1 He asketh what moved them to leave the faith, and hang upon the law? 6 They that believe are justified, 9 and blessed with Abraham. 10 And this he sheweth by many reasons.
FOOLISH Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
Douay Rheims Version
The Spirit, and the blessing promised to Abraham cometh not by the law, but by faith.
SENSELESS Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth: before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth, crucified among you?
16. To Abraham were the promises made and to his seed. He saith not: And to his seeds as of many. But as of one: And to thy seed, which is Christ.
17. Now this I say: that the testament which was confirmed by God, the law which was made after four hundred and thirty years doth not disannul, to make the promise of no effect.
18. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise. But God gave it to Abraham by promise.
19. Why then was the law? It was set because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom he made the promise, being ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
S. Paul proceeds to prove by five reasons that we are justified not by the law, or the works of the law, but by Christ.
i. The first proof is drawn (ver. 2) from experience. The Galatians had received the Holy Spirit and His gifts, not in circumcision, but in baptism.
ii. The second (ver. 6) from the example of Abraham, who was justified because he believed God, i.e., by faith.
iii. The third relies on the fact (ver. 10) that these under the law are under the curse threatened to all who transgress it. But Christ, being made a curse for us, has set us free from the curse of the law.
iv. The fourth is drawn (ver. 11) from Habakkuk ii. 4: “The just liveth by faith.”
v. The fifth insists (ver. 16) that it was to Abraham and his seed that the blessing of righteousness was promised. Therefore, it is by the promise, apprehended by faith, that we are justified, and not by the law. For the law, as is said in ver. 24, was given only as a school-mister to lead us to Christ, that by Him we might be justified, that we might put on Him and become all one with Him.
Ver. 1.—O foolish Galatians. “Each province,” says S. Jerome, “has its characteristic. Epimenides notes that the Cretans are liars. The Latin historian charges the Moors with frivolity, Me Dalmatians with ferocity. All the poets condemn the cowardice of the Phrygians. Cicero (‘pro Flacco’) asserts that the Greeks are frivolous by nature and empty by education. In the same way the Apostle, it seems to me, charges the Galatians with their racial defect in describing them as untearable, stubborn, and slow to wisdom.” S. Jerome again says that Hilary, an impartial witness, calls the Gauls intractable; and again he insists that the stupidity of the Galatians is evident from their inclination to all sorts of foolish heresies. “Whoever has seen, as I have done, Ancyra, the metropolis of Galatia, will bear out my statement that it is torn with schisms. To say nothing of the Cataphrygians, the 0phites, the Borborites, and the Manichæans, whoever in the whole Roman world besides knows more than the names of the Passalorinctæ, the Ascodrobi, the Artotiræ, and other monstrous sects? The traces of ancient folly remain to this day” (in Ep. Galat., Preface, lib. ii.).
Observe that this reproach of the Apostle’s springs, not from indignation, but from charity; it is a material and not a formal rebuke. Cf. Gregory, Past. iii. 8.
Parents who use a thong to punish their sons may still more use their tongue, and burn out their vices by sharp words. Christ called the scribes hypocrites (S. Matt. xxii. 18), and S. Paul called Elymas a child of the devil (Acts xiii. 10). The keenness, however, of the rebuke is toned down here by the following words—“Who hath bewitched you?”—which attribute their folly to the influence of the Jews.
Who hath bewitched you? The Greek word here signifies (1.) to, envy. “What Jew has envied you your Gospel liberty?” (Theophylact and Anselm). It denotes (2.) to fascinate, charm, bind the eyes, so as to make them to see what is not, or not to see what is. This second sense better suits the context—before whose eyes Christ hath been evidently set forth. It was through the fixed look of the person casting the spell that the charm was commonly made to work. Virgil refers to this in the line, “Some eye is casting its spell on my tender lambs.” S. Paul’s question then means: “What evil eye has seduced you, 0 Galatians, yet young in the faith, to the delusion of Judaism?” “The evil eye,” says Jerome, “is peculiarly hurtful to infants, and those of tender years, and who cannot yet run alone.”
Evidently set forth. The Vulgate is præscriptus, which is rendered by Anselm, disinherited; by Ambrose, spoiled, in the sense: You have deprived Christ of His lawful inheritance, the Church.
S. Augustine, according to Erasmus, understands the word to allude to legal prescription, by which, after a certain time (three years in the case of movables, ten years in the case of immovables), possession gave a title to ownership. Christ, by the prescription of the Old Law, which for so many hundreds of years enjoyed the name of the Free Law, was shut out from His possession, the Church. But Erasmus has misread S. Augustine, as is evident from the best MSS. The latter reads proscriptus, and comments on it thus: “The Jews took away His inheritance, and drove Him out,” which is an act of proscription, not of prescription.
S. Jerome interprets præscriptus to mean that the death of Christ was predicted by the prophets and in the sacraments of the Old Law.
But there is a third and better meaning. Christ was put by writing, or by a picture, before your very eyes, crucified. The Galatians had not been spectators of the actual Crucifixion, but Christ had by preaching and faith been represented to them as crucified. This interpretation makes it necessary to supply as though before crucified.
The sense, then, is: Though crucified at Jerusalem in fact, yet Christ has been represented as though crucified before you, 0 Galatians, by my preaching and your faith. By the eyes of faith you have seen Christ hanging on the Cross more clearly than did the Jews who stood at its foot. Who, then, has cast a spell upon those eyes which have so clearly seen Christ crucified?
It is possible, however, that the words are to be taken literally. In your own age, in the presence perhaps of some of you, and in a country not far removed, Christ was marked out by the instruments of His Passion, and depicted as your Saviour. While the colours then are so fresh on the canvas, how can you be so bewitched as to forget so great and so recent a benefit?
In this sense Christ Himself crucified is, as it were, a picture or a book in which He is described in blood-red letters. Do you wish to know who Christ is and what He is like? Open this book, look at the Cross, see the title, Jesus of Nazareth—i.e., Consecrator, who has consecrated us to God—King of the Jews. You will find it written. “Christ was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” He alone bore and expiated our sin, for what is sin but Christicide or Deicide? You will read too in this book, in the wounds and blood of Christ, that it was love of you which formed and coloured Him so. In His whole body you will see love written, nay, engraved. This book, in short, will show to one who reads and looks well all the wisdom of Christ, and the very depths of Christian philosophy.
Ver. 2.—Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the heating of faith? The Spirit here is the Holy Spirit, with His visible gifts of tongues and prophecy, which He used to give in baptism, as outward tokens of the invisible graces He there infused. S. Paul asks the Galatians whether it is not clear that they received the Spirit and His gifts, not from circumcision, but in baptism.
The heating of faith. Hearing can be taken here either actively, in reference to the preaching they heard, or passively, in reference to their hearkening to and obeying the faith preached. Cf. Isaiah Iiii. 1.
Ver. 3.—Having begun in the Spirit. With the spiritual doctrine of Christ, and the spiritual gifts received from Him, enabling you to live the spiritual life.
Are ye now made perfect by the flesh? The flesh is put for circumcision and other carnal ceremonies of the law. The interpretation which sees here a reference to the carnal lusts of the flesh is disproved by the context. Made perfect is in the Vulgate consumemini.
S. Bernard (Serm. 33 in Cant.) applies this text to those who exhaust their strength by unrestrained devotion, through excessive prayers and penances. Afterwards, he says, they become lazy, and are consumed by the flesh, while seeking for health, and so become sensual and carnal. Cf. notes to 1 Cor. iii. 2.
Theophylact observes that S. Paul uses the passive, not the active—“Are you made perfect?” not, “Do you make perfect?” i.e., he hints that they were like brute beasts, in suffering themselves to be circumcised by others. He also notes that he does not say merely πεγει̃σθε, but ε̉πιτελει̃σθε: After being perfected in Christ, will you seek a perfection beyond in the Old Law? Do you want to add a fifth wheel to the coach?
Ver. 4.—Have ye suffered so many things in vain? Why should unbelievers persecute you in vain, i.e., without cause, if you are returning to Moses?
If it be yet in vain. Which it will be, unless you return to your former mind, and stand firm in the faith of Christ.
Ver. 5.—He therefore that ministereth. I.e., God or Christ, who infuses His grace, and works in you by His Divine power. Cf. i. Cor. xii. 6.
Ver. 6.—Even as Abraham believed God. This introduces the second argument, to prove that we are justified, not by the works of the law, but by faith; not by Moses, but by Christ. Abraham received the Spirit when uncircumcised and before the law, and was justified by faith in Christ, not by the law, which at that time was not in existence. So, argues S. Paul, are you justified by faith.
And it was accounted to him for righteousness. By his faith he was justified. Cf. notes to Rom. iv. 3.
Ver. 7.—They which are of faith. A Græcism for they who are faithful, who imitate Abraham’s faith.
The same are the children of Abraham. Not by blood, but by imitation; to them, therefore, belongs the blessing pronounced on Abraham.
Ver. 8.—Preached before the gospel unto Abraham. Gave him this most joyful news of the blessing to be conferred by Christ on His descendants, i.e., on the faithful. In other words, the Gospel about Christ and His righteousness is not new, but is as old as the days of Abraham.
In thee shall all nations be blessed. Cajetan observes, in his notes or Genesis xii., that when God called Abraham from his home in Chaldea, and from his kindred, to go to a land to be shown him, He promised him a sevenfold blessing. Seven is the number of completeness. (1.) He promised him that he should be the head or father of a great nation, in the words, “I will make of thee a great nation;” (2.) abundant riches, in the words, “I will bless thee;” (3.) fame and wide renown, in the words, “And make thy name great;” (4.) the sum of all blessings and honours, in the words, “Thou shalt be a blessing.” The exact force of the Hebrew here is that thou shalt be so filled with blessings as to seem to be a blessing itself, so that when men may wish to bless any one, they shall put you forward as an example, saying, “May God bless thee as He blessed Abraham.” In a similar way the Romans saluted their Cæsar: “May you be more fortunate than Augustus, more virtuous than Trajan.” (5.) “The Lord promised His blessing, not to Abraham only, but to his friends, in the words, “I will bless them that bless thee.” (6.) He promised that He would avenge him on his adversaries, in the words, “I will curse him that curseth thee.” (7.) The preceding six are temporal only, but the seventh and the chief is spiritual and eternal, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
1. Observe that in thee, i.e., in thy seed, as is explained in Gen. xxii. 17, is to he understood as in Christ, who was born of Abraham, according to the Apostle’s interpretation in Gal. iii. 16. Through thy seed, Christ, and through faith in Him, all nations shall be blessed, i.e., be justified and made sons and friends of God, and consequently heirs of God’s kingdom, and entitled to hear the blissful words, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Abraham’s blessing, therefore, was that he should be the father of the justified.
