

Posted by Tony Listi on November 13, 2013

The early Church fathers rebuked many misinterpretations of Scripture and saw Church/episcopal/conciliar authority, apostolic succession, and Holy Apostolic Tradition to be essential in interpreting Scripture correctly and determining correct doctrine.

Irenaeus (130-202)

“Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love [which we have] for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.” (Against Heresies, 4, 26, 2, 5; Ch. 26 is entitled “THE TRUE EXPOSITION OF THE SCRIPTURES IS TO BE FOUND IN THE CHURCH ALONE“)

“And then shall every word also seem consistent to him, if he for his part diligently read the Scriptures in company with those who are presbyters in the Church, among whom is the apostolic doctrine, as I have pointed out.” (Against Heresies, 4, 32, 1)

“Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?” (Against Heresies 3,4, 1)

“These things, too, were preached to the Gentiles by word, without [the aid of] the Scriptures: wherefore, also, they who preached among the Gentiles underwent greater labour. But, on the other hand, the faith of the Gentiles is proved to be of a more noble description, since they followed the word of God without the instruction [derived] from the [sacred] writings (sine instructione literarum).” (Against Heresies, 4, 24, 2)

“[W]e refute them out of these Scriptures, and shut them up to a belief in the advent of the Son of God. But our faith is steadfast, unfeigned, and the only true one, having clear proof from these Scriptures, which were interpreted in the way I have related; and the preaching of the Church is without interpolation. For the apostles, since they are of more ancient date than all these [heretics], agree with this aforesaid translation; and the translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles. For Peter, and John, and Matthew, and Paul, and the rest successively, as well as their followers, did set forth all prophetical [announcements], just as the interpretation of the elders contains them.” (Against Heresies, 3, 21, 3)

True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy….” (Against Heresies, 4, 33, 8; Chapter 33 is entitled “WHOSOEVER…DILIGENTLY READS THE SCRIPTURES IN COMPANY WITH THE PRESBYTERS OF THE CHURCH, IS A TRUE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLE; AND HE WILL RIGHTLY UNDERSTAND AND INTERPRET ALL THAT THE PROPHETS HAVE DECLARED RESPECTING CHRIST AND THE LIBERTY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT”)

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce…. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth…. It comes to this, therefore, that these men [heretics] do now consent neither to Scripture or tradition” (Against Heresies 3, 2, 1-2)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215)

“Now all men, having the same judgment, some, following the Word speaking, frame for themselves proofs; while others, giving themselves up to pleasures, wrest Scripture, in accordance with their lusts…. But such people, in consequence of falling away from the right path, err in most individual points; as you might expect from not having the faculty for judging of what is true and false, strictly trained to select what is essential. For if they had, they would have obeyed the Scriptures. As, then, if a man should, similarly to those drugged by Circe, become a beast; so he, who has spurned the ecclesiastical tradition, and darted off to the opinions of heretical men, has ceased to be a man of God and to remain faithful to the Lord. But he who has returned from this deception, on hearing the Scriptures, and turned his life to the truth, is, as it were, from being a man made a god…. And if those also who follow heresies venture to avail themselves of the prophetic Scriptures; in the first place they will not make use of all the Scriptures, and then they will not quote them entire, nor as the body and texture of prophecy prescribe. But, selecting ambiguous expressions, they wrest them to their own opinions, gathering a few expressions here and there; not looking to the sense, but making use of the mere words. For in almost all the quotations they make, you will find that they attend to the names alone, while they alter the meanings; neither knowing, as they affirm, nor using the quotations they adduce, according to their true nature…. For, in consequence of not learning the mysteries of ecclesiastical knowledge, and not having capacity for the grandeur of the truth, too indolent to descend to the bottom of things, reading superficially, they have dismissed the Scriptures…. [S]o also we call those heretics empty, who are destitute of the counsels of God and the traditions of Christ…. For those are slothful who, having it in their power to provide themselves with proper proofs for the divine Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, select only what contributes to their own pleasures. And those have a craving for glory who voluntarily evade, by arguments of a diverse sort, the things delivered by the blessed apostles and teachers, which are wedded to inspired words; opposing the divine tradition by human teachings, in order to establish the heresy. For, in truth, what remained to be said— in ecclesiastical knowledge I mean— by such men, Marcion, for example, or Prodicus, and such like, who did not walk in the right way? For they could not have surpassed their predecessors in wisdom, so as to discover anything in addition to what had been uttered by them; for they would have been satisfied had they been able to learn the things laid down before. Our Gnostic [sincere seeker of truth and knowledge] then alone, having grown old in the Scriptures, and maintaining apostolic and ecclesiastic orthodoxy in doctrines, lives most correctly in accordance with the Gospel, and discovers the proofs, for which he may have made search (sent forth as he is by the Lord), from the law and the prophets. For the life of the Gnostic, in my view, is nothing but deeds and words corresponding to the tradition of the Lord.” (Stromata, Bk 7, Ch. 16)

