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Dissertation of the 7th Chapter of Romans: Chapter 19 - Christian Fathers Approve of our Interpretation

By Jacobus Arminius



      2. Tertullian.

      3. Origen.

      4. Cyprian.

      5. Chrysostom.

      6. Basil the Great.

      7. Theodouret.

      8. Cyril.

      9. Macarius the Egyptian.

      10. Damascenus.

      11. Theophylact.

      12. Ambrose.

      13. Jerome.

      1. IRENAEUS Irenaeus thus cites part of this chapter in lib. 3, cap. xx, "On this account, therefore, he, who through the virgin is Emmanuel, God with us, the Lord himself, is the sign of our salvation; because he was the Lord who saved them, as through themselves, they possessed not the means of being saved. On account of this also, when St. Paul is shewing the weakness of man, he says, I know that in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing, thus intimating that the blessing of salvation is not from us, but from God. And again, O wretched man that l am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? He then infers a deliverer, the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord." In this quotation, [when referring to St. Paul's declaration,] he does not say, "a regenerate Man," "a believer," or Christian," but simply "a man," under which appellation, neither the Scriptures nor the fathers are accustomed to speak of one who is a Christian, a believer, and a regenerate man.

      2. TERTULLIAN For though he denied that in His flesh dwelt any good thing, yet it was according to the law of the letter in which he was; but according to the law of the Spirit, with which he connects us, he delivers from the weakness of the flesh. He says, "For the law of the Spirit of life hath manumitted thee from the law of sin and death." For though he seems to dispute on the part of Judaism, yet he directs to us the integrity and plenitude of instructions, on account of whom, as labouring "in the law through the flesh, God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." (On Chastity, cap. 17.) In this sentence, Tertullian openly affirms, that the passage must be explained concerning "a man who is under the law of the letter." Nor is it a very great objection if any one assert, that this book was written by him while he was in a heresy; for on this point he was not heretical, and the opinion, it is apparent, had then obtained, that this chapter was to be understood in this manner.

      3. ORIGEN But with respect to what he says, "but I am carnal, sold under sin," on this occasion, as a teacher of the church, he takes upon himself the personation of the weak, on which account he has also said in another passage, "to the weak became I also as weak." Therefore, in this passage St. Paul is made "a carnal man and sold under sin," to those who are the weak, (that is, to the carnal,) and who are sold-under sin, and he speaks those things which it is their practice to utter under the pretext either of excuse or of accusation. Speaking, therefore, as in their person, he says, "but I am carnal, sold under sin," that is, living according to the flesh, and reduced, [as a servant] by purchase, to the power of sin, lust and concupiscence; "for that which I do, I allow not," &c. And he (that is, Paul the carnal man) here says, "now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." But in other passages Paul the spiritual man says, "I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Therefore, as he thus ascribes his labours, not to himself, but to the grace of God which worked in him; so does that carnal man attribute the evil works, not to himself, but to sin that dwelleth and worketh in him. On this account he says, "now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me; for in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." For Christ does not yet dwell in him, neither in his body yet the temple of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, this man whose character is personated is not in every respect averse from good things, but in purpose and in will he begins to seek after good things. But he cannot yet obtain such things in reality and in works. For there is a certain infirmity of this kind in those who receive the beginnings of conversion, that when they truly will instantly to do every thing that is good, the effect does not immediately follow the will. (On Romans 7.)

      4. CYPRIAN When treating upon the contest between the flesh and the Spirit, in his sixth Discourse On the Lord's Prayer, as well as in his pamphlet On the Celibacy of the Clergy, Cyprian does not cite Romans 7, but he quotes Gal. v. 17, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh," &c. But that he understood Romans 7, to relate not only to the indwelling of sin, but also to its dominion, is evident from his Prologue concerning the Cardinal Works of Christ, in which, among other remarks, the following occurs - - "If I do not know who it is that inscribed this law in my members that it may, with such violent domination, oppress the Spirit, and that the better and more worthy nature may succumb to the worse, I must patiently endure it if I do not understand the Almighty Operator of the universe." He adds, in a subsequent passage of the same prologue: It is difficult to understand wherefore this law of sin, in this and in similar individuals, oppresses the law of righteousness, and wherefore weak and enervated reason so miserably falls, when it is able to stand; especially when this defect depends on the sentence of damnation, and the ancient transgression has obtained this inevitable punishment."

