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Class 28

Saint Paul and the Old Law

Saint Paul after his conversion discovered his previous approach to the revealed law of God led to slavery. Paul’s novelty is liberty in Christ. If he met with opposition from the Jews, it was becuase of his opposition to the old law, both cultic and moral. Paul wanted to be a Jew to the Jews, but he wouldn’t change his teaching on liberty of the Spirit. Faith in Christ is the center not slavish obedience to the law. The law cannot justify us; otherwise there is no purpose to the death of Christ. The Decalogue is very valuable, but the Christian is now under grace.[50] The law had the role of raising, or educating the people of Israel.[51] The law became for us a curse rather than an educator.[52] Not only the cultic precepts, but all externally imposed laws, can become a curse. The law presents a norm, but in itself it doesn’t allow putting into practice what it commands. Just because it is forbidden it is tempting. Just in the tempting shows that law can lead to spiritual death. This recognition can lead us to the Savior, perceived in faith. We need his help. The experience of sin, to which the law in a mistaken manner lures, is a suggestion to turn to the grace of Christ.[53] If we live our life uniquely by seeing the rules and we try to live them out by our own powers, it causes an increase in temptations and we cannot liberate ourselves from sin. Even though the law presents the true values, our mode of receiving it causes in us a spiritual slavery.

Even though the law is a "curse," it is "sacred."[54] The law came from God and shows us true good and true evil. But it cannot transform us into spiritual beings; if law could do this we wouldn’t need the Savior. The law doesn’t abolish sin, but reveals the inclination to sin within us, our pride and egoism. Saint Paul opposes to that law not another law, but grace. As the Christian is liberated from the pressure of the law is not in an anarchous or autonomous situation, but has a new source of orientation, the grace of Jesus.[55] We are not free to sin though we are free from the law. The novelty of Christ isn’t that we are given a higher ideal which is more difficult, nor does it consist in a scandalously easy new law, but we have the help of the Holy Spirit. The new law of the Holy Spirit grants an interior dynamism. The Christian iscapable of being transformed from within by the Holy Spirit himself. Chapter 8 of Romans teaches us of being led by the Holy Spirit.[56] Our sinfulness has been taken on the shoulders of Jesus Christ, who took our sinfulness and presented himself to the Father to liberate us from sin. Jesus is like a sponge who collects all the dirt and the table is clean. He took upon the sinfulness of the world. He gives us his Spirit who becomes an interior law for us. The Holy Spirit leads us, not denying the teaching of the Old Law, but to a spiritual life transformed by Him from within.

The law of the Holy Spirit

When he describes the action of Holy Spirit within us, he uses a passive verb — the law is fulfilled within us, even though this takes place within our liberty. He calls it a law of the Spirit, the same term used for the Old Law. But it describes a completely new reality. The novelty of the action of the Holy Spirit within us is described with the aid of the term law. The underlying basis of Saint Paul were the great prophecies of the Old Testament, but their accomplishment was unknown in former times. We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essenes had great respect for Jeremiah and Ezechiel, but thought they would be fulfilled by slavish obedience to the Old Law. No one had imagined such a divine gift, that God would give us an interior law. This text is revolutionary, suggesting the whole religious tradition of Israel would be replaced. Jeremiah doesn’t speak directly of the new law, but the planting of the new law in the hearts. The Holy Spirit would teach from within. There is no mention in Ezechiel of a new law, but of a new heart, which will cleanse us of our sinfulness. These two texts were very much known at the time of Jesus, as the discoveries of Qumran show. Jesus speaks of the New Covenant once, at the Last Supper.[57] If we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, we become a child of God. We no longer have to live in fear of our sins. We are allowed to be kids and make mistakes, and return to God like kids, if we live by the Holy Spirit.

The spiritual person is led by a spiritual instinct of the Holy Spirit. If we forget about this, and return to a pharisaical approach, we leave the freedom of the children of God for the slavery of the law.[58] Don’t look for justification by fidelity to rules and regulations. Christians are told to look with faith to the rewards that faith promises. What matters is faith which makes God’s power felt through love. We place our trust in Jesus, believing and hoping in his grace. In this, we undertake the acts of love. This is the Christian moral life. In the light of the act of faith, we perceive the divine imprint even in our enemy and try to love them.

If we place too much emphasis on externals, and too little on the personal encounter with God, this is in a sense a falling out of grace. In the great crises of the Church, there are impulses to add more penance, more regulations, etc. Vatican II said to step back and do away with excessive rules and regulations, to give the individual a chance to respond to the love of God.[59] We won’t look for self-indulgence if we’re led by the Holy Spirit; we will fulfill all the law requires without an external coercion, but in freedom. Saint Augustine said, "The law was given that grace might be sought; and grace was given, that the law might be fulfilled."