“The liars, then, in reality are not those who for the sake of the scheme of salvation conform, nor those who err in minute points, but those who are wrong in essentials, and reject the Lord, and as far as in them lies deprive the Lord of the true teaching; who do not quote or deliver the Scriptures in a manner worthy of God and of the Lord; for the deposit rendered to God, according to the teaching of the Lord by His apostles, is the understanding and the practice of the godly tradition.” (The Stromata, Book VI, Chapter XV: “Different Degrees of Knowledge”; cf. ANF II, 509)

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. But even if a discussion from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: ‘With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?’ For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions…. [A]ll doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches— those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God…. But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs ] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,— a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed.” (The Prescription Against Heretics, chapters 19, 21, 32; ANF, Vol. III)

“Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, ‘as many as walk according to the rule,’ which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, ‘Who are you? When and whence did you come? As you are none of mine, what have you to do with that which is mine?'” (The Prescription Against Heretics, chapters 37; ANF, Vol. III)

Origen (c. 185-c. 254)

“Now the cause, in all the points previously enumerated, of the false opinions, and of the impious statements or ignorant assertions about God, appears to be nothing else than the not understanding the Scripture according to its spiritual meaning, but the interpretation of it agreeably to the mere letter. And therefore, to those who believe that the sacred books are not the compositions of men, but that they were composed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, agreeably to the will of the Father of all things through Jesus Christ, and that they have come down to us, we must point out the ways (of interpreting them) which appear (correct) to us, who cling to the standard of the heavenly Church of Jesus Christ according to the succession of the apostles.” (First Principles, 4,1:9)

“When heretics show us the canonical Scriptures, in which every Christian believes and trusts, they seem to be saying: ‘Lo, he is in the inner rooms [the word of truth]’ (Matt 24.6). But we must not believe them, nor leave the original tradition of the Church, nor believe otherwise than we have been taught by the succession in the Church of God.” (Homilies on Matthew, Homily 46, PG 13:1667)

 Lactantius (c. 240-c. 320)

“[T]hey were perverted from the right path, and corrupted the sacred writings, so that they composed for themselves a new doctrine without any root and stability. But some, enticed by the prediction of false prophets, concerning whom both the true prophets and he himself had foretold, fell away from the knowledge of God, and left the true tradition.” (The Divine Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 30; ANF, Vol. VII)

Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-368)

“For there is brought forward against us the declaration of Wisdom concerning itself, when it taught that it was created in these words: ‘The Lord created Me for the beginning of His ways’ (Prov 8:22). And, O wretched heretic! You turn the weapons granted to the Church against the Synagogue, against belief in the Church’s preaching, and distort against the common salvation of all the sure meaning of a saving doctrine. For you maintain by these words that Christ is a creature….” (On the Trinity, 12:36)

Athanasius (c. 297-373)

“But, beyond these sayings [of Scripture], let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached and the Fathers kept.” (To Serapion 1:28; after citing biblical passages concerning the deity of the Holy Spirit)

“But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power.” (Festal Letter 2:6)

“But since they allege the divine oracles [Scripture] and force on them a misinterpretation, according to their private sense, it becomes necessary to meet them just so far as to vindicate these passages, and to show that they bear an orthodox sense, and that our opponents are in error…. This then I consider the sense of this passage, and that, a very ecclesiastical sense.” (Discourse Against the Arians 1:37, 44)

“Now what has been briefly said above may suffice to show their misunderstanding of the passages they then alleged; and that of what they now allege from the Gospels they certainly give an unsound interpretation, we may easily see, if we now consider the scope of that faith which we Christians hold, and using it as a rule, apply ourselves, as the Apostle teaches, to the reading of inspired Scripture. For Christ’s enemies, being ignorant of this scope, have wandered from the way of truth, and have stumbled (Romans 9:32) on a stone of stumbling, thinking otherwise than they should think…. Had Christ’s enemies thus dwelt on these thoughts, and recognized the ecclesiastical scope as an anchor for the faith, they would not have made shipwreck of the faith, nor been so shameless as to resist those who would fain recover them from their fall, and to deem those as enemies who are admonishing them to be religious.” (Discourse Against the Arians 3:28, 58)

[H]old fast, every one, the faith we have received from the Fathers, which they who assembled at Nicæa recorded in writing, and endure not those who endeavor to innovate thereon. And however they may write phrases out of the Scripture, endure not their writings; however they may speak the language of the orthodox, yet attend not to what they say; for they speak not with an upright mind, but putting on such language like sheeps’ clothing, in their hearts they think with Arius, after the manner of the devil, who is the author of all heresies. For he too made use of the words of Scripture, but was put to silence by our Savior. For if he had indeed meant them as he used them, he would not have fallen from heaven; but now having fallen through his pride, he artfully dissembles in his speech, and oftentimes maliciously endeavours to lead men astray by the subtleties and sophistries of the Gentiles. Had these expositions of theirs proceeded from the orthodox, from such as the great Confessor Hosius, and Maximinus of Gaul, or his successor , or from such as Philogonius and Eustathius , Bishops of the East , or Julius and Liberius of Rome, or Cyriacus of Mœsia , or Pistus and Aristæus of Greece, or Silvester and Protogenes of Dacia, or Leontius and Eupsychius of Cappadocia, or Cæcilianus of Africa, or Eustorgius of Italy, or Capito of Sicily, or Macarius of Jerusalem, or Alexander of Constantinople, or Pæderos of Heraclea, or those great Bishops Meletius, Basil, and Longianus, and the rest from Armenia and Pontus, or Lupus and Amphion from Cilicia, or James and the rest from Mesopotamia, or our own blessed Alexander, with others of the same opinions as these—there would then have been nothing to suspect in their statements….” (Circular to Bishops of Egypt and Libya 8; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)

