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Reading Romans with St Thomas Aquinas


St. Thomas Aquinas produced his commentary on Romans near the end of his life while working on the Summa theologiae and commenting on Aristotle. The doctrinal richness of Paul's letter to the Romans was well known to the church fathers, including Origen and Augustine, on whom Aquinas drew for his commentary. With this rich collection of essays by leading scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, Aquinas's commentary will become a major resource for ecumenical biblical and ...

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St. Thomas Aquinas produced his commentary on Romans near the end of his life while working on the Summa theologiae and commenting on Aristotle. The doctrinal richness of Paul's letter to the Romans was well known to the church fathers, including Origen and Augustine, on whom Aquinas drew for his commentary. With this rich collection of essays by leading scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, Aquinas's commentary will become a major resource for ecumenical biblical and theological discussion.

Authored by the theologians, historians, and biblical scholars, Reading Romans with St. Thomas Aquinas contributes to a historical reconstruction of Aquinas's exegesis and theology by addressing such topics as the Holy Spirit, the Church, the faith of Abraham, worship, preaching, justification, sin and grace, predestination, Paul's apostolic vocation, the Jewish people; human sexuality, the relationship of flesh and spirit in the human person, the literal sense of Scripture, Paul's use of the Old Testament, and the relationship of Aquinas's commentary on Romans to his Summa theologiae.

This volume fits within the contemporary reappropriation of St. Thomas Aquinas, which emphasizes his use of Scripture and the teachings of the church fathers without neglecting his philosophical insight.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813219639
  • Publisher: Catholic University of America Press
  • Publication date: 4/25/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,020,795
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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Reading Romans with ST. THOMAS AQUINAS

By Matthew Levering Michael Dauphinais

The Catholic University of America Press

Copyright © 2012 The Catholic University of America Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8132-1963-9

Chapter One

Bernhard Blankenhorn, O.P.

Aquinas on Paul's Flesh/ Spirit Anthropology in Romans

I will primarily argue that, despite numerous exegetical limitations, the late St. Thomas Aquinas achieved a broad and faithful appropriation of St. Paul's flesh/spirit anthropology in the Epistle to the Romans. Second, I will show that Aquinas's interpretation of key Romans passages on flesh/spirit does not adequately manifest his reception of the Pauline doctrine. Only the Summa theologiae allows a just evaluation of that reception. Third, I will show that a study of Aquinas's Pauline exegesis must take into account the way in which St. Augustine mediates and guides that reading of Scripture.

I will begin with a brief historical study of St. Paul's flesh/spirit language in Romans 7–8. I will consider how this language functions within the main theological and pastoral arguments of Romans, especially in light of 1 Corinthians and the cosmology that such language presumes. Only by recognizing how and why Aquinas receives and develops Paul's teaching can we begin to determine the ways in which Aquinas can participate in the theological and ecclesial exegeses that are the necessary complements to historical exegesis. Second, I will offer a summary of St. Augustine's various interpretations of flesh/spirit language, especially in light of the doctrinal stakes involved. Third, I will analyze Aquinas's interpretation of the letter and the doctrine of Pauline flesh/spirit in the Romans Commentary (chapters 6–8), in the Galatians Commentary (chapter 5), and in select articles on sin and grace in the Summa theologiae.

Flesh/Spirit in Romans

A proper understanding of Paul's flesh/spirit language demands a sufficient awareness of its cosmological background. In Paul's Hellenized Jewish culture, pneuma, or spirit, is a higher reality that has its own power of movement and knowledge. Pneuma is a vital element of any living person. There are many types and qualities of pneuma at work in the world. Paul usually does not employ the term to refer to the Holy Spirit. The latter doctrine especially emerges in light of the Gospel of John, the Book of Acts, and the early Christian tradition. For Paul, pneuma is not purely spiritual. Good pneuma is divine stuff, a life force that joins us to God. Christians are one pneuma with the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:17). Stanley Stowers has argued that the basic model for this participation language is that of genetic descent, of relatives sharing the "stuff" of their ancestors. Paul argues in Galatians 3 that through Christ, we have received God's pneuma, which in turn connects us with the blessings promised to Abraham, as we now become his descendents in sharing his "stuff." Romans 8 employs a similar logic. The same pneuma or life force that belongs to Christ now dwells in believers. Christians have a portion of Christ's "stuff" and thus are alive, while their sarx is dead because of sin (8:9).