      5. CHRYSOSTOM When treating professedly on this portion of holy writ and explaining it, in his comment on Romans 7, Chrysostom, after confirming what he had advanced in the preceding verses, expresses himself in the following manner: Therefore, Paul subjoined this assertion, "but I am carnal, sold under sin." Thus describing a man who lives under the law and before it. Therefore, sin itself is adverse to the law of nature. For this is what he says, "Warring against the law of my mind." It also imposes on the law of nature a universal contest and warfare, when it afterwards draws up in battle array the forces of sin. For the Mosaic law was lastly added beyond what was necessary. But, though the former law teaches indeed those things which ought to be done, and though the latter unites in extolling them; yet neither the one nor the other has performed any execution in this battle against sin. So great is the tyranny of sin, so wonderfully prevailing and overcoming! This is likewise intimated by St. Paul, when, after announcing the conflict of opposing and predominant sin, he says: "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin." For he does not simply say, "conquering me," but "rendering me a captive to the law of sin." Neither does he say, "bringing me into captivity to the impulse of the flesh or of carnal nature," but "bringing me into captivity to the law of sin," that is, to the tyranny and power of sin. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Do you here behold how amazingly great is the tyranny of wickedness, and how it also overcomes the mind which "finds a condelectation, or joint delight, in the law of God?" For he says, "It is not that any one says I hate the law of God "or am averse to it, and am brought into captivity to sin. For "I find a condelectation in the law, I consent to it, and flee to it." Yet it was not able to save him when he fled to it. But Christ has saved him, when he was fleeing, from it. Here you acknowledge the great excellence of grace. And in his Commentary on Romans viii. 9, he says: After sin has been destroyed, this difficult warfare is terminated by the grace of the Holy Spirit, through which the contest is now become easy to us. For this grace first Crowns us [as Victors], and then leads us forth to battle honourably attended by numerous auxiliary forces.

      6. BASIL THE GREAT But we will now adduce what he has said in another passage, when delivering the same doctrine, in a manner far more objurgatory: "For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not," &c. And, prosecuting this speculation in more particulars, that it is impossible for him who is held captive by sin to serve the Lord, he manifestly points out to us our Deliverer from this tyranny, while he says, "O wretched man that I am I who shall deliver me from this body of death, I give thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord," &c. (On Baptism, lib. 1 fol. 409.) It is, therefore quite necessary, both from the things already related, and from others of a similar kind, (if we have not received the blessing of God in vain,) that we be first delivered from the power of the devil, who leads the man that is detained in captivity by sin to [the commission of] those evils which he would not, and then, having denied all things present, and our own self, and having left all kindred feeling for this life, that we become the Lord's disciples, as he hath himself said, "If any man will come to me, let him deny himself," &c. (Ibid.) This is what he who is unwillingly drawn by sin ought to know, that he is governed by another sin pre-existing in himself, which while he willingly serves, with regard to other things he is led by it even to those which he does not will. As it is said in Romans 7, "For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin," &c., quoted as far as the seventeenth verse, "but sin that dwelleth in me. (Summary of Morals, Sum. 23, cap. I, fol. 477.) The spirit or mind, which is the patient bearer of the dominion of the affections or inclinations, is not permitted by them to be free to [do] those things which it wills, according to the speculation of the apostle already related, who said, "but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do 1." (Compendium of Questions explained, Quest. 16, fol. 563.) "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me," God himself permitting even this to befall us for our good, if by any means the mind, through those things which it reluctantly suffers, may be brought to understand that which has the dominion over it; and if, knowing itself, that it unwillingly serves sin, it recover from the snare of the devil, and seek for the mercy of God which is prepared to receive those who are legitimately penitent. (Ibid.)