“I thought that all vain talk of all heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the Synod which was held at Nicæa. For the Faith there confessed by the Fathers according to the divine Scriptures is enough by itself at once to overthrow all impiety, and to establish the religious belief in Christ. For this reason at the present time, at the assembling of diverse synods, both in Gaul and Spain, and great Rome , all who came together, as though moved by one spirit, unanimously anathematised those who still were secretly holding with Arius, namely Auxentius of Milan, Ursacius, Valens, and Gaius of Pannonia. And they wrote everywhere, that, whereas the above-said were devising the names of synods to cite on their side, no synod should be cited in the Catholic Church save only that which was held at Nicæa, which was a monument of victory over all heresy, but especially the Arian, which was the main reason of the synod assembling when it did. How then, after all this, are some attempting to raise doubts or questions?… It is enough merely to answer such things as follows: we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this. But lest the ‘inventors of evil things’ (Romans 1:30) make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture, in case they may even thus be put to shame, and cease from these foul devices…. Now from the divine Scriptures we discover nothing of the kind. For they say that God came in a human body. But the fathers who also assembled at Nicæa say that, not the body, but the Son Himself is co-essential with the Father, and that while He is of the Essence of the Father, the body, as they admitted according to the Scriptures, is of Mary. Either then deny the Synod of Nicæa, and as heretics bring in your doctrine from the side; or, if you wish to be children of the fathers, do not hold the contrary of what they wrote.” (Letter LIX to Epictetus, 1, 3; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)

Ephraem (c. 306-373)

All the heretics acknowledge that there is a true Scripture. Had they all falsely believed that none existed, some one might reply that such Scripture was unknown to them. But now that have themselves taken away the force of such plea, from the fact that they have mutilated the very Scriptures. For they have corrupted the sacred copies; and words which ought to have but one interpretation, they have wrested to strange significations. Whilst, when one of them attempts this, and cuts off a member of his own body, the rest demand and claim back the severed limb…. It is the church which perfect truth perfects. The church of believers is great, and its bosom most ample; it embraces the fulness (or, the whole) of the two Testaments.” (Hymns Against Heresies)

Basil the Great (c. 330-379)

“The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of ‘sound doctrine’ (1 Timothy 1:10) is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. So like the debtors,— of course bona fide debtors— they clamor for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. But we will not slacken in our defence of the truth. We will not cowardly abandon the cause. The Lord has delivered to us as a necessary and saving doctrine that the Holy Spirit is to be ranked with the Father. Our opponents think differently, and see fit to divide and rend asunder, and relegate Him to the nature of a ministering spirit. Is it not then indisputable that they make their own blasphemy more authoritative than the law prescribed by the Lord? Come, then, set aside mere contention.” (The Holy Spirit, 10:25; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source? If it be granted that, as we are baptized, so also under the obligation to believe, we make our confession in like terms as our baptism, in accordance with the tradition of our baptism and in conformity with the principles of true religion, let our opponents grant us too the right to be as consistent in our ascription of glory as in our confession of faith. If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated. While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on ‘the mystery of godliness’ (1 Timothy 3:16) is so importantcan they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers;— which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches;— a word for which the arguments are strong, and which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery?” (The Holy Spirit, 27:67; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“In answer to the objection that the doxology in the form ‘with the Spirit’ has no written authority, we maintain that if there is no other instance of that which is unwritten, then this must not be received. But if the greater number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without written authority, then, in company with the many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic to abide also by the unwritten traditions. ‘I praise you,’ it is said, ‘that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you’ (1 Corinthians 11:2); and ‘Hold fast the traditions which you have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15). One of these traditions is the practice which is now before us, which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time.” (The Holy Spirit, 27:71; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more..” (The Holy Spirit 27:66)

“[T]here has appeared among you yet another innovation, throwing the brotherhood into great dejection, because, as you have informed me, certain persons are uttering, in the hearing of the faithful, novel and unfamiliar doctrines which they allege to be deduced from the teaching of Scripture…. But who has the hardihood now once again to renew by the help of sophistical arguments and, of course, by scriptural evidence, that old dogma of Valentinus, now long ago silenced?… These, brethren, are the mysteries of the Church; these are the traditions of the Fathers. Every man who fears the Lord, and is awaiting God’s judgment, I charge not to be carried away by various doctrines. If any one teaches a different doctrine, and refuses to accede to the sound words of the faith, rejecting the oracles of the Spirit, and making his own teaching of more authority than the lessons of the Gospels, of such an one beware.” (Letter 261; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“But we do not rest only on the fact that such is the tradition of the Fathers; for they too followed the sense of Scripture, and started from the evidence which, a few sentences back, I deduced from Scripture and laid before you.” (The Holy Spirit, 9:22; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning the Spirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture concerning It as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the Fathers.” (The Holy Spirit, 9:22; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