Pneuma clearly does not refer to the individual soul or a spiritual substance. We might say that it is a metaphorical term, yet only with significant qualifications. Pneuma is very real, an active force at work in the universe, but it is not an individual thing. Similarly, Paul often employs the term sarx to refer to something other than an individual body, and in that sense is speaking metaphorically, yet sarx or flesh is no less real than pneuma.

Part of the difficulty in interpreting Pauline sarx is rooted in the multiple uses and meanings of the term. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul addresses the problem of the man who has sexual relations with his stepmother. He must be expelled from the community, since his immorality is corrupting the communal body of Christ. Dale Martin has pointed to the medical background of such pollution language. The incestuous man should be turned over to Satan, who will destroy the sarx, so that the pneuma may be saved. But whose spirit does Paul have in mind? The text is not clear. Yet Paul's main concern is for the health of the communal body, lest the presence of the divine spirit leave the temple (1 Corinthians 6:i2–20).

The bulk of Paul's references to sarx are negative. The flesh is connected to this world and opposed to God's plan, which plan is represented by pneuma (Romans 8). Both sarx and pneuma seem to pervade the cosmos as active influences that can move in and out of bodies. They help constitute material reality, including the human being. Sarx and pneuma interact and wage war against one another, as is evident in 1 Corinthians and Galatians 5.

Paul often employs flesh/spirit language in the context of moral exhortation, and this is certainly the case in Romans 7–8. Paul has at least two major tasks in these chapters. First, he seeks to demonstrate that, despite its radical limitations, the law is good and in no way a cause of sin. Second, Paul's polemic about the law's limits in Romans 2–3 and 6–7 has opened him to the charge of moral laxity: if the law is so inadequate, then what clear ethical boundaries exist for Christians? If there are no such boundaries, then Paul's argument about the law and the work of Christ falls apart, and he has failed to deal with the problem of the relation between Jews and Gentiles.

In Romans 6, Paul begins his response by comparing two states: slavery to sin and slavery to God. Through baptism, Christ has freed believers from the former, not to belong to themselves, but to belong to God. In this context, Paul employs the term "sin" to describe not so much certain human acts, but a power that is opposed to God and in whose sphere sinners dwell.

In Romans 7, Paul employs the language of flesh to refer to believers' previous existence in this sphere. "While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit" (7:5–6). Paul is clearly contrasting two states: the way of death and the way of life. The former binds a person to the law in a certain way, while the latter frees him or her from the law. Paul here describes pre- and post-baptismal states. The unbaptized are in the flesh while the baptized are in the spirit. He immediately anticipates an objection: is the law sin (7:7)? Not at all, but the force of personified sin, which is a power at work in the cosmos, used the law as a means to increase sinful desire (7:8). Paul constructs the category of personified sin in order to exonerate the law (7:12–13). Sarx refers to the platform for the sphere of sin. It is the slavery of sin taking root in the human being without life in Christ (7:14).

Paul then turns to his famous lament that concludes Romans 7. As Krister Stendahl and others have shown, only post-Augustinian moral psychologies enable us to interpret this passage autobiographically. Paul is not speaking about himself, for he had no difficulty fulfilling the law before his encounter with Christ, as he states in Philippians 3. The purpose of Romans 7 is to deal with the relation of Jews and Gentiles in light of the Christ event. It is an argument about the law. Romans 8 will show how the transformation of the believer through Christ's spirit avoids the trap of libertinism.

The "I" of Romans 7 knows what is good, for he knows the law, which is good, and he wants to accomplish the good, that is, obey the law, but finds himself incapable of doing so (7:16–17). The "I" has been sold to sin (7:14), has sin dwelling within (7:17). No good dwells in the sarx of the "I." Personified sin has its own proper region within the "I," and this sin is the true agent of sinful action. Paul's defense of the law also turns into a defense of the "I." On the surface, Paul excuses the sins of Christians in their pre-baptismal existence, yet this is hardly his purpose. Rather, he aims to continue the contrast between life with and without Christ already described in chapter 5, and to show that this contrast does not contradict the law's goodness. Paul is hardly trying to describe the moral psychology of the non-Christian.

Romans 7 neatly parallels Romans 8. Sarx, the "place" in which the sphere of sin has taken root, is destroyed through the gift of Christ's life-giving stuff, his pneuma (8:2), which is why believers are no longer in the flesh at all (8:7). Having been transferred from one sphere to another, the Christian attains a new capacity to obey God's spirit instead of the flesh (8:4). Christ's pneuma is not just life-giving, but directive. Understood in its cosmological context, Paul's language of pneuma shows that his teaching on participation in Christ's life is pervaded by "realism." The believer has been truly transformed by the pneuma or stuff of Christ. Such infusion of "divine fluid" enables the Christian to obey God's law. In other words, the roots of intrinsic justification are Pauline.

