Saturday, September 23, 2006

Who Is the "Man of Romans 7"?

(Previous number in this series from here)

Romans 7 has been the key passage for simul justus et peccator (at the same time justified and sinner). The famous description of Paul's in which he describes a struggle with sin:

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 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 which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Is Paul speaking as an apostle here? Or was this before he believed in Christ? Or perhaps under some conviction of sin, but lacking the second blessing that would lead him to sinless perfection and victorious life that all Christians should aspire to?

Here too, Luther was aware of the fifth century debates on this topic. Here the opponent of Augustine, the mature anti-Pelagian preacher, was not Jerome, but the younger, earlier Augustine. In Luther's Lectures on Romans (written in 1515-16), he writes:

That, beginning with this passage until the end of the chapter, the apostle speaks in his own name and as a spiritual person and not at all as a carnal person, Blessed Augustine first asserts extensively and persistently in his book against the Pelagians. Hence he says in the twenty-third chapter of the first book of his Retractations, where he deals again with his exposition of this passage:

When the apostle says: We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, I did not want to understand this as in any way spoken by the apostle in his own name, because he was already spiritual, but rather with reference to a man who is subject to the law because he is not yet under grace. In this way I earlier understood these words, but later, having read several interpreters of the divine sayings whose authority impressed me greatly, I considered them more carefully and came to see that they can also be understood with reference to the apostle

And in the second book against [the Pelagian] Julian, he writes:

Behold, it is not, as you think, some Jew who says: I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, etc., but according to Blessed Ambrose, it is the apostle Paul who speaks here in his own name.

And, a little farther on, he quotes Blessed Ambrose from his book On the Sacrament of Regeneration:

We must struggle against the flesh. Paul struggled against it. At last he says: I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind. Are you stronger than Paul? Have no confidence in the sedulous flesh and do not entrust yourself to it, since Paul exclaims: For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, no good dwells: for to will is present with me, but to accomplish that which is good is not.

Likewise, quoting the same author [i.e. "Ambrose"] from the book On Paradise, he says:
Again, at another place of the same work, the same teacher writes: Paul, he says, is assailed and sees the law of his flesh warring against the law of his mind. Paul says: For the good which I will I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do. And still you think that man is helped by knowledge in so far as it increases his displeasure at his trangression? etc.

And most clearly of all, he [i.e. Augustine] makes the same point in the same work [Against Julian] from the sixth chapter to the end.

Luther then goes on to demonstrate how the delight in the spiritual law and the awareness and hatred of the flesh's sinful urges is a feature not of the carnal (i.e. unregenerate) man, but of the regenerate man.

It is interesting that the Ambrose cited here is believed by modern scholars to be not the "real" Ambrose, but another man who wrote under Ambrose's name (he is called Ambrosiaster). It seems odd that Augustine was unable to tell the difference between the writings of the two, since Ambrose was an older contemporary. In fact, for good or for ill, it seems that this Ambrosiaster was a rather more influential and original theologian than the real Ambrose. If one wishes to find the cuckoo who laid the egg of Evangelicalism that Luther hatched, this Ambrosiaster would seem to be a prime candidate. It is a shame that so little is known about him.

Those who wish to read Augustine's developed anti-Pelagian exegesis of Romans 7 can find a nice assembly of texts in pp. 61-65 of Hurst's translation of Bede's anthology. But it is important to note that there is still a crucial gap between Augustine and Luther. Both believe that the sinner is just yet still subject to sinful desires. Both also believe that the sinner in Christ will prevent these desires from ripening into fruit of mortal sin.

But in this situation of being simultaneously justified and sinner, we can ask, on what basis can it be said there is no condemnation for such a person in Christ? Augustine's answer is that they are not condemned because those in Christ through the Holy Spirit rule over their covetous desires. The work of conquering the flesh cannot be done, but they do do the work of not being conquered by the flesh, and that (it appears) is the basis of their righteousness (although the ability to do so is a gift of God). The mature Luther stresses that while the saint does indeed repress the motions of the flesh, such repression is not the grounds of his acceptance with God. Rather it is faith alone which gives makes the sinner righteous, as it always was.

UPDATE: In a succeeding post, I analyze a homily by John Chrysostom here (HT: Eric Phillips) that gives us the perfectionist "you need to move from the Man of Romans 7 to the Man of Romans 8" reading of Romans 7 as being about man before the grace of the cross. One may presume this was the sort of reading Augustine had imbibed early in his Christian life and which he later repudiated.

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