Let no one be misled by the fact of the apostle’s frequently omitting the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit when making mention of baptism, or on this account imagine that the invocation of the names is not observed. ‘As many of you,’ he says, ‘as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ;’ and again, ‘As many of you as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death.’ For the naming of Christ is the confession of the whole, showing forth as it does the God who gave, the Son who received, and the Spirit who is, the unction. So we have learned from Peter, in the Acts, of ‘Jesus of Nazareth whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 10:38); and in Isaiah, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me’ (Isaiah 60:1) and the Psalmist, ‘Therefore God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.’ Scripture, however, in the case of baptism, sometimes plainly mentions the Spirit alone. ‘For into one Spirit,’ it says, ‘we were all baptized in one body.’ And in harmony with this are the passages: ‘You shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 1:5) and ‘He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost’ (Luke 3:16). But no one on this account would be justified in calling that baptism a perfect baptism wherein only the name of the Spirit was invoked. For the tradition that has been given us by the quickening grace must remain for ever inviolate.” (The Holy Spirit, 12:28; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“On the one hand are they who confound the Persons and are carried away into Judaism; on the other hand are they that, through the opposition of the natures, pass into heathenism. Between these opposite parties inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate; the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration.” (The Holy Spirit, 30:77; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

 Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-387)

Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testament, and what those of the New. And, pray, read none of the apocryphal writings….”(Catechetical Lectures, IV, 33; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

“Now these things we teach, not of our own invention, but having learned them out of the divine Scriptures used in the Church, and chiefly from the prophecy of Daniel just now read; as Gabriel also the Archangel interpreted it, speaking thus: The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall surpass all kingdoms. And that this kingdom is that of the Romans, has been the tradition of the Church’s interpreters.” (Catechetical Lectures, XV, 13; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

“But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it, and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart , taking care while you rehearse it that no Catechumen chance to overhear the things which have been delivered to you. I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no other, neither if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching, nor if an adverse angel, transformed into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) should wish to lead you astray. For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that you have received, let him be to you anathema. (Galatians 1:8-9) So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed , and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments. Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which you now receive, and write them on the table of your heart. Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you.” (Catechetical Lectures, V, 12-13; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

“Now then let me finish what still remains to be said for the Article, ‘In one Holy Catholic Church,’ on which, though one might say many things, we will speak but briefly. It is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly ; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts…. Concerning this Holy Catholic Church Paul writes to Timothy, ‘That you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the House of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth‘ (1 Timothy 3:15)…. And while the kings of particular nations have bounds set to their authority, the Holy Church Catholic alone extends her power without limit over the whole world…. In this Holy Catholic Church receiving instruction and behaving ourselves virtuously, we shall attain the kingdom of heaven, and inherit eternal life; for which also we endure all toils, that we may be made partakers thereof from the Lord.” (Catechetical Lectures, XVIII, 23, 25, 27, 28; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Epiphanius (c. 315-403)

“[N]ot everything can be gotten from Sacred Scripture.” (Panacea Against All Heresies, 61,6; Jurgens, II, 73)

John Chrysostom (c. 345-407)

“[T]here was much also that was not written. Like that which is written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the Tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.” (Homilies on 2 Thess 4:2; commenting on 2 Thess 2:15; Jurgens II, 124)

“[I]t was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which they have delivered by unwritten tradition.” (On Acts of the Apostles, Homily 1; NPNF 1, Vol. XI)

“‘That ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.’ It appears then that he used at that time to deliver many things also not in writing, which he shows too in many other places. But at that time he only delivered them, whereas now he adds an explanation of their reason: thus both rendering the one sort, the obedient, more steadfast, and pulling down the others’ pride, who oppose themselves.” (Homily XXVI on 1 Corinthians; commenting on 1 Cor 11:2; NPNF 1, Vol. XII)

Not by letters alone did Paul instruct his disciple in his duty, but before by words also which he shows, both in many other passages, as where he says, ‘whether by word or our Epistle’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15), and especially here. Let us not therefore suppose that anything relating to doctrine was spoken imperfectly. For many things he delivered to him without writing. Of these therefore he reminds him, when he says, ‘Hold fast the form of sound words, which you have heard of me.'” (Homily III on 2 Timothy – on 2 Tim 1:13-18; NPNF 1, Vol. XIII)

“Ver. 8. ‘Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth.’ Who are these? The magicians in the time of Moses. But how is it their names are nowhere else introduced? Either they were handed down by tradition, or it is probable that Paul knew them by inspiration.” (Homily VIII on 2 Timothy; NPNF 1, Vol. XIII)

“For, ‘remember,’ he says, ‘the words of the Lord which he spake: It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (v. 35.) And where said He this? Perhaps the Apostles delivered it by unwritten tradition; or else it is plain from (recorded sayings, from) which one could infer it.” (Homily XLV on Acts 20:32; NPNF 1, Vol. XIII)

Jerome (c. 343-420)