Romans 8:5–13 continues the contrast between flesh and spirit. Life in each sphere involves an opposing set of desires, works, and outcomes. Paul's dualism is moral and metaphysical. Each way of being is accompanied by a radically different way of living. Yet the contrast is also rhetorical. The two spheres are not always neatly separated. Hence, Rome's Christians still need to hear moral exhortations to avoid the works of the flesh (8:13). Life in the spirit would seem to exclude all sin (meaning grave sin such as fornication and murder), yet sin remains a very real possibility for the believer. Paul's cosmology has demonstrated the law's goodness, yet it is also in danger of leading his hearers toward moral triumphalism. The tension within Paul's thought in Romans, between the dualistic cosmology and the moral exhortation, does not seem to bother him. The cosmology is a theological tool for Paul's argument about the law and the moral behavior of Christians, and not a complete theological anthropology worked out for its own sake. He is writing a pastoral letter, not a treatise of systematic theology.

I have purposely avoided a detailed examination of every mention of sarx in Romans. Rather, I have sought to focus on the overall aim of flesh/spirit language in Romans, especially in light of the presumed cosmology, one that seems to best manifest itself in 1 Corinthians. A focus on Paul's broader theological and rhetorical aims seems ideal for an evaluation of Aquinas's exegesis of flesh/spirit in Romans. The great value of reading Paul with the theological tradition, especially Augustine and Aquinas, is found not so much in the discernment of the meaning of particular phrases and verses, but rather in uncovering the broader vision of God, the human being, and the Christian life that the Scriptures seek to present to us.

Flesh/Spirit in St. Augustine

Aquinas's interpretation of Pauline flesh/spirit is incomprehensible without Augustine. More than any other thinker, the Bishop of Hippo influenced Aquinas's reading in this area, and we can say the same for virtually all of Thomas's medieval contemporaries, not to mention Martin Luther and John Calvin. Augustine's interpretation of Pauline flesh/spirit is complex and nuanced. I can only offer a few highlights.

The reading I will propose is, like that of Paul, a historical reconstruction, and thus not identical with Aquinas's Augustine. However, Aquinas had a fairly strong awareness of the internal evolutions and complexities of Augustine's doctrine of sin and grace, as well as Augustine's diverse ways of reading Pauline flesh/spirit. The historical reading also allows us to recognize aspects in the thought of Augustine that Aquinas overlooked or ignored.

Augustine's understanding of flesh/spirit in Romans, as well as in Galatians 5, clearly evolved throughout his career. The early Augustine proposed that Paul's Romans 7 description of the human being divided between the law of the spirit and the law of the flesh refers to humanity under the law but before grace. The young Augustine is not dogmatic on this point. He expresses this view in his Exposition on Galatians, as well as in question 66 of the Book on 83 Diverse Questions. The latter text divides human history into four states or ways of being: (1) the state of innocence, (2) the state of the law before grace, (3) the state of grace in this life, and (4) the state of glory. Augustine interprets Romans 7:i5–23 as pertaining to the second state, and Romans 7:24–25 as well as Romans 8 as a description of the third state. Paul's dualistic cosmology that served as an instrument to defend the goodness of the law and the need for Christ's saving work has now been transformed into stages in the salvation history of all of humanity, without exception.

The doctrinal context at this stage in Augustine's career is also important. As Paula Fredriksen has pointed out, Augustine had to reclaim Paul from the Manichees, for the flesh/spirit language of Romans had reinforced their dualism. Yet the early polemic against the Manichees did not sufficiently move the young Augustine away from his own somewhat dualistic anthropology. In the early works, he still refers to the body as "a heavy chain" or "a cage." One finds hints of this dualism in Augustine's commentary on Romans 7 in the same question 66. Pauline flesh refers to carnal desires, passions, and pleasures, which are opposed to eternal, spiritual goods. Augustine's comments here are extremely brief, perhaps more a manifestation of anthropological assumptions than a developed systematic reflection. The disordered will or egotistical tendencies of the spirit are noticeably absent. Only the Pauline phrase "the prudence of the flesh" that is an enemy to God pushes Augustine to speak of the soul's desire for lower, temporal goods. But that was before the Pelagian controversy began.

