Romans 7:1

Know you not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?
All Commentaries on Romans 7:1 Go To Romans 7

Thomas Aquinas

AD 1274
After showing that we are set free from sin through the grace of Christ, the Apostle now shows that through the same grace we are freed from slavery to the Law. In regard to this he does two things: first, he states his proposition; secondly, he excludes an objection [v. 7; n. 532]. In regard to the first he does two things: 263 first, he shows that through the grace of Christ we are freed from the slavery of the Law; secondly, that this liberation is useful [v. 4c; n. 529]. In regard to the first he does three things: first, he makes a statement from which he argues to his proposition; secondly, he clarifies it [v. 2; n. 521]; thirdly, he concludes [v. 4; n. 527]. 519. The statement he makes is presented as something known to them. Hence he says: Do you not know, brethren? As if to say: You should not be ignorant of this. The reason they should not be ignorant of it is shown when he says: I am speaking to those who know the law. 520. But since the Romans were Gentiles and ignorant of the Law of Moses, it seems that what is said here does not apply to them. Therefore, some explained this as referring to the natural law, of which the Gentiles were not ignorant, as he said earlier: "When the Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves" (Rom 2:14). Hence it is added: that the law is binding on a person, i.e., the natural law, as long as it lives, i.e., the law in man. And it lives as long as natural reason functions efficaciously in a person; but it dies, as long as natural reason succumbs to the passions: "They have broken the everlasting covenant" (Is 24:5), i.e., of the natural law. 264 But this interpretation does not seem to agree with the intention of the Apostle who always has in mind the Law of Moses, when he speaks of the Law with no modifying qualifications. Therefore, it is better to say that the Roman believers were not only Gentiles; there were many Jews among them. Hence it says in Acts 18 that Paul found at Corinth a certain Jew named Aquila, who bad recently arrived from Italy, and Priscilla his wife, because Claudius had expelled all the Jews from Rome. Therefore, the Law is binding on a person as long as he lives. For the Law was given to direct man in the way of this life, as it says in Ps 25 (v.12): "He will instruct him in the way that he should choose." Therefore, the obligation of the Law is dissolved by death. 521. Then (v.2) he clarifies what he had said with an example from the law of marriage: first, he gives the example; secondly, he clarifies it by a sign [v. 3; n. 525]. 522. In regard to the first he does two things [n. 523]. First, in the example he states how the obligation endures during life, saying: Thus a married woman is by divine law bound to her husband as long as he lives: "Your husband shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16); "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mt 19:6). And this indissolubility of marriage is especially considered, inasmuch as it is the sacrament of the indissoluble union of Christ and the Church, or of the Word and human 265 nature in the person of Christ: "This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the Church" (Eph 5:32). 523. Secondly, he shows in the example how the obligation of the law is dissolved by death, saying: But if her husband dies, the woman, after the death of the husband, is discharged from the law concerning the husband, i.e., from the law of marriage by which she is obliged to the husband. For since, as Augustine says in his book On Marriage and Concupiscence, marriage is a good of mortal man, its obligation does not extend beyond mortal life. For this reason "in the resurrection," when life will be immortal, "they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Mt 22:30). From this it is plain that if a person were to die and be restored to life, as Lazarus was, the one who had been his wife is no longer so, unless he marries her again. 524. But against this one might bring what is stated in Heb (11:35): "Women received their dead by resurrection!" But one should realize that the women received not their husbands but their sons, as the woman in 1 Kg 17 through Elijah, and another in 2 Kg 4 through Elisha. The case is different with sacraments which imprint a character, which is a consecration of an immortal soul. Now every consecration endures as long as the consecrated thing lasts, as is plain in the consecration of a church or altar. Therefore, if a baptized or confirmed or ordained person were to die and rise again, he would not have to repeat these sacraments. 525. Then (v. 3) he clarifies what he had said by a sign. 266 And first, in regard to the obligation of marriage, which continues for the wife as long as the husband is alive. The sign of this is that she will be called an adulteress, if she lives with another man, i.e., as wife and husband, while her husband is alive: "If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, would not she be polluted and contaminated?" (Jer 3:1). Secondly, he adduces a sign of the fact that the obligation of the law of marriage is dissolved by death, saying: But if her husband dies, she is free from that law by which she is bound to the husband, so that she is not an adulteress, if she is carnally united to another man, particularly if she has married him: "If the husband dies," namely, the woman’s, "she is free to be married to whom she wishes only in the Lord" (1 Cor 7:39). 526. This shows that second, third or fourth marriages are lawful of themselves, and not only by dispensation as Chrysostom seems to say, when he says that just as Moses permitted a bill of divorce, so the Apostle permitted second marriages. For there is no reason, if the marriage law is dissolved by death, why the survivor may not marry again. It is not because second marriages are illicit that the Apostle says: "A bishop should be married only once" (1 Tim 3:2), but on account of the sacramental sign: for he would not be one of one, as Christ is the spouse of one Church. 527. Then (v. 4) he concludes to his main proposition, saying: Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, i.e., in becoming members of the body of Christ, dying and being buried with him, as stated above; you have died to the law in the sense that the obligation of the Law ceases in you, so that you may belong to another, namely, Christ, in whom through rising with him you have received a new 267 life. Hence you are held obliged not by the law of the former life but by the law of the new life. But this application seems awkward, because in the preceding example the man, died and the woman remarried without obligation of the law. But here the one released from obligation is said to die. However, if we consider it another way, there is a parallel, because since marriage is between two, it makes no difference which one dies. In either case the law is taken away by death. Hence the obligation of the Old Law ceases in virtue of the death by which we die with Christ. 529. Then (v. 4b) he shows the utility of this liberation. In regard to this he does three things: first, he mentions the utility, saying: that we may bear fruit to God. For if we have been made members of Christ and abide in Christ, we can bear fruit, i.e., good works, for the honor of God: "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine" (Jn 15:4). 530. The second is there at While we were living. He shows that this fruit was impeded when we were under the slavery of the Law, saying: while we were living in the flesh, i.e., subject to the concupiscence of the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members, i.e., moved our members: "What causes wars and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions?" (Jas 4:1). And this to bear fruit for death: "Sin when it is full-grown brings forth death (Jas 1:15). The third is there at But now we are discharged. 268 He shows that this usefulness is acquired by those freed from the slavery of the Law, saying: But we are now discharged by the grace of Christ from the law of death, i.e., from the slavery of the Law of Moses, which is called the law of death, because it killed violators without mercy: "A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy" (Heb 10:28). Or better, it is called the law of death because if offered the occasion for spiritual death, as it says in 2 Cor (3:6): "For the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life." Dead to that which held us captive as slaves under the law: "Before faith came we were confined under the law" (Gal 3:23). We have been freed in such a way that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit, i.e., renewed in the spirit through the grace of Christ: "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you" Ez (36:26); not in the old written code, i.e., not according to the old law. Or not in the old written code of sin which the letter of the law could not remove: "I have grown weak in the midst of all my foes (Ps 6:7).
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Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. - 2 Peter 1:20

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