2. But in thee can be also rendered like thee. As thou art justified by faith, so by faith shall all nations be justified, and not by the works of the law. So say Chrysostom, Augustine, Theophylact, Œcumenius, and S. Thomas.
Notice, too, that with God to speak is as efficacious as to do, for, “Ye spake the word and they were made.”
Similarly, to pronounce a blessing with Him is the same as to confer a blessing (benedicere = benefacere). The greater the blessing promised, the greater the blessing given. But the greatest good we can receive is that grace by which we become sharers of the Divine nature, and the word blessing, therefore, denotes this great gift.
Hence the Fathers rightly interpret, they shall be blessed, as they shall be justified: they shall receive the blessing of justification, than which no greater gift can be given to man by God.
From this is evident the error of Paginus, in rendering the phrase before us, In thee shall all nations bless themselves. The Hebrew voice of the verb is the Niphal, which is purely passive, not reflexive; moreover, S. Paul’s use of the passage is against him.
Ver. 9.—So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. This is the conclusion from the premisses of the three preceding verses. God promised to Abraham that in him, i.e., in his seed, i.e., in Christ, all nations should be blessed, i.e., justified. But the promise of God cannot fail; therefore the consequence contained in this verse follows.
If the second sense of in thee, given above, is preferred, the argument is the same. In thee, i.e., like thee, all nations shall be blessed. But thou, 0 Abraham, wast justified by faith; therefore, the Gentiles too shall be justified in the same way. And from this it follows that they who are of faith shall be blessed, i.e., justified with faithful Abraham. This last phrase rather favours the second rendering of in thee, and hints that the Gentiles shall be justified by faith like faithful Abraham.
Observe again the Græcism, they who are of faiih, i.e., who are faithful. Similarly, he speaks of those who are of the circumcision, i.e., the Jews, followers of the law. Elsewhere he calls them those who are of the works of the law, i.e., those who rely on it and hope for justification from it.
Ver. 10.—For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse. He inquired in verse 5 whether righteousness comes from the law or from faith. He replied, “From faith,” and then proved his answer by the example of Abraham. He now proceeds to a third proof, by destroying the alternative, viz., that it is not of the law. So far from the law bestowing a blessing, those who are under it are under a curse—exposed to eternal damnation. This he argues thus: Whoever does not keep the whole law is cursed by the law. But no one keeps the whole law without the grace of Christ, as I suppose you know from your own experience; for you know that the law teaches, threatens, and punishes only, but does not confer grace; therefore, without faith no one is free from the curse of the law pronounced by it against those who transgress it. The law curses, faith alone blesses.
If any one wishes the argument put more in syllogistic form, it may be thrown into the mood barbara thus. Whoever breaks any law is cursed by it. But all who are under the law, and are shut off from the grace of Christ, break the law; therefore, all who are under the law are cursed by it. The major is proved by Deut. xxvii. 26; the minor is supposed to be known by experience, and hence the conclusion follows. Of course the minor must be granted, else the Judaisers might say to the Galatians: We are as much under a blessing as a curse, for if the law curses those who break it, it also blesses those who keep it, as is said in Deut. xxviii. 2.
For it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. Though Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, the LXX., render the word we translate continueth somewhat differently, yet the sense is the same throughout. Whoever does not by his deeds establish, strengthen, settle the law, is accursed by it. This is the major of the syllogism just stated.
1. Observe that he passes over the minor, because it was admitted. Calvin, however, makes it to be this: But no one can fulfil the law; therefore, the law imposes what is impossible, and consequently all are under its curse. But this is an impious proposition. If modified thus: No one keeps the law without the faith of Christ, therefore all without that faith are under the curse of the law, then it becomes orthodox. God does not command impossibilities. Although by natural strength a man cannot keep the whole law, yet he can by supernatural, and this latter God gives to all that ask Him, whether Jews or Gentiles.
2. Observe, in the second place, that not all were accursed who broke any law. For some laws, though of Divine origin, obliged under venial sin only, because of the nature of their subject-matter, as, e.g., the law forbidding the mother to be taken in the nest with her young (Deut. xxii. 6.), and the law forbidding a vineyard to be sown with divers seeds (ver. 9), and the law forbidding a garment to be woven of flax and wool (ver. 11). It is evident, therefore, that Deut. xxvii., quoted by S. Paul, refers to the Decalogue, which contains commandments of great importance. It is because they oblige under mortal sin that he is cursed who breaks one of them. A reference to Deut. xxvii. will show this to be the case. The Apostle assumes that no one can keep the whole Decalogue without the grace of Christ, and he thence concludes that all who are under the law are cursed by it.
Ver. 11.—But that no man is justified. This is a fourth proof. S. Paul would fain convince the Galatians by an accumulation of proofs. After that based on the example of Abraham, and that on the condition of those under the law, he proceeds to another drawn from Habukkuk ii. 4, a text already explained in the notes on Rom. i. 17.
Ver. 12.—And the law is not of faith. The law neither teaches nor gives the grace by which we fulfil the law and live righteously. But, as is said in Ezek. xx. 11, the man that doeth what the law commands shall live, i.e., shall not be punished with the death threatened by the law for transgressors, but he shall enjoy life and an abundance of temporal goods, as the law promises to those who keep it. The same was said in Rom. x. 5, which reminds us of the close relationship between that Epistle and this, the latter being a compendium of the former.
Observe the antithesis between “faith” and “law.” Of the former, it is said that the just, because he is just, shall live by it, i.e.,shall enjoy a life of grace and glory, which is the perfect and blissful life. But as to the latter, it is not said absolutely that he who keeps the law shall live by it, but only in it, i.e., he shall live the life, and enjoy the goods promised by the law, viz., abundance of corn, wine, and oil.
Ver. 13.—Christ was made a curse for us. Christ, though blessed in Himself, was made a curse, so far as He took on Him the person of sinners, to expiate the curse due because of their sins. Just as if a man make himself responsible for another’s debt, he becomes and is called a debtor, so Christ was made a curse for us. The term, however, cannot be properly applied to Him, for though a debt may be transferred, sin cannot. It is only applied to Him improperly, in the sense that He took upon Him the punishment of sin. In 2 Cor. v. 21, Christ is said to have been made sin for us, i.e., a victim for sin, according to the Jewish rite by which, through the imposition of hands, the whole body of sin was transferred to the victim. So here He is called a curse, because God transferred to Him the curses due to the whole human race, so that He bore for us the shameful Cross, to show the hideousness of sin as well as to give an example of every virtue. He hung on the Cross, says S. Augustine, “in order that Christian freedom, unlike Jewish slavery, might fear not only no death, but no kind of death” (contra Adimant. c. 21). So too Tertullian: “The Lord Himself was cursed in the law, and yet He alone was blessed. Therefore let us, His servants, follow our Lord, and patiently endure cursing, that we may be blessed.” (de Patienciâ, c. 8).
For it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. This is from Deut. xxi. 23. Aquila and Theodotion render the clause, The curse of God is hanged; Symmachus, He was hanged for blasphemy against God; Ebion, the half-Jewish, half-Christian heresiarch, as Jerome calls him, rendered it, He who hangs is an outrage on God; another, The insult against God is hanged. Jerome adds that his Hebrew teacher (Barhanina) told him that the Hebrew might be translated, God was ignominiously hanged. Hence S. Jerome infers, that as S. Paul does not mention the name of God, that name was not in the original, but afterwards inserted by some Jew, in derision of the Christians. But this is improbable, for all the Hebrew, Latin, and Greek texts, as well as the LXX. version, have the name of God in this text of Deuteronomy. It was, therefore, out of zeal for God that Paul omitted His name, and because of the Jews and the Galatians, already half-disposed to forsake Christ. He feared lest he might alienate them still further if he said that Christ had been cursed by God.
1. From this and other passages, such as Num. xxv. 24, Josh. viii. 29, 2 Sam. xxi. 9, it appears that the Jews, contrary to the opinion expressed by some, punished criminals with crucifixion, as well as stoning or burning.
2. They adopted crucifixion for the most heinous crimes, such as blasphemy, idolatry, oppression, and accordingly they crucified Christ for aiming at a kingship over Judæa. Hence criminals so punished were held in greater execration than others, accursed by God and man. It was not among the Romans alone that the punishment of crucifixion was regarded as infamous above all others.
3. Although Tostatus extends by analogy the provisions of Deut. xxi. 23 to other modes of punishment besides crucifixion, yet there is little warrant for doing so. The law imposes this penalty precisely on hanged criminals alone, on the ground that they were specially execrable.
It may be asked why God commanded the bodies of such criminals to be buried before the evening. The answer is to be found in Josh. viii. 28, and the comments of Andreas Masius on it. “It is,” he says, “because such a corps is regarded as contaminating the earth; for as long as human bodies are left neglected and unburied, like the bodies of brute beasts, men who dwell on the earth are apt to conceive an impious and pernicious opinion of the soul’s mortality.” This explanation is more ingenious than true. It proves too much, and applies to all criminals, however killed; but the law regards those only who were hanged on a tree. The opinion, therefore, of Cajetan and others is preferable, viz., that God wishes to blot out the remembrance of such men entirely from the earth, as a deterrent to others. So too poisoning, arson, fraud, and sodomy were punished with death by fire, the fire annihilating the bodies of those guilty of such atrocities.
We should note the Scripture phraseology here. The earth is said to be polluted by crimes, to groan, to cry aloud, to be angry, to call for vengeance, nay, to cast out its inhabiters, as, e.g., in Lev. xviii. 28. The figure is a prosopopœia, by which life and feeling are attributed to inanimate things, so that the earth and the elements, as irrational creatures serving their Creator and jealous for His honour, detest what He detests. They do this by a sort of natural instinct, which keeps them true to their place and the universal good, and eager to fulfil the will of God. This natural instinct makes them do what they would do in obedience to reason if they were rational creatures.