“Don’t you know that the laying on of hands after baptism and then the invocation of the Holy Spirit is a custom of the Churches? Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as for instance the practice of dipping the head three times in the laver, and then, after leaving the water, of tasting mingled milk and honey in representation of infancy; and, again, the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord’s day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost; and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place through reason and custom. So you see we follow the practice of the Church, although it may be clear that a person was baptized before the Spirit was invoked.” (The Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8; NPNF 2, Vol. VI)

“I might spend the day in speaking to the same effect, and dry up all the streams of argument with the single Sun of the Church. But as we have already had a long discussion and the protracted controversy has wearied out the attention of our audience, I will tell you my opinion briefly and without reserve. We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.”  (The Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 28; NPNF 2, Vol. VI)

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

“To be sure, although on this matter, we cannot quote a clear example taken from the canonical Scriptures, at any rate, on this question, we are following the true thought of Scriptures when we observe what has appeared good to the universal Church which the authority of these same Scriptures recommends to you; thus, since Holy Scripture cannot be mistaken, anyone fearing to be misled by the obscurity of this question has only to consult on this same subject this very Church which the Holy Scriptures point out without ambiguity.” (Against Cresconius I:33; in Eno, 134)

[L]et the reader consult the rule of faith which he has gathered from the plainer passages of Scripture, and from the authority of the Church….” (On Christian Doctrine, 3,2:2; NPNF 1, Vol. II, 557)

“And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope, and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces.” (On Christian Doctrine, I, 39:43; NPNF 1, Vol. II, 534)

[I]f you acknowledge the supreme authority of Scripture, you should recognize that authority which from the time of Christ Himself, through the ministry of His apostles, and through a regular succession of bishops in the seats of the apostles, has been preserved to our own day throughout the whole world, with a reputation known to all.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, 33:9; NPNF 1, Vol. IV, 345)

The authority of our books [Scriptures], which is confirmed by agreement of so many nations, supported by a succession of apostles, bishops, and councils, is against you.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, 13:5; NPNF 1, Vol. IV, 201)

“As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g. the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established…. For often have I perceived, with extreme sorrow, many disquietudes caused to weak brethren by the contentious pertinacity or superstitious vacillation of some who, in matters of this kind, which do not admit of final decision by the authority of Holy Scripture, or by the tradition of the universal Church….” (Letter to Januarius, 54, 1, 1; 54, 2, 3; cf. NPNF 1, I, 301)

“For this question of baptism had not been as yet completely worked out, but yet the Church observed the most wholesome custom of correcting what was wrong, not repeating what was already given, even in the case of schismatics and heretics: she healed the wounded part, but did not meddle with what was whole. And this custom [of not re-baptizing heretics], coming, I suppose, from tradition (like many other things which are held to have been handed down under their actual sanction, because they are preserved throughout the whole Church, though they are not found either in their letters, or in the Councils of their successors),— this most wholesome custom, I say, according to the holy Cyprian, began to be what is called amended by his predecessor Agrippinus. But, according to the teaching which springs from a more careful investigation into the truth, which, after great doubt and fluctuation, was brought at last to the decision of a plenary Council….” (On Baptism, 2, 7, 12)

“[T]he custom, which is opposed to Cyprian, may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings.” (On Baptism, 5, 23, 31)

“As to the first man, the father of mankind, it is agreed by almost the entire Church that the Lord loosed him from that prison; a tenet which must be believed to have been accepted not without reason,— from whatever source it was handed down to the Churchalthough the authority of the canonical Scriptures cannot be brought forward as speaking expressly in its support, though this seems to be the opinion which is more than any other borne out by these words in the book of Wisdom (Wisdom 10:1-2).” (Letter to Evodius of Uzalis, Epistle 164:6; NPNF 1, Vol. I, 516)

“God has placed this authority first of all in his Church.” (Explanations of the Psalms, Tract 103:8, PL 37:520-521; in Congar, 392)

“But those reasons which I have here given, I have either gathered from the authority of the church, according to the tradition of our forefathers, or from the testimony of the divine Scriptures, or from the nature itself of numbers and of similitudes. No sober person will decide against reason, no Christian against the Scriptures, no peaceable person against the church.” (On the Trinity, 4,6:10; NPNF 1, Vol. III, 75)

“It is obvious; the faith allows it; the Catholic Church approves; it is true.” (Sermon 117, 6)

Theodoret of Cyr (c. 393-c. 466)

I have ever kept the faith of the apostles undefiled, and on this account alone I have cherished the hope that I shall meet with mercy on the day of the Lord’s appearing. On behalf of this faith I continue to contend against every kind of heresy; this faith I am ever giving to the nurslings of piety; by means of this faith I have metamorphosed countless wolves into sheep, and have brought them to the Savior who is the Arch-shepherd of us all. So have I learned not only from the apostles and prophets but also from the interpreters of their writings, Ignatius, Eustathius, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, John, and the rest of the lights of the world; and before these from the holy Fathers in council at Nicæa, whose confession of the faith I preserve in its integrity, like an ancestral inheritance, styling corrupt and enemies of the truth all who dare to transgress its decrees. I invoke your greatness, now that you have heard from me in these terms, to shut the mouths of my calumniators.” (To Florentius, Epistle 89; NPNF 2, Vol. III: 283)