      7. THEODORET But I am carnal. He introduces a man before [he has obtained] grace, who is beset with motions and perturbations of mind. For he denominates that man carnal who has not yet obtained spiritual grace. (On Romans 7.) For what I would, that do l not; but what l hate, that I do. The law beautifully effects one thing, that is, it teaches what is evil, and induces a hatred of it on the mind. But these words, "I would not," and "I hate," signify weakness, and not necessity. For we do not sin, as being impelled by necessity or by some force; but, being enticed by pleasure, we do those things which we abhor as wicked and flagitious deeds. (Ibid.) I delight in the law of God after the inward man. He has called the mind "the inward man" (Ibid.) But I see another law in my members, warring, &c. He bestows on sin the appellation of "the law of sin." It exerts its operation when the corporeal perturbations of the mind are in lively motion; but, on account of that supineness with which the mind has invested itself from the beginning, it is unable to restrain them. Though the mind has cast away its own liberty, yet it has patience enough to serve them. But though the mind thus serves them, yet it hates servitude; and commends him who brings an accusation against servitude. After the apostle had discoursed on all these topics, that he might show what sort of people we were before grace, and our condition after grace, and having taken on himself the personation of those who, before grace, had been besieged and encompassed by sin; therefore, as though he was completely surrounded by a mass of enemies, and led away into captivity and compelled to become a slave, and seeing no aid from any other quarter, he grievously groans and laments; he shows that help could not be afforded by the law, and he cries out, "O wretched man that I am!" (Ibid.) There is therefore now no condemnation, &c. For the perturbations of our mind do not overcome us who are now unwilling, because we have accepted the grace of the divine Spirit. (On Romans 8.) For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, &c. As he called sin "the law of sin," so does he call the vivifying Spirit "the law of the Spirit." he says, that the grace of this Spirit, through faith in Jesus Christ, has endowed thee with a two-fold liberty; for it has not only broken the power of sin, but it has also destroyed the tyranny of death. (Ibid.)

      8. CYRIL For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, &c. Therefore, when the only Begotten became man for us, the law of sin was indeed abolished in the flesh; and our affairs were brought back again that they may return to their first origin. For death, corruption, pleasures and other lusts prevailed, which, having corruption as their assistant, committed depredations on the weak and infirm mind. (Against Julian, lib. 3, fol. 184.) So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh,, the law of sin. There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, &c., quoting the whole passage down to the 5th verse. For the flesh and the spirit manifestly fight the one against the other; that is, carnal prudence and the motions of innate lusts war against the power of life according to the Spirit. Though the divine law urges us that we ought to choose the good, yet the desire of the flesh is born, towards that which is contrary. But now that is loosened which hindered, and the law of sin is weakened; but the law of the Spirit has prevailed. On what account, "For God hath sent his own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin, that he might condemn sin in the flesh." Now, in what manner was not the incarnation of the Word exceedingly useful, For even "our sin is here condemned in the flesh." But if the Word had not been made flesh, our affairs would have remained without any amendment, and we should now be serving in the flesh the law of sin, no one having abolished it within us. (On the True Faith, to the Queens, lib. I, fol. 283.) We confess, therefore, that, by Adam's personal transgression of the law, the human substance has been corrupted; and that, by the pleasures of the flesh, and those motions which are so pleasing to our nature, our understanding is oppressed as by the domination of a tyrant. Wherefore it was necessary for our salvation, who are sojourners on earth, that the WORD OF GOD should become man, and he should take human flesh upon himself as his own, given up though it was to corruption, and sickly through the allurements of pleasure; and that, as he is the life of all, he should indeed destroy its corruption, but restrain its innate motions, that is, those which impelled us headlong to vices and pleasures; for in this manner it was necessary that offenses should be mortified in our flesh. But we recollect that the blessed Paul denominates the voluptuous motions which art planted within us, "the law of sin." Wherefore, because human flesh became a property of the WORD, it has now ceased to yield to corruption. And because he knew no sin, as God who united him to himself, and, as I have already said, who made [human nature] a property [of the WORD], it has now ceased to be sick with vices and pleasures. Neither did the only begotten Son of God perform this for himself, (for he is the Word which always exists,) but he undoubtedly did it for us. For if we are alike brought into captivity through Adam's transgression of the law, therefore the blessings which are in Christ will descend upon us, and which are incorruption and the destruction of sins. (First Epistle to Successus.)