It was in accordance with this law of Deuteronomy that Christ, as a suspended malefactor, was taken from the Cross and buried, before the evening of the day on which He suffered, the next day being a Sabbath, although strictly speaking He was exempted from this law by His innocence. Hence the Hebrew of S. Jerome, before quoted, held that the law could be prophetically rendered: “His body,” i.e., Christ’s, “shall not remain on the tree because God was ignominiously hanged.” The Jews, however, did not rely on this law for their action in taking him down from the Cross, but on the dishonour that would otherwise be done to the great Sabbath that was close at hand, as is clear from S. John xix. 31.
This law of Deuteronomy was a judicial law, and, therefore, abrogated with the whole judicial and ceremonial law, by the death of Christ. Consequently crucified criminals are not now reckoned as cursed above others, nor are they buried on the same day, but are sometimes allowed to hang for days and weeks for a terror to other evil-doers.
S. Jerome remarks on this passage. “The Lord’s shame is our glory. He died that we might live. Ye descended into hell that we ascend to heaven. He was made foolishness that we might become wise. He emptied Himself of His fulness, and put off the form of God, and put on the form of a servant, that the fulness of the God-head might dwell in us, and that we might be changed from slaves into masters. He hung on the Cross, that the tree of shame might destroy the sin which we had committed through the tree of knowledge. His Cross made the bitter waters sweet, and made the lost axe swim in Jordan. Finally, He was made a curse—made, not born—that the blessings which had been promised to Abraham, with Him as author and herald, might be transferred to the Gentiles, and the promise of His spirit might by faith be fuelled in us.” See too the notes of Chrysostom and Anselm.
Ver. 14.—That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles. This evidently is a corollary from the preceding verse. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, in order that the blessing of Abraham might be ours in place of the curse.
The promise of the Spirit. To the children of Abraham, i.e., to those who believe on Christ, the descendant of Abraham, was promised the Holy Spirit to justify and sanctify us. For when God said to Abraham, “In thee,” it was to his seed, which is Christ, that the blessing was appointed. Cf. notes to verse 8 above.
Ver. 15.—I speak after the manner of men. Cf. Job xxxi. 33, and Hos. vi. 7. S. Paul’s meaning is that in dealing with spiritual things he uses material illustrations, as, e.g., that of a testator and his testament, to prove that we inherit Abraham’s blessing, not through the law, but through faith in Christ, according to the covenant made with Abraham, and that, therefore, the Galatians should feel shame for attributing less to God than to the testaments and covenants of men. This is his fifth proof, that we are justified by faith and not by the law.
Though it be but a man’s covenant. No one adds to or subtracts from a man’s testament when once it is duly drawn up.
Ver. 16.—To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. Thisrefers to Gen. xxii. 16. From this we conclude that by his readiness to obey God in sacrificing his son he merited that from his own seed should Christ be born as a blessing to the Gentiles, and to fulfil the promises. The Apostle, therefore, rightly lays it down that these promises were made to Abraham and his seed, i.e., to Christ, who should spring from his loins; although the word of Genesis speaks of these promises being made to Abraham in his seed only, and not to his seed. Yet the very fact that they were to be fulfilled in his seed shows that they were made rather to his seed than to Abraham. Just as if a king should promise one of his nobles to exalt his family in his son, by making him a duke or a prince, and thereby makes a promise to the son rather than to the father, so did God to Abraham. It was in Christ, as the seed of Abraham, that the promise, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” has been fulfilled, and justification assured to all who believe in Christ.
To thy seed which is Christ. This may be said to meet a possible objection that seed is equivalent to posterity or descendants, and is therefore a noun of multitude, and that S. Paul here denies this interpretation. But seed is sometimes used as a collective term, as for example, in the promise, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven,” and sometimes as a particular term; e.g., in Gen. xxi. 13: “Of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.” S. Paul, in interpreting the word here in the latter sense, might have appealed to the practice of the Rabbinical expositors, who all understood it of Christ. Moreover, if it were to be taken in the former sense, the prophecy would have failed of fulfilment, for all the nations of the earth have not been blessed in Abraham’s posterity, if by them we are to understand the Jewish people; on the contrary, the Jews are for a reproach, and a curse among the Gentiles.
Ver. 17.—The covenant that was before of God in Christ. If, as was said in verse 15, no one annuls the testament of a man, still less can the law, which came 430 years afterwards, annul the promise of God confirmed to Abraham in Christ.
Note that the Hebrew berith, the Greek diathèkè, and the Latin testamentum, have all the same meaning of covenant, and that the diathèkè, of the LXX. is identical with sunthèkè,according to Jerome, Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Œcumenius. Budæus proves the same from Demosthenes and Aristophanes. Cf. notes to 1 Cor. xi. 25. But S. Augustine understands the term of a will. “Because,” he says, “the death of the testator has the effect of confirming his will, so the unchangeableness of God has the effect of confirming His promise.”
An important question is here raised as to the date from which these 430 years should be reckoned, for the terminus ad quem alone is clearly defined in this passage, viz., the year when the law was given on Mount Sinai. S. Paul’s computation seems in conflict with Exod. xii. 40, which speaks of the sojourning of the children of Israel in Egypt as lasting 430 years, or, in other words, which represents the time between the going down of Jacob into Egypt and the Exodus as 430 years; but the Apostle seems to count the interval between Abraham and the Exodus as 430 years. But from Abraham to Jacob’s descent was 200 years, and therefore if Exod. xii. 40 is to be followed, the Apostle should have said 630 years.
I reply briefly with S. Augustine (qu. 47 in Exod.); with Athanasius, or rather Anastasius, in his “Synopsis of Holy Scripture” (in loco) with Eusebius, in his Chronicon; with Rupert, Tostatus, Cajetan (in Exod.), that the computation of S. Paul is identical with that of Moses in Exod. xii. 40, and that both begin to reckon, not from the descent of Jacob into Egypt, but from the seventy-fifth year of Abraham’s life, when he was called from his country to go into Canaan. It was in that year that he received the blessings S. Paul is referring to, as is evident from the beginning of Gen. xii.
1. This appears from the obvious fact that the Hebrews did not dwell in Egypt 430 years; for Kohath went down with his grandfather, Jacob (Exod. vi. 18). But Kohath lived 133 years, and his, son Amram 137 years. When Moses, Amram’s son, went out of Egypt with the Hebrews, he was in his eighty-first year; and if all these three are added together, we get 351 only. But we must deduct from this total the years that Kohath lived after begetting Amram, and that Amram lived after begetting Moses. From this it follows that the number of 430 must be reckoned from a date long anterior to the descent into Egypt, viz., from the migration of Abraham from Haran, and this the LXX. expressly say in their rendering of Exod. xii. 40: “But the sojourning of the children of Israel, which they and their fathers made in the land of Egypt and Canaan, was 430 years.”
2. Moreover, the Apostle says here that the law was given 430 years after, not the descent of Jacob, but the promise to Abraham; but the law was given in the same year that the Hebrews left Egypt, in the third month after their departure. Cf. Exod. xix. 1, and the notes to Exod. xii. 40.
Ver. 18.—If the inheritance be of the law. If our heritage of righteousness be of the law of Moses, then it is not of the promise. But this is false, for God promised this righteousness to Abraham and to his seed, which is Christ. If it is of the promise of Christ, then it is through faith in Christ, and not through the law of Moses, that all nations are to be blessed.
Ver. 19.—Wherefore then serveth the law? Why was the law introduced after the promise? Is it that God does not fulfil His promise? The answer is that the law was given by God to restrain and punish transgressions. This was its direct purpose, but indirectly it served as a means whereby transgressions might be made manifest. A self-willed people would, on hearing the law, recognise their sins as such, and feel the need of Christ’s grace if they were to keep it. In this way the law sent men to Christ.
Till the seed should come. Till the birth of Christ, to whom God had promised that by Him all nations should be blessed, i.e., justified, and so be able to live uprightly and to keep the law. The law was given as a pedagogue till Christ should come; therefore when Christ has come it has done its work, and the Jews are foolish in wishing to prolong its power.
Because of transgressions. The Greek word rendered added denotes put in its place, as a soldier is assigned his post by his general. So the law was assigned its rank, place, time, and method of promulgation.
1. It was given its rank between the law of nature and the Gospel, being more perfect than the one but inferior to the other. It was a road from one to the other.
2. It was given its fitting time, in being promulgated to a people still uncouth, when it was about to form itself into a nation and a Church, to prevent it from failing into idolatry and heathen license.
3. It had its due place, for being given at Sinai before the entrance into Canaan, it formed a sort of condition to the covenant. God promised that He would lead the Hebrews into Canaan, and put them in possession of it, if they would follow the law as their guide, and observe it as a condition attached to His promise.
4. It had its proper mode of promulgation, for it came from an angel on Mount Sinai, with the sound of a trumpet, with a terrible earthquake, with thunder and lightning, as a law of fear to restrain the rebellious Jews, like slaves, by fear of punishment. In these four ways the law was externally ordered.
5. But it was also internally disposed in due order. Its precepts bade the Hebrews (a) worship God by appointed ceremonies and sacrifices; (b) refrain from injury to their neighbour, or if injury had been inflicted, it bade them offer fitting satisfaction; (c) it regulated the inner man by the moral precepts of the Decalogue.
Similarly, but much more perfectly, has the New Law, the law of Christ, been ordered. (1.) It was assigned its proper rank, as being the crown and perfection of all laws. (2.) It came in its proper time, viz., in the last age of the world, when Christ, the great Legislator, came. It was promulgated at Pentecost, on the fiftieth day after the Passover, which was a feast symbolical of pardon, freedom, bliss, and the eternal jubilee. (3.) Its place was befitting its dignity. Not on Sinai was it given but on Sion, the type and mirror of celestial glory, to which this law leads us. (4.) As to the mode of promulgation, notice that it was given with a mighty wind and fiery tongues, with the power and might of the Holy Spirit, to preach the Gospel and convert all nations, because it was a law of burning love and enkindled charity. (5.) Its contents were duly related to one another, through its precepts of faith, hope, charity, and those relating to justification and the Sacraments.