Vincent of Lerins (d.c. 450)

“But it will be said, If the words, the sentiments, the promises of Scripture, are appealed to by the Devil and his disciples, of whom some are false apostles, some false prophets and false teachers, and all without exception heretics, what are Catholics and the sons of Mother Church to do? How are they to distinguish truth from falsehood in the sacred Scriptures? They must be very careful to pursue that course which, in the beginning of this Commonitory, we said that holy and learned men had commended to us, that is to say, they must interpret the sacred Canon according to the traditions of the Universal Church and in keeping with the rules of Catholic doctrine, in which Catholic and Universal Church, moreover, they must follow universality, antiquity, consent. And if at any time a part opposes itself to the whole, novelty to antiquity, the dissent of one or a few who are in error to the consent of all or at all events of the great majority of Catholics, then they must prefer the soundness of the whole to the corruption of a part; in which same whole they must prefer the religion of antiquity to the profaneness of novelty; and in antiquity itself in like manner, to the temerity of one or of a very few they must prefer, first of all, the general decrees, if such there be, of a Universal Council, or if there be no such, then, what is next best, they must follow the consentient belief of many and great masters. Which rule having been faithfully, soberly, and scrupulously observed, we shall with little difficulty detect the noxious errors of heretics as they arise.” (Commonitory of the Antinquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith, 70)

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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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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.”

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The Real Presence and Substance of Christ in the Eucharist

Posted by Tony Listi on January 31, 2011

Transubstantiation literally means “the change of substance.” It is not dependent on Aristotelian philosophical terminology (though it would help to know it). Transubstantiation rests upon the distinction between accidental change (outward properties are transformed) and substantial change (creation of something new altogether). The Eucharist is a supernatural substantial change in which all physical properties remain unchanged. (Water changing into ice/steam is a natural accidental change. Food changing into ATP is a natural substantial change. The multiplication of the loaves in Mt 14:19 was a supernatural accidental change.)

Weak Philosophical Objections
Transubstantiation requires a lot of faith and is grounded in Scripture. It is beyond reason but not opposed to it. If God can become Man, then it cannot be deemed impossible for bread and wine to become the real body and blood of Jesus. If God can become incarnate (become part of the material world) in order to save the world from sin, then the materials of bread and wine can become God in order to fill us with grace.

Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist
John 6:47:63,66
“ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from Heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘TRULY, TRULY, I say to you, UNLESS you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food INDEED, and my blood is drink INDEED. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so HE WHO EATS ME will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from Heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.’ This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.’… After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.”

James Cardinal Gibbons comments on what is so plain: “If the Eucharist were merely commemorative bread and wine, instead of being superior, it would really be inferior to the manna; for the manna was supernatural, heavenly, miraculous food, while bread and wine are a natural, earthly food….” Of course, Jesus says that the bread (who He is) is superior.

Among the Jews of Jesus’ time, the phrase ‘eat the flesh’ was a metaphor for a grievous injury. It is obvious that our Lord did not use the phrase in this sense (which would have been nonsensical), so it is altogether reasonable to conclude that he intended a literal meaning. When Protestants claim that Jesus meant only to “believe” in him, or to “accept” him spiritually and symbolically by faith, they are violating their own hermeneutical tenet of interpreting Scripture according to the Jewish customs, idioms, and usages of the time. The Protestant metaphorical interpretation dates back only to the 16th c.

Surely Jesus would not condemn people to eternal punishment (Jn 6:53) for the neglect of something that they never even comprehended in the first place! Rather, it was the rejection of a divine revelation due to its difficulty that was the cause of the loss of eternal life (6:57-58). The hearers, it is true, did not grasp the miraculous, sacramental way in which Christ was speaking (6:60-61) and balked (somewhat understandably) at the notion of what they imagined to be some sort of grisly cannibalism (6:52). Jesus countered with a statement that his natural human body would ascend to Heaven and not remain on the earth (6:62), and that spiritual wisdom and grace are necessary in order to understand his words (6:63, 65).
The non-acceptance of Jesus’ message was not due to mental incomprehension but rather willful disobedience and the resisting of the Spirit (Jn 6:63-65; cf Mt 13:10-23). Projecting this lesson to modern day Christians, I sincerely hope it is the case that Protestants simply do not fully understand the Eucharist rather than willfully disobey this command of Jesus. Only here in the New Testament do we have an account of followers of Christ abandoning him for theological reasons (Jn 6:66). But Jesus reiterates his teaching of eating his flesh no less than four times! He doesn’t soften his rhetoric but rather kicks it up a notch.
In the Greek, Jesus switches terms for “eat.” At first the word is “phago,” (used nine times in Jn 6:23-53) a generic term for eat used throughout the New Testament. But in Jn 6:54-58, the word used (four times) is more graphic and particular: “trogo,” which literally means “gnaws” or “chews.” Trogo occurs only here and in Mt 24:38 and Jn 13:18. The literal meaning is unmistakable.