In his middle period, Augustine further nuanced his reading of flesh/ spirit in the course of his work The Literal Interpretation of Genesis. Here, he insists that the subject or seat of concupiscence is both the body and the soul. The Galatians 5 passage, "the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh," means that the spirit is concupiscent, together with the flesh. Here, Augustine identifies spirit with the soul and flesh with the mortal body, an interpretation already implicit in question 66. In other words, he offers a literalistic reading, when Paul was speaking of opposed metaphysical and moral spheres, not body and soul. Furthermore, for Paul, the "lust" of the spirit is not a negative or sinful reality, as it is for Augustine. This misreading of Galatians is clearly open to anthropological dualism, yet Augustine's aim moves in the very opposite direction. His main concern is to demonstrate that the biblical text does not exclude the soul as a seat of concupiscence. He thinks that the text obviously speaks of the body as a subject of concupiscence. Augustine misunderstands the biblical verse in question, yet the overall outcome is not far from Paul's teaching: the problem is disordered desire in the whole fallen person. Just as Augustine begins to get Paul wrong in the details, he moves closer to Paul's broader vision of the human being in the sphere of the flesh.

The dispute with Pelagius led Augustine to further revise his reading of Paul. Concupiscence, meaning all of the effects of original sin, prevents the human being from attaining salvation without the gift of a purely gratuitous grace. Once graced through faith and baptism, the disordered, ungodly human desires that are the consequence of the Fall still continue to weigh us down, although grace now enables us to resist them. Thus, Paul's man delivered to sin in Romans 7:14–25 is also a reference to the Christian living in grace who continues to suffer from the fallen condition. The preferred interpretation of the young Augustine that restricted the divided man to those without grace is left behind. The shift is very clearly announced in Retraction 26.

For the mature Augustine, the root cause of the fallen human condition is found in the will, for even when elevated by grace, the believer continues to suffer from a disordered inclination to self-love. As Stephen Duffy points out, it is disordered love (cupiditas, amor sui) that gives rise to "desires of the flesh," including unrestricted sensual passions, lust for power, jealousy, hatred, greed, and selfishness. The late Augustine's stress is not so much on sin as a result of the soul's entanglement with the body but rather on sin as a result of the will's own decision. Thus, Augustine understands the biblical category "flesh" not merely as sensual indulgence, but as a fault within the soul itself.


Excerpted from Reading Romans with ST. THOMAS AQUINAS by Matthew Levering Michael Dauphinais Copyright © 2012 by The Catholic University of America Press. Excerpted by permission of The Catholic University of America Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix

1 Aquinas on Paul's Flesh/Spirit Anthropology in Romans 4 Bernhard Blankenhorn, O.P. 1

2 Aquinas on Abraham's Faith in Romans 4 Markus Bockmuehl 39

3 Ressourcement of Mystery: The Ecclesiology of Thomas Aquinas and the Letter to the Romans Hans Boersma 52

4 On the Relation of St. Thomas's Commentary on Romans to the Summa Theologiae John F. Boyle 75

5 Thomas's Theology of Preaching in Romans: A Lascasian Application Edgardo Antonio Colón-Emeric 83

6 Romans 9-11: Rereading Aquinas on the Jews Holly Taylor Coolman 101

7 Degrading the Body, Suppressing the Truth: Aquinas on Romans 1:18-25 Adam G. Cooper 113

8 The Holy Spirit in Aquinas's Commentary on Romans Gilles Emery, O.P. 127

9 The Multiple Literal Sense in Thomas Aquinas's Commentary on Romans and Modern Pauline Hermeneutics Scott W. Hahn John Kincaid 163

10 Aquinas's Use of the Old Testament in His Commentary on Romans Mary Healy 183

11 Aquinas on Roman 8: Predestination in Context Matthew Levering 196

12 Beatus vir: Aquinas, Romans 4, and the Role of "Reckoning" in Justification Bruce Marshall 216

13 Portraits of Paul: Aquinas and Calvin on Romans 7:14-25 Charles Raith II 238

14 Rendering God's Glory: St. Paul and St. Thomas on Worship Geoffrey Wainwright 262

15 The Trinitarian, Spousal, and Ecclesial Logic of Justification Michael Waldstein 274

16 Origen, Augustine, and Thomas: Interpreters, of the Letter to the Romans Robert Louis Wilken 288

Bibliography 303

Contributors 323

Index 327

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