It was ordained by angels. From this it appears that it was not God who in person spoke to Moses, but an angel representing Him, and speaking in His Name; as when he said, “I am the Lord thy God.” Even so an ambassador speaks in the name of his sovereign, and acts by his authority. It was then an Angel who, in the place of God, was the immediate giver of the Decalogue to the people on Mount Sinai. It was an Angel also who spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai, and gave him for promulgation to the people the ceremonial laws, with directions for the making of the Tabernacle, for the ark, the cherubim, the sacrifices, and expiatory rites, which are found scattered throughout the Pentateuch.
In the hand of a mediator. Hand is here used to denote instrumentality. By a similar usage the word of the Lord is said to have come to pass in the hand of Elijah, Isaiah, and other prophets, acting as the instruments of God. Vatablus has for mediator intercessor, and Erasmus conciliator. But mediator, as the more intensive term, is preferable. Whoever mediates between two may be either a messenger, or an interpreter, or a peacemaker, and in each sense he is a mediator.
What mediator is referred to here? 1. Jerome, Augustine, Chrysostom, and Ambrose reply, Christ the Lord. Although Christ was not then actually our mediator, yet He was by the decree and in the purpose of God. The Old Law, in this sense, was given by the power and authority of Christ, who was the predestined Mediator; and since, therefore, the law was given by His authority, so when He was born into the world it was in His power to abrogate it.
2. The answer of Cyril (Thesauri, xii. 10), Gregory Nazianzen (Orat. 6 before Greg. Nyss.), Catharinus, Adam, and others, including even Beza, is better, viz., that the mediator was Moses, who himself says, in Deuteronomy v. 5, that he stood between the Lord and the people at that time. This opinion is supported by the consideration (a) that Christ cannot be said to be a mediator as God, but only as God-made-man. But at the time of Moses He was not yet made man, and therefore could not then be called a mediator. The major of this syllogism is proved thus: Christ as God only, just as Christ as man only, is but one of two extremes; therefore as such He cannot be a mediator, but only as God-man. As the God-man He unites in His person the two extremes of God and man. As God He had the authority and dignity belonging to a mediator; as man He did the work of a mediator. It may be objected to this, no doubt, that though Christ was not then actually a mediator, yet He was by predestination. But this objection loses sight of the fact that the Apostle is not speaking of a mediator by predestination, but of an acting mediator; for he says that the Old Law was ordained by this mediator, i.e., in very deed, when it was given to the Hebrews. But Christ, not yet existing as mediator, could not have ordained the law at that time; therefore He was not its mediator, for what has no existence can neither work nor ordain anything.
(b) The phrase of S. Paul means that angels gave the law by the instrumentality of a mediator. But Christ cannot be said to be the minister of angels but their Prince (cf. Heb. 1.); therefore, the mediator here is not Christ. (c) Again, the Old Law was given by Moses, as the New Law by Christ. As, then, Christ is the mediator of the New Law and the New Covenant, so was Moses of the old. (d) Lastly, that Moses was the mediator is clear from Heb. viii. 5, 6, and ix. 15, 19, 20.
Observe, in opposition to the Protestants, that if Moses could be called a mediator without any derogation from the mediatorial office of Christ, as even Beza admits, in the sense, not of a redeemer or reconciliator, but as a messenger from one to the other, why may not the Saints with even better title be called mediators without offence to Christ, seeing that by their merits and prayers they gain for us the grace of God? It is astonishing that Protestants should make so much fuss about this word, and strive to throw so much dust in people’s eyes, when, as is evident, there is no difference between us, either about the name or the thing.
The meaning of the Apostle, then, is this: The Old Law was given by angels and promulgated by Moses, the New by Christ Himself. He who as God used the instrumentality of Moses in proclaiming the Old Law, could, when made man, abrogate it in His own person, in order that ‘the promise made to Abraham, that all nations should be justified, might be fulfilled in Himself, the seed of Abraham.
Ver. 20.—Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but of two, in this case of two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, to whom Christ acts as mediator, says Ambrose. (2.) Or, Christ is not a mediator of one nature, but of two, the Divine and the human. (3.) Or, Moses is not a mediator of one will and purpose, because as a man he was subject to change. God on the contrary is unchangeable in His will and promise. Adam leans to this explanation. But all these are beside the phraseology of Scripture and the drift of the Apostle.
(4.) A better interpretation is that Christ is a mediator not of one but of two—not of two Gods, as though Father and Son make two, according to the heresy of Arius and Nestorius—not between God and angels, for the good angels need no mediator, and the evil angels cannot derive any benefit from one—but He is a mediator between the two parties, God on one side and man on the other. And the inference drawn is that it is not the law, but Christ, that redeems us and reconciles us to God. This explanation is supported by Augustine, Theophylact, Anselm.
(5.) The best interpretation of the clause is that the Apostle is explaining the character of a mediator. The mediator Moses, he seems to say, is not of one but of two determinate parties, viz., God and the Hebrews, but not of God and Christians. On the other hand, God is One, not two. The Apostle is not building his argument on these words, except indirectly, but is merely contrasting the dual character of a mediator with the unity of God. It is on this latter fact that he relies to prove his case.
But God is one. There are not two Gods, one of whom is the God of the law and of the Jews, the other of Abraham and of Christians, as the Manichæans have thought, but the God of Jews and of Christians is one and the same—the law and the Gospel proceed from the same Author. Accordingly, it being the same God, He could not intend that the law should annul His promise to Abraham of giving His righteousness to all nations in Abraham’s seed, i.e., in Christ, or, in other words, through faith in Him; else would He be inconstant, the very thought of which is impious. Rather He gave the law to be our pedagogue to Christ. It is, therefore one and the same God who made Moses the mediator between Himself and the Hebrews; and, when he was superseded, between Himself and Christians of all nations, and so fulfilled His promise to Abraham, that He would give through Christ the blessing of justification to all nations.
This interpretation is confirmed by the parallel passage in 1 Tim. ii. 5, where, from the fact that the same God is God of all nations, the Apostle proves that He wishes all men to be saved, and from the same principle he infers that there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. God, he argues, does not wish for the salvation of the Jews only, but of all nations. Again, not only the Jews, but all nations have fallen into sin, and stand in need of a redeemer. This cannot be Moses, for he was mediator to the Jews only; therefore it must be Christ. Moses, therefore, must give way to Him, as the seed promised to Abraham, in whom all nations should be blessed. So Gennadius in Œcumenius, and, following him, Salmeron.
Ver. 21.—Is the law then against the promises of God? Jerome correctly points out that this is an answer by anticipation to the objection to which S. Paul had exposed himself in verse 19, when he said, “The law was added because of transgressions till the seed should come.” For any one might say: If the law was added to the promise, and, as it were, removed it, it seems to have taken to itself the office of quickening and justifying men, so that it may be regarded as doing the work of the promise till Christ should come; for if not, why was it added, unless it were, as you say yourself, because of transgressions, to destroy them by the living and virtuous actions prescribed by the law for justification? If this be so, then the law is against the promises of God, for God promised this justification to faith in Christ, not to the law, nay, He thereby excluded it from the law.
That S. Paul is meeting an objection of this sort is obvious from what follows. The law, he exclaims, cannot give life; therefore, it is not against the promises of God which offer that spiritual life in Christ. The antecedent is proved thus: If the law could give life it could also justify; but this it cannot do (ver. 22). Hence the law was only given to be our pedagogue to Christ, to lead us to justification by faith. Or it may be put thus: When I said that the law was given because of transgressions, I meant that its function was to prevent them by fear of punishment, that passion might not issue in action; I did not mean that the law alone could calm the violence of passion within, or give that grace by which we fulfil the law.
God forbid. It is impossible that God should give a law contradictory to His promises, for this would be for God to contradict Himself. The law which came after was not opposed to the preceding promises, but its office was to admonish men to prepare themselves worthily for Christ and His Gospel. Therefore the law is not contrary to the promise, but establishes it.
For if there had been a law given which could have given life. To give life is to impart righteousness to the soul. But, as S. Paul appears to distinguish between life and righteousnessit is better to say that to give life stands for to quicken man’s works. This is done when a man does virtuous actions out of the spirit of charity. The argument is from the effect to the cause, from a living work to life; as we say: This man eats, talks, moves, therefore he is alive. In the same way, if the law could produce in us living works, it could also give us the spirit of charity from which they spring, for the works of the Spirit presuppose the Spirit, just as motion does life.
Ver. 22.—But the scripture hath concluded all under sin. This Scripture is cited in Rom. iii. 9.
Ver. 23.—Before faith came. Like slaves under the stern discipline of the law, we were kept as though by walls and hedges from sin, and were held, and kept in, that we might be thereby prepared, and might learn to long for the righteousness which Christ should give.
Ver. 24.—The law was our schoolmaster. A pædagogue, says S. Jerome, is one who looks after a boy. Among the Greeks he was a slave, whose duty it was to accompany his ward wherever he went, to keep him from loose conduct, to chastise him if need were, and in every way to form his character for good. Such was the office of the law with regard to the Hebrews.
Unto Christ. By a happy figure of speech, S. Paul compares the law to a pædagogue, and faith in Christ to a father, For we are born again by faith in Christ, and become sons of God, thereby passing from the state of pupilage under the law to that of men under Christ.
Ver. 26.—For ye are all the children of God. Both Jews, who were under the law, and Gentiles, who were not, are become, by faith in Christ, children of God. The conjunction for is causal, and indicates the reason why we are not under the law as a pædagogue, viz., because we are the sons of God. Children are like slaves, S. Paul says, in chap. iv. 1, nay, like the lower animals, in needing a pædagogue to enable them to resist the motions of sense. But those who by faith in Christ have left this state of childhood, and are become sons of God, have grown to man’s estate. It would be, therefore, absurd for them to be made subject to the law as their pædagogue, as though they were still children. This would be as absurd, says Theophylact, as for a man, when the day had dawned, to prefer a lamp to the sun. This is a rebuke to the Judaisers, which may be summarised thus: Christ is to us as a father to his grown-up sons. Why do you then go back to the pædagogy of the law? Why hold out your hand again like boys to the ferule?