This is My Body
Lk 22:19-20 “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (see also Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24)

Jesus says “This is my body” (but which has the appearance of bread), not “here is my body,” which would infer more so the Lutheran view, whereby his body is present along with the bread and wine (consubstantiation). The position that these words are only symbolic− “this represents my body”− is a strained interpretation, since, as in Jn 6, a figure of speech not in common usage (at that time, for that culture) would have deceived the hearers. Bread and wine are not even particularly natural, analogous symbols of body and blood. When the word “is” in Scripture has the meaning “symbolizes,” this sense is readily apparent (e.g. Mt 13:38; Jn 10:7, 15:1; 1 Cor 10:4), whereas in this case it is not.
Moreover, Jesus and his disciples were celebrating Passover, which involved a literal sacrificial lamb. It strains credibility that the disciples missed the profound significance of Jesus’ words. Indeed, Passover to the Jews was no mere remembrance: they believed that the celebration transcended time in such a way that they were experiencing THE very moment of Passover at every celebration. This is very similar to the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.

Other passages
1 Cor 10:16 “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (see 1 Cor 10:14-22 for context)

1 Cor 11:27-30 “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

These verses clearly demonstrate that the celebration of the Eucharist was practiced by the earliest Christians.
The second one, the more insightful one, clearly equates the bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus in his admonition against “profanity.” It also emphasizes the seriousness of this practice, whose desecration is even punishable by death (reminiscent of Levitical priests dying in the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament where God Himself was present!). Again, are these early Christians getting sick and dying over some mere metaphor?! The enormity of their crimes can only be derived from a belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

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A Catholic Reading of 2 Corinthians

Posted by Tony Listi on December 17, 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. 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  Second Letter to the Corinthians

This is a short and a bit of an odd letter. It primarily focuses upon the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians, not doctrinal teachings. This fact should give pause to Protestants who claim exclusive authority for Scripture, which includes such letters by Paul, rather than the writings of the Church fathers which claim apostolic authority for their teachings. The specifics of the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians are of limited relevance today, but the general character is of great importance.

There are two overarching Catholic doctrinal themes in this letter: apostolic authority and the necessity and ministry of reconciliation. In the face of doubters and false apostles, Paul is forced to reassert his apostolic authority. In dealing with a repentant sinner, Paul exercises his apostolic authority to forgive sins in the person of Christ and to indulge the repentant sinner in comfort rather than require more penance of him, demonstrating the ministry of reconciliation he mentions in the letter.

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 discipline in person (1:19, 23-24; 2:1, 3-4, 17; 3:2-6; 4:5-7; 5:5; 10:5, 9-11, 16; 12:19; 13:10-11)
  • Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1, 21-24; 2:1; 6:11-13; 7:15; 10:8; 11:17; 12:14, 19; 13:2-4, 10-11)
  • Contradicts the fallibilism of Protestantism (2:17; 3:4-6, 12; 4:5-7; 5:5, 18-20; 10:5; 11:5-6, 10; 13:3)
  • Affirms the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation (2:5-11; 5:17-20; 13:2)
  • Affirms the necessity of perseverance in obedience and repentance for salvation/to obtain heaven (1:24; 2:11, 15-16; 5:20; 6:1; 7:8-13; 11:3-4; 12:21; 13:2-5)
  • Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (1:6-7; 5:20; 6:1; 7:13; 11:3-4; 12:20-21; 13:5)
  • Contradicts sola fide (5:10-11, 15; 7:1, 15; 10:15)
  • Affirms the necessity of the institutional and doctrinal unity of the Church (1:1; 11:2-4, 12-15)
  • Affirms the Catholic view of suffering (1:5-7; 4:9-11; 12:7-9)
  • Affirms the Catholic custom of referring to priests as father (6:13; 12:14)
  • Supports the Catholic doctrine of praying to dead saints (1:11)
  • Supports the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory (12:2-4)

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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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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A Catholic Reading of the Letter to the Romans

Posted by Tony Listi on October 12, 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 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 Letter to the Romans

Romans is probably the book of the Bible that is most “Protestant-friendly.” And so I’ve decided to take this book on next after my last post on the gospel of Matthew, which I consider to be plainly and overwhelmingly anti-Protestant. If I can successfully explain Romans from the Catholic perspective, then every other book will likely be a piece of cake.

Now I’ve never said that Protestant interpretations have no plausibility. They do; all heresies have plausibility to some extent. The fact that Protestantism hasn’t gone the way of past heresies (extinction) is a testament to the plausibility of its interpretations, though still erroneous. (Protestantism heavily resembles many past heresies in both its method and beliefs though.) Perhaps no other book gives more plausibility to Protestantism than Romans. But as I will show, it too is a Catholic book, ultimately, and repudiates man-made Protestant traditions (i.e. traditional Protestant interpretations of Scripture).

This letter of St. Paul’s is the longest and most systematic exposition of his salvation theology. However, like all his letters, this one arose out of a specific situation and historical context. Thus it was not intended to be a comprehensive and exclusive explanation of salvation. At this point, Paul has never been to Rome. The church there was not established by him; its origin is unknown but likely grew out of the Jewish community there. Thus Paul is eager to distinguish between Judaism and Christianity by emphasizing the principle of faith. That is the crucial context one has to keep in mind. He is not writing to people who are ignorant of the moral precepts of the Law. He also is writing to introduce himself to this church and to enlist support for future missionary work in Spain (which he never gets to do).