Saint Paul doesn’t say we don’t need moral teaching. He describes sins and the qualities of virtuous actions. These external exhortations complement the interior light of the Holy Spirit. The laws remind us that we’re sinners. But the external teaching is secondary to the interior teaching of the Holy Spirit.

Treatise on the New Law (I-II, 106-8)

This is the summit of the whole moral teaching of Saint Thomas. As he wrote this, Saint Thomas tied everything together he said in the Summa, although he didn’t directly indicate it. Cajetan said it was good for meditation and skipped it in is influential commentary. This was the most evangelical part of the whole Summa. Had Cajetan known it, he would have been able to answer Luther, who was looking for a theology perceiving the role of faith and grace. The questions are introduced by a prologue, entitled by an editor"De lege evangelica quae dicitur lex nova." Saint Thomas says in his prologue "de lege Evangelii quod dicitur lex nova." The first says that we’re looking in the Gospels for texts which are an evangelical law, new laws. Saint Thomas says that the law refers to the entire Gospel. The word Evangelium for Saint Thomas doesn’t mean the text, but the Good News, all that happened. What we are discussing in the new law is not legalistic texts or a moral code, but we’re trying to discover what has happened in the entire salvific event — how it’s transformed our lives.

The priority of the grace of the Holy Spirit

He raises the question whether the New Law is written or unwritten. If it’s unwritten, he asks how it would be distinguishable from the natural law. In the Sed Contra, he quotes from Hebrews, referring more to the Ezechiel. So the New Law would be an interior law. The novelty of the new law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given in Christ, which is predominant in the New Testament. That which is most powerful in the New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit, and that grace is given by faith in Jesus Christ. Before all else, the new law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to those who believe in Christ. The grace of the Holy Spirit is primary. Saint Thomas quotes from Saint Paul to confirm it. The law of faith is grace. Saint Paul’s connection between the law of sin and deaht and the law of the grace of the Holy Spirit is not lost on Saint Thomas. The laws of Godwritten in our hearts is the grace of the Holy Spirit. Saint Thomas had some doubts whether the law of the Holy Spirit described the effects of the Holy Spirit within us, or the intervention of the Holy Spirit himself. He decides for the latter. Saint Thomas always uses the expression "grace of the Holy Spirit," suggesting he has in mind not only the created effects, but the personal relationship of the Holy Spirit. We can tie this to the divine indwelling lectures, that we have a personal relationship with the three persons of the Blessed Trinity, and only when we have the relationship with them is our life full.

The importance of the written and spoken Gospel

The New Law has elements dispositive to the grace of the Holy Spirit and others concerned with its exercise. These are secondary in the New Law, and Christ’s faithful had to be instructed in them, as regards both faith and actions. The most powerful is the grace of the Holy Spirit. Secondarily is the written text of the Gospel and the spoken word of the Church. The function of this written and spoken word, covering all teaching of the Gospel, every word preached in the Church, has a dual finality: disposing to faith (though it cannot give us faith) and ordering the use of grace, by showing us how to us it. We have the teaching in the Church on faith and on morals, which aren’t just external teachings that fall on us, but an aid which helps us to make the step to jump into the deep and to use the grace given to us in this process. The entire moral teaching of the Church on questions of family life, medical ethics, justice, temperance, etc. is to dispose us to grace and to help us to use it appropriately in our expressions of the love of God. The entire moral theology can be tied to this formula, faith operative in love.

The two elements go together. The secondary elements are essential as well. We must have faith in the primacy of the Holy Spirit. We must trust in him, and have the secondary elements nourished by the Holy Spirit. It is important that when we teach, we don’t give our own private opinions but that which disposes toward faith in Christ and which can be ordered to use in grace.

The essence of Christian teaching is not moralization but enunciation of the grace that is given. In response to Saint Thomas’s objection of how to distinguish the unwritten new law from the natural law, he says that the new law is "ingrained in the heart given extra above nature." In the natural law, we have the instinct of reason; in the Christian life, above this instinct of reason we have the instinct of the Holy Spirit.

In the following articles, Saint Thomas asks whether the new law justifies, and he answers affirmatively, for the grace of the Holy Spirit makes us just. He quotes St. Augustine’s distinction between the external law of the Old Testament and the internal law of the New. The secondary element of the precepts of the written text do not justify. Even the texts of the Gospel will kill us if the grace of the Holy Spirit is not given. Without faith the attempt to live the moral teaching of the Gospel will be too difficult and end up killing us. The reason many reject the moral teaching of the Church today is because they only perceive the teaching and not the grace. The Pope in Veritatis Splendor says the moral teaching of the Church is addressed to man who has been redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Only when we have this grace are we justified. Whoever has received the grace of the Holy Spirit and rejects it deserves greater punishment than he who has never received it.