By faith. Not faith alone, but by faith manifested in baptism and other acts.
Ver. 27.—As many of you as have been baptized into Christ. To be baptized into Christ is to receive His baptism as distinct from that of Moses or John Baptist. The change from the first person (we) of verse 25 to the second person (you) here denotes the change of subject from Jews to Gentiles.
Have put on Christ. You have received plenteously in your baptism the grace and gifts of Christ; you have put them round you like a garment (cf. Ps. cix. 18), so that you are made partakers of the Divine nature, and therefore of the workings of God’s power, by which Christ shines in your lives. “Your daily conversation,” says Anselm, “like a splendid robe, is Christ’s holiness and Christ’s religion.”
These words may be explained in a better way, thus: As matter takes its form, the body its soul as a substantial robe to hide its nakedness and ugliness; so you in baptism have put on Christ by grace, so that the Spirit of Christ is, as it were, your form and soul; consequently you have been brought into such close union with Christ that, as He is the Son of God by nature, so are you by adoption and grace. This is the explanation of Chrysostom and Theophylact. The conjunction for shows that Paul wishes to prove that we are the sons of God by the fact that we have put on Christ, who is the Son of God by nature, and hence are one with Him, and, as it were, are Christ Himself. Cf. notes to 1 Cor. xii. 12.
We should note from this the efficacy of baptism, which not only adorns us with graces and gifts, but with Christ Himself. What have the Protestants to say to this who make baptism to be a bare sign of righteousness already received by faith?
S. Ambrose (Serm. 90) gives some beautiful words of S. Agnes about the baptismal robe of Christ, both that which is within, and that material robe which formerly was given to adults at their baptism as a symbol of the first. “He adorned me,” she said, “with a glorious bracelet. Hie covered my hand and neck with precious stones. He put pearls in my ears, and loaded me with glistening gems. On my face He put his seal, that I might admit no lover save Him alone. He clad me in a robe of cloth of gold, and with glorious jewels did He beautify me.” And a little farther she continued: “Now have I drunken milk and honey from His mouth. Now have I been clasped in His most chaste embraces. Now has His body been united to mine, and His blood has bedewed my cheeks.” This last of course refers to the Eucharist, which used to be given to those newly baptized, that they might be wholly united to Christ. To them too used to be given milk and honey, as symbols of the sweetness of Christ, and of the law of Christ, of which they then become partakers.
Ver. 28.—There is neither Jew nor Greek.—i.e., in Christ. In the Church of Christ there is no distinction before God of birth, position, or sex. All, whether Jews or Greeks (= Gentiles), whether slaves or freemen, whether males or females, make one mystical body, the Church, of which the Head is Christ.
Or we may take it, and better, with S. Chrysostom, to mean that ye are one in the sense that ye have put on one form, or one soul, like the garment described above, and this not of any angel, but of Christ. This garment is the faith, charity, and holiness of Christ, and it makes you to seem like one man, to be one Christ. The Jews, therefore, have nothing of their Judaism to pride themselves on when they pass into Christ; therefore they have nothing of their own to invite you to, 0 Galatians, for you are equal sharers in Christ with them.
Ver. 29.—If ye be Christ’s. Ifyou are members of the Head, and are the mystical body of its Spirit, then, as Christ is, so are ye Abraham’s seed, and hence inheritors of the righteousness promised to Abraham. Accordingly, Ambrose reads here: “If ye are one in Christ, then are ye Abraham’s seed,” which gives the meaning very clearly.
1 We were under the law till Christ came, as the heir is under his guardian tilt he be of age. 5 But Christ freed us from the law; 7 therefore we are servants no longer to it. 14 He remembereth their good will to him, and his to them, 22 and sheweth that we are the sons of Abraham by the freewoman.
OW I say, That the heir as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
Douay Rheims Version
Christ has freed us from the servitude of the law. We are the freeborn sons of Abraham.
S long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all,
i. He continues the argument of the preceding chapter that the Jews, like children and slaves, were under the Jewish law as a pædagague, while Christians, as sons of full age, were led, not by the law, but by the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, “Abba, Father,” and that it is, therefore, unworthy of them to return to the weak and beggarly elements of the law.
ii. He Observes (ver. 13) on the eagerness with which the Galatians had formerly embraced his preaching, that he may shame them for so lightly departing from it.
iii. He introduces (ver. 21) a new argument from an allegory drawn from Abraham’s history. His wife Sarah, a “free woman,” bore him Isaac as his son and heir, by whom were represented Christians, the free-born sons of God, free from the bondage of the law, and in due time heirs of Abraham’s blessing. His bondwoman Hagar bore him Ishmael, who was cast out, and who represented the Judaisers, to be shut out from the blessing promised by God to Abraham.
Ver. 1.—Now I say. This is closely connected with vers. 24 and 25 of the preceding chapter, where it was said that “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, but after that faith is come we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” He proceeds to prove this at greater length, and begins with the example of a child who is under tutors.
The heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant. An infant, as the Greek word is, who has not yet attained to years of discretion, inasmuch as he is under a tutor and a pædagogue, and cannot exercise the right of dominion over his property, is in the position of a slave rather than a lord, nay, he is subject to a slave, viz., his pædagogue, and is under tutors and governors.
Ver. 2.—Governors. Stewards who administer his property.
Until the time appointed. The prescribed day when the power of the tutor came to an end, i.e., the date when the heir was twenty five years of age, which in many places is the age of majority.
Ver. 3.—Even so we. That is the Jews, whom he so describes in chap. iii. 25.
When we were children. Like boys untaught in the knowledge, and therefore in the love of God and His righteousness.
Under the elements of the world. 1. Serving the letter of the Old Law. For the law, as being imperfect, was first given to the world, i.e., to the Jews, and through the Jews to all nations, to teach them the rudiments of faith and piety. But the Gospel, succeeding the law, teaches their perfection. As Justinian calls his Institutes the “elements of the law,” and as we speak of the elements of grammar, philosophy, and music, so here the Apostle speaks of the law as elementary. As boys, says Anselm, learn the elements, and their conjunction, but do not understand the words and sentences composed from them until they proceed to higher branches of learning, to which they can only attain by first learning the elements, so the Jews had the elements in their ceremonies, of which they did not understand the meaning, until by these elements, as their elevators, they come to the faith of Christ.
S. Paul calls the men of the world by the name of the world. The reference is first to the Jews, then, by metonymy, to all men. God willed to open, in one corner of the world a school, where He might teach men the rudiments of faith and piety, until He should open everywhere schools where they were most learnedly taught.
2. More properly and naturally the elements of the world are the days, months, times, and years of verse 10. These he calls elements byan allusion to Gen. i., where it is said that God created the elements of the world in seven days, and then rested on the seventh day, and instituted the Sabbath as a memorial among the Jews of His creative rest. The days are thus called elements, because in them the elements were created, and their creation represented by metonymy on the Sabbath. Or they may be so called because time governs the world and all in it, as the generation, corruption, and succession of things. Accordingly, in grateful recollection of God’s providence, disposing by sun and moon the succession of the seasons and of day and night, He willed that Sabbaths, new moons, and other days should be observed by the Jews, that they might continually recognise God as the Creator and Preserver of all things, through the instrumentality of these stated feasts, till, being better taught by the Gospel, they should worship God in spirit and in truth.
Erasmus, however, thinks that the world here by catachresis stands for whatever has the nature of visible and transitory things, such as the ceremonies of the Old Law, which, in Col. ii. 20, he calls “the rudiments of the world.” But this is not the usual meaning of the word with the Apostle, nor is it the meaning in Col. ii. 20, as I will prove when I come to comment on it. Cf. also infra, notes on verse 9.
We were in bondage. Theophylact explains this from the analogy of the child under tutors. As this child differs nothing from a slave, so, when we were children in the knowledge of Christ and the love of God, we were, like slaves, under the aforesaid elements of the world, and under the tutorship of the Old Law.
Ver. 4.—But when the fulness of the time was come. When the time fixed beforehand for the end of the law and the beginning of the Gospel was fully come, we were transferred from the servitude of the law to the freedom of sonship. S. Bernard (Serm. 1 de Adventu) explains the passage somewhat differently: “The fulness and abundance of temporal things had brought about forgetfulness and famine of eternal things. It was at the moment when temporal things held sway that eternal things opportunely arrived.” But this is a symbolical rather than literal explanation. Literally, the fulness of time is not the abundance of temporal things, but the full completion of the predetermined time.
God sent forth His Son, as His legate or Apostle, with full instructions to act on His behalf. He sent His Son, not by change of place, as though He left heaven and arrived at earth; but the Son, remaining where He was, in heaven and on earth, took a new role, viz., that of a Human Ambassador from God to man.
Made of a woman. Woman here denotes, not corruption, but the female sex, and applies as well to a virgin as to another woman. Made of a woman denotes conception without a male, from the sole substance of the mother. From this it clearly follows that Christ did not assume a heavenly body, which He brought to earth by passing through the Blessed Virgin as through a pipe, as the Valentinians formerly, and the Anabaptists now teach, but that His body was formed from the Virgin.
Made under the law. Though Christ, even as man, was not subject to the law, because He was still the Son of God, the giver of the law, yet of His own free-will He observed it, and of His own free-will submitted Himself to circumcision, and to its other ceremonial enactments. Made, therefore, denotes, not obligation, but practice; not right, but fact.
To redeem them that were under the law. By paying the price, might bestow on them Christian liberty The reference is to the bondage of the law, not of sin.
That we might receive the adoption of sons. (1.) The Son of God was made of a woman Son of man, that He might make the sons of men sons of God. “God was made man,” says S. Bernard, “that man might be made God.” (2.) This adoption is by grace, by which we obtain not only a right to be heirs of God the Father, but also participation in the Divine Nature, the Holy Spirit Himself, and sonship with God. (3.) Although all the righteous, even before Christ, were sons of God by adoption, yet the Apostle calls them all slaves—(a) because, although the righteous were truly sons of God, yet they had not the status of sons, but only of slaves, being under the law, and consequently under the spirit of servile fear. (b) Because they had not the right of sonship through the law, but through their faith in Christ yet to come; and they belonged, therefore, more to the New Law than to the Old, as Augustine proves happily and exhaustively (contra Duas Epp. Pelag. cap. 4). (c) Because they lacked the fruit of adoption, in being unable to discern their heavenly inheritance before Christ revealed it. (d) Because Christ, in setting us free from the yoke of the law, substituted for it in the New Law the one spirit of adoption and of love.