      9. MACARIUS THE EGYPTIAN Adam having transgressed the command of God, and having obeyed the impious serpent, sold himself to the devil; and thus wickedness invested his mind, that excellent creature, which God had formed after his own image, as the apostle likewise says: "Having spoiled principalities and powers, and triumphed over them in his cross." For the Lord came on this account, that he might expel them, [the principalities and powers,] and might receive his own house and his proper temple, which is MAN. The mind, therefore, is called "the body of darkness and of wickedness," so long as it has within itself the darkness of sin; because it lives there in a wicked world of darkness, and is there detained captive. As Paul likewise, when giving it the appellation of "the body of sin and death," says "that the body of sin might be destroyed." And again, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" On the contrary, the mind that has believed in God, is both delivered from the mortified sin of a life of darkness, and has received the light of the Holy Spirit as its life; living in which, from that time it perseveres; because it is there governed by the light divine. (Homily 1.) From this, it is evident, that Macarius understood this passage, as referring to a man who was subjected to the spirit of darkness, the slave of sin, and the captive of Satan, and who, not being yet dead to sin, has not received the light of the Holy Spirit, that is, who is not yet regenerated by the Spirit of Christ.

      10. DAMASCENUS In the fourth book of his Orthodox Faith, (cap. 23,) he explains this matter very satisfactorily; wherefore, it will not be considered irksome, if at greater length we transcribe his opinion in his own words, as they have been rendered by his Latin translator: The law of God, when coming to our mind, attracts it to itself, and stimulates our consciences. But our conscience is also called "the Law of our mind." But the suggestion of the devil, that is, the law of sin, when coming to the members of the flesh, also commits itself, through the flesh, to us. For, after we have once voluntarily transgressed the law of God, and have admitted the suggestion of the devil, we have granted entrance to him, being brought into captivity by our own selves to sin: Whence our body is promptly led on to commit sin. Therefore, the odour and feeling of sin is said to be inherent to our body, that is, the lust and pleasure of the body, "the law in the members of our flesh." Therefore, "the law of the mind," that is, the conscience, feels a sort of condelectation in the law of God, that is, in the commandment which it really wills. But "the law of sin," that is, the suggestion through. the law which is in the members, that is, the concupiscence, the inclination and motion of the body, by means of the irrational part of the soul also "wars against the law of my mind," that is, my conscience, and brings me, consenting to the law of God and not fulfilling it, yet not desiring sin, into captivity, according to contradiction through the enticement of pleasure and the lust of the body, and the brute part of the soul which is devoid of reason--as I have before said, it causes me to err, and persuades me to serve sin. "But what was impossible to the law, in that the law was rendered weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin," (for he assumed flesh, but by no means sin,) "condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." For "the Spirit strives with our infirmity," and affords strength to "the law of the mind" in our souls, against "the law which is in our members."