Protestants like chapters 3-5 but ignore or dismiss 1-2 and 6. Chapters 6 in particular seems to be very anti-Protestant.

The heart of the letter is St. Paul’s explanation about how Christians are forgiven and justified by faith alone, but not, as we’ll see, saved by faith alone as Luther conceived of it. Here is an ordered outline of the basic points of the letter on this topic:

  1. The law gives knowledge of sin, which is disobedience to the law (moral law). (2:20; 4:15; 5:13, 20; 7:7-9, 13)
  2. Sin condemns everyone because everyone sins. (2:1-3, 21-23; 3:7, 9-12, 23; 5:12, 18)
  3. The just sentence for sin is death. Thus everyone is under a death sentence because everyone sins. (1:32; 3:23; 4:15; 5:12; 7:10-11)
  4. The law itself and obedience to the law cannot forgive sins. Only one who has no original sin, has never sinned, and observes the law perfectly can be justified by the law alone (which is no one; the law condemns all to death). No human will or exertion can achieve the mercy of forgiveness. (2:12-13; 3:19-20; 4:2-8; 8:3; 9:16, 30-32)
  5. Faith alone in Jesus Christ forgives sins. This faith/forgiveness for disobedience is a free gift of God’s grace and (combined with obedience to the law) justifies, saves, and gives eternal life. (2:13; 3:24-28; 4:2-8, 13-14, 20-25; 5:1-2, 17, 21; 7:4-6)
  6. Works of the law, i.e. Mosaic/Jewish rituals with regard to cleanness, animal sacrifices, and circumcision, do not forgive and thus do not save. (2:25-29; 3:28)
  7. Forgiveness through faith comes through the sacraments of baptism and reconcilation, through the ministry of the Church. (2:4-5; 3:25; 5:5; 6:3-4)
  8. But faith, a free gift of God, requires, as one is able to, the willful response of action, of the fruit of good works and obedience to the moral law (e.g. the Decalogue) as given by Jesus, of participation in the life and love of Christ and the Spirit. Faith and obedience/works are inseparable. (1:5, 8-12, 17-18; 2:2-10, 13, 16, 25-29; 3:31; 4:16; 5:10; 6:1-23; 7:1, 4-6, 12; 8:5-13, 15-17; 10:4-6; 11:30-32; 12:1-2; 13:2, 8-14; 15:18-19)
  9. Salvation is not instantaneous, guaranteed, or unlosable the moment one first believes. It requires perseverance in faithful obedience. Grave sins after baptism void/destroy one’s justification gained through faith and baptism. (1:6-7, 18; 2:8, 25-26; 3:25; 5:3-5; 6:2-6, 16, 21-23; 8:9-25, 35-39; 11:21-22; 13:2, 11-14; 15:4)
  10. Every such sin requires repentance and reconciliation to renew one’s faith and justification before God. (2:4-5)
  11. Faith cannot be used as an excuse to sin. Faith is not a spiritual contraceptive that allows one to sin without consequences for one’s fate after death. It ceases to be faith then. That is a diabolical mockery of faith, one that Protestantism promotes on principle if not in practice (“sin boldly“). (3:8; 6:1-2, 15)

God will judge us according to our works and justify/forgive us according to our faith (2:6). Good works/obedience do not obtain forgiveness, but they, along with forgiveness through faith, obtain salvation. Salvation comes through 1) obedience and 2) forgiveness of disobedience.

The Church and its authority is also evidenced in several passages. (1:2, 5; 3:2-4; 9:1-2; 10:8; 11:16-18; 12:3-8; 15:15-16)

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 Romans that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

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Table of Contents of the Bible = Unbiblical, Catholic Tradition

Posted by Tony Listi on August 16, 2010

The canon of the New Testament, i.e. the Table of Contents of the Bible, was determined by the authority of the Catholic Church. Prior to Church proclamations in the late 4th century, there were plenty of disagreements among eminent Church fathers about individual books and whether they were divinely inspired or not. These controversial individual books included some that are in the Bible today: Philippians; 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; Philemon; Hebrews; James; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; Jude; and Revelation.

Thus the New Testament canon, the Table of Contents page of every Bible, is indubitably an authoritative unbiblical tradition that Protestants accept in contradiction to sola Scriptura, to their own rule of faith. Scripture never contained its own Table of Contents page; that had to be authoritatively decided at the Council of Carthage in 397. Without this council, there would be no Bible as it is today.

Without the Bible as it is today, sola Scriptura is impossible. But the Protestant has to accept a 1600+ year old, binding, infallible, authoritative decree of the Catholic Church in order to get his Bible’s New Testament as it is today. This raises huge problems of internal incoherence. Protestants are forced to either make a huge exception to their rule of faith (and then one asks, on what basis do they do this?, etc.), or simply ignore the difficulties raised by discussion of the canon (the usual insincere recourse).

There’s only three options: 1) admit sola Scriptura is incoherent and thus false, 2) admit sola Scriptura is incoherent and irrationally embrace the incoherence, or 3) ignore this entire post as if you had never read it, putting your soul at risk.

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