Ver. 6.—The Spirit of His Son. The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is an argument from effect to cause, as when we say, “Where there is smoke there is fire.” God first sent forth the Spirit of His Son to us, from which it followed that we became sons of God. Because we are sons, therefore, we know that He hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son, else should we not be sons. Because, therefore, denotes not so much the efficient cause as the logical reason.
Or, better still, we may connect the particle because with the cry, “Abba, Father.” God hath sent forth His Spirit, not to make you sons, but to make you cry, “Abba, Father.”
Crying. Causing you to invoke God ardently, confidently, with filial affection. It is the clamour of the heart, not of the mouth, as in Exod. xiv. 15.
Abba. The Hebrew Ab, the Syriac Abba, which in Greek and Latin becomes Abbas, denotes father. See my notes to Rom. viii. 15. As this place is a terror to the lukewarm, who rarely experience this feeling of filial prayer, so does it inspire the devout, who seek it within with a hope of salvation and enjoyment of their heavenly inheritance.
Ver. 8.—Howbeit then. When you were pagan unbelievers, and lived in ignorance of God.
Which by nature are no gods. But only in the estimation of man.
Ver. 9.—But now after that ye have known God, &c. Known by God, as beloved sons of their Father. “God is ignorant of no one,” says S. Jerome, “but He is said to know those who have exchanged error for piety.” Better still, it may be rendered, made to know, taught by God, by a common Hebraism. The Hiphil (“he caused to know”) and the Hophal (“he was made to know”) have no exact equivalent voice in Latin or Greek, and are, therefore, expressed by a participle, with a loss of the force of the original Hebrew. Cf. 1 Cor. viii. 3. In other places, God is said to know when He makes us to know; and the Holy Spirit is said to cry aloud, or to pray, when He makes us cry aloud or pray. Cf. Rom. viii. 26. The meaning of the verse is, therefore, this: Since you have been taught by God inwardly by His grace, outwardly by our preaching what is the way of salvation in Christ, why do you turn again to the elements of the law, to be taught perfection by them? You are like a metaphysician beginning again the elements of grammar, or a runner returning from the goal to the starting-point. You were once near the goal of salvation; why then go back to the place you started from? You were theologians taught by God; why do you return to the law, as though you had lost your rights and were beginning again?
To the weak and beggarly elements. What are these? 1. Augustine and Ambrose understand by the phrase the sun and moon, and the idols formerly worshipped by the Galatians, and see a reference to the false gods mentioned above in verse 3. Tertullian, in a similar vein, says (de Præscript. c. 33): “The Apostle censures Hermogenes, who, by introducing matter as uncreated, compares it to the uncreated God, and by making a goddess as mother of the elements, sets her up as an object of worship side by side with the one God.” But the objection to this explanation is that the Galatians had no wish to return to Gentilism but to Judaism; and this the whole Epistle, with its condemnation of the Jewish ceremonies, clearly shows.
2. The explanation of Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Œcumenius is better. According to them, these elements are the sun and moon, to which the Galatians wished to return, not to serve them as gods, as they had been used to do before they embraced Christianity, but to determine by their courses the Sabbaths, New Moons, and other Jewish feasts. He calls these elements weak and beggarly with reference to God, whose support they require continually, without which they are weak, and even unable to exist. If God withdrew His hand, they would sink into the nothing from which they came. That S. Paul is referring to the sun and moon appears from the fact that they are properly the elements of the world, as he styled them in verse 3, and also because he asks, “Why turn ye again” to the things which you used to worship? Among the Galatians these of course were not the Jewish ceremonies, but the sun and moon.
3. But the best explanation is that of Jerome, Theodoret, Anselm, and Tertullian (contra Marcion, v. 4), who understand by these elements the Sacraments, and feast-days, and other ceremonies of the Old Law, which were given to the Jews, as the first rudiments of faith and piety, and through them to the whole world, and which were, as I have said in the notes to verse 3, symbols of the creation and government of the world. They are beggarly, and, as Tertullian calls them, fallacious, because they neither contain nor confer grace, but need for this the power of Christ. They are also weak, because they are of themselves of no efficacy to justify or sanctify; for without faith in Christ they could justify no one, nay, even with that faith they did not justify by themselves and ex opere operato, but only ex opere operantis, i.e., by the faith of the receiver. Accordingly, they were done away with when Christ came.
That this last explanation is the correct one is evident from what follows; for S. Paul goes on to say, “Ye observe days and months, and times and years,” by which he gives them to understand that these were the elements that they served.
Moreover, this explanation is much the more simple and pertinent. For these elements, that is to say, these festal days they did observe, but they did not worship the sun and moon. Nor can it be said with strict truth that whoever observes the first day of the month is a moon-worshipper, or that one who keeps the Lord’s Day is a sun-worshipper, when the Lord’s Day is merely identified with Sunday, because the best of all days is assigned to the chief of all the heavenly bodies.
It may be objected that the word again is opposed to the explanation, and implies that the Galatians, as being formerly worshippers of the host of heaven, had returned to this worship, and not to Jewish observances, to which they had not been addicted.
I reply that S. Paul regards all men without distinction as having been under the law as their pædagogue, and accuses the Galatians of again setting up, by their action, the obsolete rites of Judaism.
But the answer of Adam is perhaps better, who refers the word again, not to the whole but to the part, as signifying only that slavery was restored in general, but not in this or that particular. The Galatians had at one time served idols, and afterwards Judaism, and they are here exhorted not to become slaves once more, whether to demons or to Jewish shadows. So we might say to a Lutheran who had embraced the Catholic faith, and afterwards lapsed into Calvinism: How can you fall into Calvinism again, that is into heresy? It is not Calvinism that is the significant word, but lapse, and the force of the question lies in its appeal against deserting the Catholic faith for heresy of any kind whatsoever.
Ver. 10.—Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. As S. Augustine (Ep. 119 and Enchirid. 79) and Anselm understand the elements to be the sun, moon, and idols, so do they understand this verse to mean days that were lucky or unlucky, according as astrology made them so. But Chrysostom and Jerome and others explain the days to be the Jewish Sabbaths; the months to be the new moons, and the seventh month, which was held sacred throughout; the times to be the stated feasts of the four seasons—the Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, and the New Year; and the years to be the seventh year of remission of debts, and the fiftieth year of jubilee. By the observance of days, months, and years, S. Paul means the ceremonies of the Old Law as a whole.
From this appears the error of the heretics, who infer from this that the feasts of the Church are condemned. If they were, then would the heretics themselves be condemned for keeping Sunday? What is condemned here is the observance of the Jewish feasts only. These are happily distinguished from those observed by Christians, by Gregory Nazianzen, in his Whitsuntide Oration, in which he says: “The Jew keeps feast days, but it is according to the letter; for by observing the corporeal law he attains not to the spiritual. The Gentile keeps feast days, but it is according to the body, in revelling and wantonness. [Accordingly Lucian (Saturnalia) bids that nothing be done during the time of the feast, whether in public or in private, but what pertains to sport, to pleasure, and to lust; nay, the feasts of the heathen were obscene in themselves, witness those of Venus, Priapus, and Bacchus, in whose honour every abomination was practised]. We Christians keep feasts, but only such as are pleasing to the Spirit.”
Jerome, too, says: “Any one may say that if it is not lawful to observe days, and months, and times, and years, then we do what is forbidden in observing Wednesdays, and Good Friday, and the Lords Day, and the Lenten fast, and the Easier solemnities, and the Whitsuntide festivities, and the days set apart in different places in honour of the martyrs. A wise and simple reply to this will be that the Jewish feast-days differ from ours. We do not observe the feast of unleavened bread, but that of the Cross and the Resurrection, nor do we number our weeks to Pentecost as the Jews did, but celebrate one coming of the Holy Spirit.” From which we may observe that, in S. Jerome’s time, days were set apart in honour of the martyrs, and that the practice is approved by him.
1 Ver. 12.—Be as I am. As you see me neglecting Jewish feasts, relying on my freedom in the Gospel, so do you neglect them and make use of the same freedom. I would be your leader into the land of liberty; follow me, therefore, and care nothing for what the Jews may say about the necessity of the Old Law.
I am as ye are. I live as a Gentile, and adapt myself to your needs, so far as I can with a safe conscience.
Ye have not injured me at all. Ifanybody, it is yourselves that you have injured. I do not say this in anger, but from love and pity. S. Jerome observes that the Apostle soothes here any feelings wounded by the rebuke of chap. iii. 1.
Ver. 13.—Through infirmity of the flesh I preached the Gospel unto you. S. Jerome explains this to mean that he gave them the first and weak elements only of the faith, because of their weakness with regard to spiritual things. He also gives as a second interpretation of infirmity of the flesh, Paul’s sicknesses and headaches, and as a third, his persecutions, poverty, and sufferings in general, which might make him seem an Apostle, weak, miserable, and despicable, and so unable to gain the respect of the Galatians.
Ver. 14.—And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not. Erasmus takes temptation in the active sense, viz., as though Paul had tempted the Galatians by his unattractive presence and speech. But it is better to take it passively, as being identical with the object of temptation. The meaning then is: You did not despise me in my weakness and my abject condition, which had the effect of making me a temptation to you, but you received me as an angel, nay, as Christ Himself. [Note.—The Vulgate is: “And your temptation which was in my flesh.”]
Ver. 15.—Your blessedness. You beatified me for my sufferings for the faith, and as it were said to yourselves: Happy are we in having such an Apostle! “Happy they who have the privilege of hearing and seeing Paul!” S. Augustine is said to have wished to see three things—Christ on earth in the flesh, Rome at the height of her power, and Paul thundering in his preaching. S. Paul now asks the Galatians what had become of their former opinion of him; why they had so soon changed their minds, and given up their love for him, which was once ardent enough to make them pluck out their eyes for him; and inquires whether he had become their enemy for telling them the truth, viz., that no one is justified by the law, but only by faith in Christ.
