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by George Leo Haydock
EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL, THE APOSTLE,
TO THE ROMANS.
After the Gospels, which contain the history of Christ, and the Acts of the Apostles, which contain the history of the infant Church, we have the Epistles of the Apostles. Of these fourteen have been penned on particular occasions, and addressed to particular persons, by St. Paul; the others of St. James, St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude, are called Catholic Epistles, because they are addressed to all Christians in general, if we except the two latter short epistles of St. John. --- The epistles of St. Paul contain admirable advice, and explain fully several tenets of Christianity: but an humble and teachable mind and heart are essentially requisite to draw good from this inexhaustible source. If we prepare our minds by prayer, and go to these sacred oracles with proper dispositions, as to Jesus Christ himself, not preferring our own weak judgment to that of the Catholic Church divinely inspired, and which he has commanded us to hear, and which he has promised to lead in all truth unto the end of the world, we shall improve both our mind and heart by a frequent and pious perusal. We shall learn there that faith is essentially necessary to please God; that this faith is but one, as God is but one; and that faith which shews itself not by good works, is dead. Hence, when St. Paul speaks of works that are incapable of justifying us, he speaks not of the works of moral righteousness, but of the ceremonial works of the Mosaic law, on which the Jews laid such great stress as necessary to salvation. --- St. Peter (in his 2nd Epistle, chap. iii.) assures us that there were some in his time, as there are found some now in our days, who misconstrue St. Paul’s epistles, as if he required no good works any more after baptism than before baptism, and maintaining that faith alone would justify and save a man. Hence the other apostles wrote their epistles, as St. Augustine remarks in these words; "therefore because this opinion, that faith only was necessary to salvation, was started, the other apostolical epistles do most pointedly refute it, forcibly contending that faith without works profiteth nothing." Indeed St. Paul himself, in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, (Chap. xiii. 2.) positively asserts: if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. --- This epistle, like most of the following, is divided into two parts: the first treats of points of doctrine, and extends to the eleventh chapter inclusively; the second treats of morality, and is contained in the last five chapters: but to be able to understand the former, and to practise the latter, humble prayer and a firm adherence to the Catholic Church, which St. Paul (1 Timothy chap. iii.) styles, the pillar and ground of truth, are undoubtedly necessary. Nor should we ever forget what St. Peter affirms, that in St. Paul’s epistles there are some things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and the unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter chap. iii. ver. 16.) (Haydock) --- St. Paul had not been at Rome when he wrote this epistle, which was in the year fifty-seven or fifty-eight, when he was preparing to go to Jerusalem with the charitable contributions and alms, collected in Achaia and Macedonia, for the benefit and relief of the poor Christians in Judea, and at Jerusalem; and after he had preached in almost all places from Jerusalem even to Illyris, Illyrium, or Illyricum. See this Epistle, chap. xv. It was written in Greek. It is not the first in order of time, though placed first, either because of the dignity of the chief Christian Church, or of its sublime contents. --- The apostle’s chief design was not only to unite all the new Christian converts, whether they had been Gentiles or Jews, in the same faith, but also to bring them to a union in charity, love, and peace; to put an end to those disputes and contentions among them, which were particularly occasioned by those zealous Jewish converts, who were for obliging all Christians to the observance of the Mosaic precepts and ceremonies. They who had been Jews, boasted that they were the elect people of God, preferred before all other nations, to whom he had given this written law, precepts, and ceremonies by Moses, to whom he had sent his prophets, and had performed so many miracles in their favour, while the Gentiles were left in their ignorance and idolatry. The Gentiles, now converted, were apt to brag of the learning of their great philosophers, and that sciences had flourished among them: they reproached the Jews with the disobedience of their forefathers to God, and the laws he had given them; that they had frequently returned to idolatry; that they had persecuted and put to death the prophets, and even their Messias, the true Son of God. St. Paul shews that neither the Jew nor the Gentile had reason to boast, but to humble themselves under the hand of God, the author of their salvation. He puts the Jews in mind, that they could not expect to be justified and saved merely by the ceremonies and works of their law, thought good in themselves; that the Gentiles, as well as they, were now called by the pure mercy of God: that they were all to be saved by believing in Christ, and complying with his doctrine; that sanctification and salvation can only be had by the Christian faith. He does not mean by faith only, as it is one particular virtue, different from charity, hope, and other Christian virtues; but he means by faith, the Christian religion, and worship, taken in opposition to the law of Moses and to the moral virtues of heathens. The design of the Epistle to the Galatians is much the same. From the 12th chapter he exhorts them to the practice of Christian virtues. (Witham)
the Fifth Week after Epiphany