Saturday, November 24, 2012

Excerpts from St. Augustine’s Propositions on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans Part 1

I have not posted on this blog in a very long time and I do not want to leave this blog when I know it spurred me on to lots of interesting quotes from my patron saint, so I’ll try and post a bit now. Albeit you, dear reader, will have to bear smaller posts, since school, career, and health forbid me from writing more than just some tidbits here and there.

Below I’d like to post a few interesting tidbits from St. Augustine’s Propositions on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans which was written sometime during 394 AD and so about two or three years before the writing of “Miscellany of Questions in Response to St. Simplicianus”. In this manner, these propositions are a series of notes and writings from his conversations with the other members of the clergy in his vicinity. At this time St. Augustine was a priest for three years, and in the coming year he would succeed Valerius, the bishop in Hippo-Regius, as the bishop of Hippo. This is one of the earliest writings we have in which St. Augustine directly addresses some of the questions in Romans. St. Augustine does address the Law and grace in his earlier anti-Manichean works, but here we see his maturing theology of grace. (I'll write more at another time)

The Letter and the Spirit:

Romans 2: 29 But he is a Jew that is one inwardly and the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter: whose praise is not of men, but of God.

St. Aug: “That is, the Law should be understood in a spiritual, not literal, sense. This pertains especially to those who have understood circumcision in a fleshly rather than spiritual way.

His praise is not from men, but God’, accords with Paul's statement, ‘He who is a Jew inwardly.’ ”

So to be a spiritual Jew is to be one in the interior, to have the heart circumcised and to have grace poured into the heart so as to live righteously.

The Four Stages of Man and the meaning of the Law under Grace:

Here is another excerpt that is a very long. I’ll provide a brief summary and then the block of text.

St. Augustine is arguing as to what St. Paul means by there shall be no flesh justified before God by the Law, on account of the Law bringing knowledge of sin. He also expounds what is meant by the Law was given that sin might abound. Also he explains what is meant by without the Law there was no transgression.

St. Augustine reasons that St. Paul is not repudiating the old Law in that it served a purpose but was not the fullness of God’s plan for mankind. St. Augustine argues that there are four stages of man, that prior to the Law, that under the Law, that under grace, and that finally in peace. The first stage prior to the Law indicates a willingness to sin and lust and how the soul does not struggle against sin because it simply becomes part of one’s activity and habit. The Law was given to show us wickedness and what righteousness was, and so it was good that God gave us the Law because it showed us what was right to repudiate and what was good. However the Law did not give mankind the capacity to carry it out perfectly, and so we realize that we will evil and in that shame we do what we know we should not do. We are pulled by sin instead of it simply being activity and so we become imprisoned to carry out the desires we do not want to act on. Under grace the pull from sin is removed and sin is cleansed. Nobody can fulfill the Law on his own strength or his own account, but only in the grace of Jesus Christ. The Law, writes St. Augustine, was intended to show the need for the Savior to pardon sins and assist our struggling with sin. And so what once was an exterior commandment against sin is transformed into an interior love for God which takes away fear of sinning. When we desire to sin, grace pulls us and keeps us fixed to God by love. Sin does not come from desire, but from action upon sinful desires. St. Augustine writes that these desires come from the mortality of the flesh, which comes from Adam’s Fall, and that this Fall leaves our bodies in a fleshly state. The final stage of mankind is that of peace, in which at the Resurrection our bodies and our souls will come to perfect unity in the adoration of God. What was once a free unhindered will in Adam and Eve has become corrupted by the Fall so as to not be able not to sin, but by the grace of God it comes to be free again to do what is good and righteous.

"For no flesh will be justified before him by the Law, for through the Law comes knowledge of sin" (3:20), and other such things which, some think, must be intended as a reproach to the Law. Such statements must be read with great care, so that the Apostle seems neither to condemn the Law nor to take away man's free will. (2) Therefore, let us distinguish these four stages of man: prior to the Law; under the Law; under grace; and in peace. Prior to the Law, we pursue fleshly concupiscence; under the Law, we are pulled by it; under grace, we neither pursue nor are pulled by it; in peace, there is no concupiscence of the flesh. (3) Therefore prior to the Law we do not struggle, because not only do we lust and sin, but we even assent to sin. Under the Law we struggle but we are overcome. We admit that we do evil, and by that admission, that we really do not want to do it, but because we still lack grace we are overwhelmed. (4) In this stage we learn how low we lie, and when we want to rise and yet we fall, we are the more gravely afflicted. (5) Whence Paul in this letter says, "The Law was introduced that sin might abound' (5:20), and at this point notes that, “through the Law comes knowledge of sin" (3:20), but not the removal of sin, which comes through grace alone. (6) Therefore the Law is good, for it forbids what ought to be forbidden and prescribes what ought to be prescribed. But when anyone thinks that he can fulfill the Law by his own strength and not through the grace of his Savior, this presumption does him no good. Rather it so harms him that he is both seized by a stronger desire to sin, and by his sins is made a transgressor. (7) For "where the Law is not, neither is there trespass' (4:15). Therefore let the man lying low, when he realizes that he cannot rise by himself, implore the aid of the Liberator. For then comes grace, which pardons earlier sins and aids the struggling one, adds charity to justice, and takes away fear. (8) When this happens, even though certain fleshly desires fight against our spirit while we are in this life, to lead us into sin, nonetheless our spirit resists them because it is fixed in the grace and love of God, and ceases to sin. (9) For we sin not by having this perverse desire but by consenting to it. Relevant here is what the same Apostle says: "Do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies, so that you obey its desires' (6:12). (10) Thus here he shows we still have desires but, by not obeying them, that we do not allow sin to reign in us. But these desires arise from the mortality of the flesh, which we bear from the first sin of the first man, whence we are born fleshly. Thus they will not cease save at the resurrection of the body, when we will have merited that transformation promised to us. Then there will be perfect peace, when we have been established in the fourth stage. (11) Perfect peace, since nothing will resist us who do not resist God. This is what the Apostle says: "Indeed, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness. If then the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life even to your mortal bodies also through his spirit dwelling within you" (8:10-ll). (12) For free will existed perfectly in the first man; we, however, prior to grace, do not have free will so as not to sin, but only so much that we do not want to sin. But with grace, not only do we want to act rightly, but we can; not by our own strength, but by the help of the Liberator. And at the resurrection he will bring us that perfect peace which follows from good will. (13) For "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will” (Luke 2:14)

The Law is made manifest under Grace by Righteousness

"Do we then cancel the Law by this faith? By no means! Rather, we establish it" (3:31), that is, we affirm it. But how ought the Law be affirmed, if not by righteousness? (2) ---a righteousness, moreover that exists by faith, for those things which could not be fulfilled through the Law were fulfilled through faith.”

And so writes St. Augustine that the Law is not made void by faith, at least not in a strict sense, because the Law’s intention was to grant a rule for righteousness which comes from faith and grace. In that perspective, I think St. Augustine would agree that by faith we recognize that love fulfills the Law. This is what I believe St. Paul means by the law of faith in Romans 3:27 where he says that we cannot boast of our righteousness because it comes by grace through faith and our righteousness is established through God's mercy and transformation of our hearts.

There’s plenty of other good nuggets in the Propositions but I’ll end it here because I need to do some quantum mechanics homework J.

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