Ver. 17.—They zealously affect you. The Judaisers do all they can to woo you to espouse their cause, and to bring you into subjection to their law, but their object is not good.
They would exclude you. Some texts read include here, which gives a very good meaning. These Judaisers are like crafty wooers, who, when they are seeking to win a wealthy wife, show her every kind of honour and service, and humour her whims in everything; but when they have attained their object, they shut her up, appoint custodians of her person, and treat her as a slave. They are now promising you, Galatians, great things; but they want to shut you up under the law, and shut you out from the liberty that is in Christ.
That ye might affect them. It is not friendship that animates them. They want to gain your confidence, that you may surrender to them, and become their disciples, and give, them ground for public boasting.
Ver. 18.—But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing. It is good to imitate others, but only in what is good. [The Vulgate reading is in the imperative: Be zealously affected always to the good in what is good.]
Observe that the first good can be taken in the neuter, for what is good, or in the masculine. If the latter be read, then the meaning is: Do not be zealously affected towards Judaism, which is evil, but take as your models good Christian men like myself, whose manner of life among you ye know. You followed me when I was with you; you should do the same in my absence, for a good man is always to be imitated, whether absent or present. This is a hint that in the Apostle’s opinion it was his absence which had been the cause of their lapse into Judaism.
Ver. 19.—My little children. I begat you to Christ by the Gospel, and now that you have left Him for Judaism, I travail in birth of you again, till you learn to look to Christ for grace and justification, and not to the law. “The Apostle here,” says Chrysostom, “Speaks of a mother’s anxiety over her children. You see the feelings of a mother rather than of a father; you see his nervousness, and the cry of pain, much more agonising than that of a woman in travail.” As the Blessed Virgin bore Christ in the flesh but without pain, so did Paul labour with Christ spiritually, though with pain and grief, and strive to form the Galatians for Christ, that He might be all in all to them.
S. Ambrose (de Isaac et Animâ, c. 8) says, with equal piety and point: “There [in the Cross and in baptism] did your mother travail; there did she who bore you labour. There are we born again, for they are brought forth in whom the image of Christ is formed. He tells us how Christ was formed in His Spouse. Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thine arm. Christ is the seal upon the forehead, that we may ever confess Him; on the heart, that we may always love Him; on the arm, that we may always work for Him; so that, if it be possible, His whole likeness may be expressed in us, and He be our seal whom God the Father hath sealed.”
Let those note who desire to convert souls to Christ, that they must labour and toil like a woman in travail. Hence the question is asked in Job xxxix. 1: “Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve? . . . They bow themselves, they bring forth their young ones, they cast out their sorrows”—where the reference is to the belief that the hinds suffer more acutely than most animals in parturition, a belief that was shared by Aristotle and Pliny. S. Gregory takes this passage mystically of preachers who, like hinds in labour, bring forth offspring to Christ with tears and sorrow.
“I see,” he says, “that Paul is like a hind bringing forth its young with great pain; for he says, ‘My little children, of whom I travail in birth again.’ See the pain, see the labour he suffered; even after he was delivered he was conspelled to give life again to his offspring when it had perished.” (Morals xxx. 21)
Let bishops, too, learn from S. Paul to be not so much fathers as mothers to their subjects, as S. Bernard says excellently (Serm. 25 in Cant.). “Learn to be mothers, not lords, to those under your charge. Seek to be loved rather than feared; and if sometimes there is need of severity, let it be that of a father, not of a tyrant.”
Ver. 20.—I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice. I would wish to say orally what a letter cannot sufficiently express; I would wish to coax, to beseech, to implore you, to treat you as a mother does her children, to manifest in every way a mother’s affection, that I might persuade you to do what I wish.
See what love makes men do. Paul makes himself a father, and becomes a boy with his children. So King Agesilaus, to amuse his boy, would lay aside his purple and his sceptre, to ride on a stick for him; and when one of his court remarked on his levity, he retorted: “Hold your tongue, for when you have children of your own, then I will give you leave to laugh at your king’s folly.” So here Paul would say that a mother’s love knows no bounds, no shame; for it no toil is too great, nothing is too trivial or too shameful.
I stand in doubt of you. “I am ashamed,” as some render it, but wrongly. The meaning is: I am perplexed; I do not know what to say to you to persuade you. Maldonatus gives two interpretations: (1.) I have not obtained the expected fruit of my preaching, therefore I am confounded; and (2.) I do not know whether you are Christians or Jews.
Ver. 21.—Do ye not hear the law? A vigorous question. If you will not listen to me, will you not listen to the law, that you think so much of, for it will point you from itself to Christ?
Ver. 22.—Abraham had two sons. Ishmael, by his handmaiden, Hagar, who was, therefore, but a wife of secondary rank; and Isaac, by Sarah, his wife of honour. The latter was his heir; the former received such gifts as the father chose to give him. Cf. Gen. xxv. 5, 6.
Ver. 23.—He who was of the bondwoman. Ishmael was born according to the laws of natural generation, by which Abraham, though an old man, was able to raise up seed from his youthful bondwoman, Hagar.
He of the freewoman was by promise. Isaac was not born according to the usual laws of generation, for Sarah, his mother, was then sterile by age, so that Abraham could not in the order of nature beget a son by her. He was born by promise, i.e., by the supernatural power of God, in fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham.
Ver. 24.—Which things are an allegory. An allegory with rhetoricians is a continued metaphor. With ecclesiastical writers it is identical with a type or figure in which things and events of the Old Testament represented their parallels in the New.
For these are the two covenants. Sarah and Hagar signify respectively the two covenants, the New and the Old. There are four senses of Scripture: (1.) The literal, as e.g., when it is said that Abraham begat Ishmael of Hagar naturally, and Isaac of Sarah supernaturally; (2.) the allegorical, as when it is said, “These are the two covenants;” (3.) the tropological, of which we find an example in verse 29; (4.) the anagogical, which is used in verse 26.
The first covenant referred to here is that made by God with Moses on Mount Sinai, in which God promised to be the God of the Hebrews, and to give them the land of Canaan, and the Hebrews on their part promised to keep the law of their God, whether moral, judicial, or ceremonial. The second covenant is that made with Christ and Christians at Jerusalem, in which God promised to be the God of the Christians, and to give them a heavenly inheritance; and the Christians on their part promised by Christ and His Apostles to preserve the faith of Christ, and to obey His precepts. This latter appears throughout the Gospels, and especially in the record of the Last Supper, given by S. John in chap. xiii. et seq. There Christ confirmed this covenant in His own blood, as is narrated by SS. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul.
The one from the Mount Sinai. The Old Covenant, given from Mount Sinai, made slaves of the Jews, by bringing them under the shadows of burdensome ceremonies, obliging them to obedience under fear of punishment, or by the promise of earthly goods, such as abundance of corn and wine and oil.
Which is Agar. Hagar the slave typifies the covenant of slavery.
Ver. 25.—For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia. Mount Sinai was called Hagar by the Arabs, according to Chrysostom and others. But this explanation is forced, and leaves a gap in the argument. As we have just seen, Hagar represents the Old Covenant given on Mount Sinai, and this is the sense of the passage.
In Arabia. Even the Arabs typify this Jewish slavery, for they themselves are subject to it. Hence the saying, “the Arabian pipe,” mentioned by Julius Pollux, which shows their servile condition, since slaves only (and they for the most part came from Arabia) used to practise the art of music. The Old Covenant of slavery was, therefore, fitly entered into in Arabia, i.e., on Mount Sinai. Chrysostom adds: “Hagar in Hebrew denotes dwelling, Sinai temptation, Arabia falling, Ishmael the hearing of God.” Jerome says: “Hagar shows by its meaning that the Old Covenant would not be for ever; Sinai, that it would be a temptation; Arabia, that it would perish; Ishmael, as the name of one who heard only the commandments of God but did not do them, a rough man, a man of blood, the enemy of his brethren, that the Jews would be hard and harsh, enemies of Christians, hearers only of the law, and not doers.”
S. Jerome again says tropologically: “Those Christians are born of Hagar who look only at the shell of Holy Scripture, and serve the Lord in fear. Those are born of Sarah who treat the Old Covenant as an allegory, and seek for its spirit, and who serve the Lord in love.” See also the remarks of S. Augustine (contra Duas Epp. Pelag. cap. 4), where he lays down that Abraham, Noah, Moses, and all the righteous men of the Old Covenant, were really children of the New, inasmuch as they were justified by the same faith in the Incarnation and Passion of Christ as Christians, and lived by the same grace and the same love of Christ; while, on the other hand, Christians who keep the law from fear of punishment are children of the Old and not of the New Covenant.
Which is joined to that which now is Jerusalem. So the Vulgate. S. Jerome and Chrysostom take it of a literal vicinity to Jerusalem, inasmuch as Jerusalem borders on the desert in which Sinai is situated, the hills of Idumæa alone intervening. But these hills comprise the whole of Idumæa, which is a large tract, and, therefore, it cannot be said Sinai is joined to Judæa. It would be more accurate to say that it was widely separated from it.
S. Thomas interprets it to mean that Sinai is joined to Jerusalem, not by nearness, but by a continuous road, because the Hebrews went from Egypt by a straight road through Sinai into Judæa. But this is too far fetched. In the same way the Red Sea, and Egypt itself, might be said to be joined to Judæa.
Accordingly, it is better to understand the words to mean that the conjunction is not of place but of likeness.
With this agrees the Greek word here, συστοιχεί, which means kinship or likeness. Στοίχειν means to go forward in order, or to stand in one’s place. So grammarians call the letters of the alphabet στοιχει̃α, because they are joined in a certain order. Philosophers call the elements—earth, air, fire, and water—by the same name, because each of them has its due place, and its relation to the others. Also verses are called στίχοι, and lines in order, στίχαι. Hence, as Budæus says, kindred things are called σύστοιχα, and συστοιχία is a series of similar things duly arranged. So here, of Mount Sinai it is said that it, συστοιχει̃, i.e., it has a similarity, it is in the same series or order of things as Jerusalem, because it represents it by a convenient type.