      11. THEOPHYLACT He says, "I am carnal," that is, human nature universally--both that part of it in existence before the enactment of the law, and that at the time of the giving of the law--had a numerous multitude of passions associated with it. For we not only became mortal through Adam's transgression of the law, but human nature, being "sold under sin," receives likewise corrupt inclinations, being evidently subjected to the authority and domination of sin, so that it cannot raise its head. (On Romans 7.) This weakness, therefore, the law could not cure, though it dictated what ought to be done, but when Christ came, he healed it. This then is the scope or design of those things which the apostle has said, or will yet say--to shew that human nature has endured those things which are immedicable, and that it cannot be restored to soundness by any other than by Christ, and by him alone. (ibid.) O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The law of nature was not able, the written law could not; but the tyranny of sin conquered both of them. Whence, therefore, is the hope of salvation, &c. (Ibid.) I yield thanks to God through Jesus Christ. For he has performed those things which the law was unable to do. For he has delivered me from weakness of body, inspiring into it strength and consolation, that it may no longer be oppressed by the tyranny of sin.

      12. AMBROSE Whether St. Ambrose, or some other person, was the author or the interpolator of those Commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans, which generally pass under his name, the following are some of his remarks on the seventh chapter: That he is sold under sin, is that he derives his origin from Adam, who first sinned, and by his own transgression rendered himself subject to sin, as Isaiah says, "For your iniquities have ye sold yourselves." (i, 1.) For Adam first sold himself; and by this act, all his seed was subjected to sin. Wherefore man is too full of weakness to observe the precepts of the law, unless he be strengthened by divine aids. Hence arises that which he says, "The law is spiritual, but I am carnal," &c.; that is, the law is strong, and just, and faultless; but man is frail, and subjugated by the offense of his progenitor, that he is unable to use his power with regard to yielding obedience to the law. He must therefore flee to the mercy of God, that he may avoid the severity of the law, and being exonerated from his transgressions, may, with regard to other things, resist his enemy under the favour of heaven. But to perform that which is good I find not. Therefore, that which is commanded by the law is pleasing to him, and his will is to do it; but, in order to its completion, power and virtue are wanting; because he is so oppressed by the power of sin, that he cannot go where he would; neither is he able to contradict, because another is the lord and master of his power. (Ibid.) That he may extol the grace of God, the apostle expounds these words, concerning the great evils from which it has delivered man; that he might point out what destructive materials he derives from Adam, but what blessings through Christ have been obtained for him whom the law could neither succour nor relieve. (Ibid.) Let the whole [of the rest of the] passage be perused.

      13. JEROME We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, &c. Undoubtedly the three Hebrew children had not sinned, neither were they of that [accountable] age when they were led away to Babylon, so as to be punished for their vices. Therefore, as they here speak in the person of their nation at large, so we must read and apply that passage of the apostle, "for what I would, that do I not," &c. (On Daniel 9.)

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See Also:
   Chapter 1 - The Thesis to be Proved
   Chapter 2 - The Connection Between the 6th & 7th Chapter
   Chapter 3 - Proposition of the Apostle
   Chapter 4 - Romans 7:14
   Chapter 5 - Romans 7:15
   Chapter 6 - Romans 7:16
   Chapter 7 - Romans 7:17
   Chapter 8 - Romans 7:18, 19
   Chapter 9 - Romans 7:20
   Chapter 10 - Romans 7:21
   Chapter 11 - Romans 7:22, 23
   Chapter 12 - The Ancient Fathers
   Chapter 13 - Romans 7:24
   Chapter 14 - Romans 7:25
   Chapter 15 - Under the Law
   Chapter 16 - The Grace of God
   Chapter 17 - The Connection Between the 7th & 8th Chapters
   Chapter 18 - The Opinion Corroborated by Testimonies
   Chapter 19 - Christian Fathers Approve of our Interpretation
   Chapter 20 - The Opinion of St. Augustine
   Chapter 21 - Writers from the Middle Ages Support our Opinion
   Chapter 22 - Favorable Testimonies of Recent Divines
   Chapter 23 - This Opinion Isn't Heretical
   Chapter 24 - Our Opinion is Opposed to the Pelagian Heresy
   Chapter 25 - Ancient Church Doctors Didn't Approve the Opposite Opinion
   Chapter 26 - The Opposite Opinion is Hurtful to Grace & Good Morals
   Chapter 27 - Common Interpretation Answered


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