Why did God wait so long before the richness of his grace was given? The grace of the Holy Spirit couldn’t be given before the obstacle of sin was removed by Christ. What was more perfect was not given in the beginning. Something similar happens in our personal salvation history. We begin with external teaching, and the moment of conversion to the Holy Spirit is crucial. Falling into sin we discover our weakness and the need for grace. Where sin abounds, grace abounds ever more. We need to perceive the sin to ask for the grace. The New Law was given in the new world, but there have always been people who belonged to the New Law, like some of the patriarchs. People were given the grace of the Holy Spirit by some hope that God would redeem, even though he never heard the name of Christ. This spiritual experience was subject to deformation.

Will the New Law last until the end of the world? He had to respond to Joachim di Fiore, who thought that there are stages of the three persons of the Blessed Trinity, which basically leads to ideologies. Modern ideologies have their root in this thinking, that there are stages in history and each new stage is a development of what is supposed to happen in history. The process is rather from the Holy Spirit through the Son to the Father. We’re returning to the Father like the prodigal son. This is a rare case when Saint Thomas became angry, using "stultissimum," that the Gospel of Christ is not the Gospel of the kingdom. We are not to expect a new stage in the history of salvation.

Does the New Law differ from the Old? It doesn’t differ in finality; both lead to God. But it differs in that the old law educated, and the new law liberates. Those who don’t have virtue must be urged by external coercion. Those who have the infused virtues are urged toward goodness by the law of the Holy Spirit. The New Law fulfills the Old Law because it leads to our justification; the old law announced the justification but couldn’t justify. The New Law is contained in the Old Law like a tree is contained in a seed.

Is the New Law more burdensome than the Old? As far as the execution of the works, no. It was difficult to live out all the ceremonial laws. The New Law has little beyond the natural law, but the way of living it out is different. St. Augustine said that there ought to be restraint in deduced laws from the written Gospel, so the people can live in liberty. The Church has reduced the laws from Vatican II. As far as the internal dispositions of the acts of the virtues, the person who has virtue does so with ease. The requirements of the New Law are more demanding because they look at the internal motivations, but the mandates are easy to the one who loves in Jesus. The hardships endured by the followers of the New Law aren’t imposed by the New Law itself but by the external circumstances. Due to love, the suffering of these demanding hardships is not difficult.

Should the New Law propose or forbid new actions? The primary aspect of the New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit. We should look for faith operative in love. Saint Thomas says that we receive grace through the Son of God become man, of whose fullness we have received grace upon grace. It is fitting that grace received should be received through external signs, which is the logic behind the sacraments. Saint Thomas presents here his ecclesiology, that the Church is rooted in the glorified humanity of Christ. In the New Law, we have external signs by which the grace of Christ is given. So there is a teaching about the sacraments. We distinguish two types of external acts in the New Testament: those by which the graces are administered; and those flowing from the instinct of grace. Some acts of necessity are tied with internal grace, faith operative in love. These are mandatory and the contraries are forbidden. We are required to profess the faith. Everything that leads to faith, to openness to God, is required. All the other acts which are not directly tied to faith operative in love are left by Christ to human liberty, of the individual and of those who are leaders in the Church. Religious experience may oblige us that we fast and participate in religious practices. This depends on the prudence and wisdom of those in charge. This shouldn’t be done in a stifling way. Individuals decide how to be creative in their virtues. One may express love of God by loving in the family, another in serving the poor. There are no set limits about what to do. The leaders of the Church decide what is to be left for individuals and what all should do.

Saint Thomas then describes whether the New law requires external and internal acts. In the latter question he brings in the sermon on the Mount. This is a written text disposing us to faith and showing us how to use grace. It contains a total plan for our life. We see here that Saint Thomas brings in the most fundamental text of the moral teaching of the New Testament, in which we can see a certain similarity to the structure of the Summa, which begins with a treatise on happiness. Faith operative in love is in the secunda secundae, and the charism come at the end.

The Counsels

In the last article, Saint Thomas asks whether the evangelical counsels are required in the New Law. He says the precepts show that which is necessary, though the counsels are left to liberty. We are not required to follow them, but to take them into account. Counsel comes before a decision as a suggestion which the Holy Spirit gives us ("show the other cheek," etc.). All Christians are required to be open to these counsels which show us something which is good. But there are other avenues in front of us. We don’t have to directly follow the counsels but be open to them. Every Christian should have an openness to the counsels. In some situations, they may become operative for us.

 


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