This it does (1.) because, as Mount Sinai is sterile in the desert, so is Jerusalem in its ceremonies. Moreover, the law was given in the first, preserved in the second. (2.) Sinai was outside the Promised land; the Jerusalem of the law is outside the Church of Christ, whether militant or triumphant. (3.) Which is more germane to the Apostle’s purpose; as Sinai nourished and brought up slaves whether Jews or Arabs, and as from it proceeded a servile law, with the sound of the trumpet, with thundering and earthquake, which, therefore, suitably drove its votaries into obedience by fear; so is now Jerusalem, so far as its life and doctrine are concerned, Sinaitic, and produces slaves to the shadows of the law, who obey through fear only. (4.) Sinai is related to Jerusalem also, because the Jews, who received the law at Sinai, were the fathers of those who kept it in Jerusalem; and as the I fathers were, so are the sons.
By metonymy, Sinai and Jerusalem are put for their inhabitants. As Hagar the bondwoman signified the bondage of the Old Covenant, so Mount Sinai, in bringing forth slaves, typified Jerusalem, which did the same. Such as Sinai was, such is Jerusalem. The former was the parent of the slaves, so too is the latter.
Subjoined is a tabular statement of the typology used here:—
Hagar the bondwoman
Sarah the freewoman.
Jerusalem which now is. The earthly Jerusalem is contrasted with the heavenly, the transitory with that which is to endure for ever.
It may be noted that Jerusalem is not compounded of Jebus and Salem, as Erasmus and others have thought, but of a Hebrew word meaning he shall see, and Salem, in allusion to Gen. xxii. 14. Hence the meaning of the word is the vision of peace.
And is in bondage with her children. The reference is of course to Hager. As she, a bondwoman, bore Ishmael, he and his descendants inherit their mother’s status; so does the Old Covenant, typified by her, bring forth bondmen. On the other hand, as Sarah was a free woman, her children are free, as are the children of the New Covenant.
The slavery of the Old Covenant consisted mainly in two things, in its obliging men to obedience by fear, and in burdening them with a multitude of dumb ceremonies, which were of no avail to justification. On the other hand, the liberty of the Gospel consists in its leading us to obedience through love, and in teaching us to worship God in spirit and in truth. It has no doubt its own ceremonies, nut they are all aids only to the spiritual life.
Ver. 26.—But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. The Christian Church, typified by Sarah, the mistress, is contrasted with the Jewish synagogue, typified by Hagar, the bondwoman, in four points: It is above; it is Jerusalem; it is free; it is a fruitful mother.
1. Why is it said to be above? Because (a) Christ, its Head, descended from heaven, and thither ascended to rule the Church from above. (b) Because the Church is perfected by heavenly things, faith, hope, and charity, which come from above (c) Because, the efficacy of the Sacraments is from above, and shows God Himself present in His Church, as though He had come down from above. (d) Because her conversation is in heaven, and there with her Spouse are her heart and treasure. (e) Because she is striving for her eternal crown laid up in heaven. Cf. Rev. xxi. 2.
2. Why is she called Jerusalem? Because Jerusalem means the vision of peace. This God provides for His Church, so that she rejoices, not in earthly but in heavenly peace, according to the promise of her Lord. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you” (S. John xiv. 27). This peace comes from a good conscience towards God, self, and all men. Literally too the Church is entitled to be called Jerusalem, because there she had her beginning, as the Jewish Church had at Sinai. Hence the prophets repeatedly designate the Christian Church by the names of Sion or Jerusalem.
3. Why is she called free? Freedom is fourfold: (a) Civil, to which is opposed the status of slaves. (b) Moral, by which is excluded slavery to passion and lust, to the fear of adversity. In this the Stoics placed the perfection of happiness, and desired that every man should be able to say of himself: Though the world were shattered around him, its fragments would strike, but not daunt him (Hor. Odes, iii. 3, 7). (c) Spiritual, springing from that perfect charity which casts out fear, by which we are able to serve God, not in servile fear, but in filial love; not with material ceremonies, but in spirit and in truth. This is the freedom in the Apostle’s mind here. (d) Celestial, which excludes all slavery of mind or body to pain, and is the perfect bliss of mankind.
The Church already enjoys moral and spiritual liberty; by hope and desire it tastes beforehand the heavenly freedom it is one day to possess.
4. Why is she called a mother? Because out of Gentile barrenness, which was subject to devils, the Church has been collected, and has borne, and still bears, many spiritual children to Christ, and this not from Jews alone, but from Jews and Gentiles, without distinction.
Ver. 27.—Rejoice, thou barren. Rejoice, 0 Church, called out of the Gentiles; thou who wast once barren, without faith in God, and formerly not wont to bear children to Him—now that thou art espoused to Him break forth and cry. The synagogue, whose husband was the law, or even God Himself, not as a father tender, but as a lawgiver terrible, brought forth Jews only according to the flesh. But the Church embraces as a mother all the nations that believe on Christ. Therefore the synagogue has borne to God comparatively a small number of spiritual children. She bare the Prophets, the Patriarchs, and a few other righteous men, and that not in her own strength, but by the power of Christ, the father of the New Covenant.
The Apostle quotes Isa. liv. 1. The Jews indeed interpret the passage of their return to the earthly Jerusalem. The Millenarians understood it of the thousand years of sensual happiness which they pretended that the Saints would spend on earth after the Day of judgment, as Jerome testifies of them. S. Paul, however, makes it clear that Isaiah was speaking of the happiness and fruitfulness of the Christian Church. Of this S. Ambrose writes very beautifully (de Virgin. lib. i.): “The Church is immaculate in conception, fruitful in offspring, a virgin in chastity, a mother in her family. We are born of a virgin who has been impregnated, not by a man but by the Spirit; who brings forth, not with bodily pain but with angelic rejoicing; who feeds her children with milk, not of earth but of the Apostles. She is a virgin in the Sacraments, and a mother in the virtues she produces. She is a mother to the nations, and Scripture testifies to her fruitfulness, saying: ‘The desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.’ Whether we interpret this of the Church among the nations, or the soul of each individual, in either case she is married to her heavenly Spouse by the word of God, without any deviation from the path of chastity.” S. Jerome, too, says, in his comments on this passage: “The Church, long time barren, bore no children before Christ was born of the Virgin; but when she bore to Abraham, i.e., the elect father, Christ as Isaac, the laughter of the world, whose very name spoke of heavenly mysteries, then she brought forth many children to God.”
Abraham in Hebrew is (according to Jerome) the elect father, with a mighty sound.
1. Abraham was first called Abram, the lofty father, and as such begat Ishmael from Hagar. Then when he entered into a covenant with God, and received the promise of the birth of Isaac, and of the possession by his seed of the land of Canaan, his name was changed to Abraham, the father of a great multitude, i.e., of a numerous offspring, to be begotten of Isaac according to the flesh, and of Christ according to the spirit. This is a sounder interpretation of the name than that given by Jerome.
2. Symbolically, Abraham represents God. From Hagar, the bondwoman, i.e., from the synagogue, he begat Ishmael, the bondservant, i.e., Moses and the Jews, who were under subjection to the Old Law. To them Abraham was a lofty father, giving the law in thunder from the heights of Sinai, and manifesting himself as a great and terrible Lord. On the other band, Abraham, i.e., God, begat from Sarah, the freewoman, i.e., the Church, Isaac, laughter, who represented Christ and His followers, heirs of the promises. To them Abraham was the father of a great multitude, gathered by Christ out of all nations, and regenerated by faith and baptism. Or if we take S. Jerome’s interpretation of Abraham as denoting the elect father with a mighty sound, then we see the fulfilment of the name in the preaching of John Baptist, of Christ, and the Apostles, who with a loud voice called all nations to enter into the kingdom of God.
3. Isaac, i.e., Christ, is said to be born of Sarah, i.e., the Church, not as though the Church were actually the mother of Christ, or existed before Him, but because, in the Divine mind, the Church was, as it were, prior to Christ, and stood for His mother. For God first called the synagogue into existence, and then substituted for it the Church. Consequently, He had in His mind the idea of the synagogue first, of the Church second; and out of this He decreed that Moses should be born as the eldest son of this idea, and that he should reduce to actuality the remaining parts of the idea by instituting the synagogue. Similarly, He willed the creation of the Church, and the birth of Christ, as the first-born of His idea of the Church, who should carry out the idea, and found the Church of which He should be Himself the chief cornerstone. Hence Christ and Christians are called children of the promise and of the predestined purpose of God, because their existence was the product of the Divine will as the father, and of the Divine thought as the mother.
Ver. 28.—Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. Since he was born of one barren through age—not according to the flesh, but according to the promise of God.
Ver. 29.—He that was born after the flesh. Ishmael, born naturally of Hagar, persecuted Isaac, born supernaturally of Sarah, according to the Divine promise, and so a type of the spiritual children of the New Law. The reference is to Gen. xxi. 9. From a comparison of these two passages it is evident that the mockery mentioned was a sort of persecution, the sort of sport that cats have with mice. So in 2 Sam. ii. 14: “Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise and play before us,” where the play was a mortal combat. Jerome and others think that the reason why Ishmael persecuted Isaac was because his envy was stirred up by the festivities indulged in at Isaac’s weaning, and because he was jealous of the birthright assigned to his brother by promise. Hence it appears that he was hostile to the promised Seed, i.e., to Christ.
So it is now. As formerly Ishmael mocked and persecuted Isaac, so now have the Jews mocked and crucified Christ, the King of liberty, and are still pursuing with bitter hatred His followers. So too are they persecuting you, 0 Galatians, that they may enslave you, and turn you from the right way. See the comments of Jerome and Rupert on Gen. xxi. 9.
Ver. 30.—Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son. Although Abraham shrank from this proposal of Sarah, yet God approved it, and bade Abraham do as Sarah demanded, not only because her demand was lawful and right, but also because his action would be a type of future events. The rejection of Hagar and Ishmael would typify the rejection of the Jewish synagogue, and its exclusion from the blessings of the Church, for persecuting Christ and His followers. Allegorically, Christians, as freemen, are inheritors of Abraham’s blessing, while the Jews are shut out from it, because they are envious bondmen, persecutors of Christian freemen, just as Ishmael was forbidden to share with Isaac the paternal roof. The bondman was driven away from the freeman.