The passage of the Letter to the Romans, used on Pentecost Sunday, year C, Romans 8:8-17, begins, “You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit.” Those who received Paul’s letter may have thought that actually they were living in the flesh.
St. Thomas Aquinas explains: “He is not speaking about the nature of the flesh. For the Romans, to whom he is speaking were mortal men clothed in flesh. Rather he is speaking about the vices of the flesh: ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor 15:50)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, 625).
Paul continues: “… if the Spirit of God really dwells in you” (Rom 8:9). Thomas adds, “namely, through love: ‘You are God’ temple, and God’s Spirit dwells in you” (1 Cor 3:16)” (Commentary on Romans, 626).
Paul asserts: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him” (Rom 8:9).
Thomas comments: “Just as that is not a bodily member which is not enlivened by the body’s spirit, so he is not Christ’s member who does not have the Spirit of Christ: ‘by this we know that we abide in him, because He has given us His own Spirit’ (1 Jn 4:13)” (Commentary on Romans, 627).
Paul affirms: “But if Christ I in you…” Thomas reflects: “Since you belong to Christ, you have the Spirit of Christ and Christ dwelling in you through faith: ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith’ (Eph 3:17). But if Christ is in you, you should be conformed to Christ” (Commentary on Romans, 629).
Thomas explains: “Christ so came into the world that as far as the Spirit was concerned, He was full of grace and truth, but as for the body, He had the likeness of sinful flesh. Hence this should also be in you, that your body indeed because of sin which still remains in your flesh, is dead, i.e. subject to the necessity of death…” (Commentary on Romans, 626).
The spirit lives: “But the spirit lives, being recalled from sin: ‘be renewed in the spirit of your minds’ (Eph 4:23); it lives with the life of grace because of justification, through which it is justified by God: ‘The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God’ (Gal 2:20); ‘the just man lives by faih’ (Rom 1:17).
Paul “shows what we obtain from the Holy Spirit inasmuch as He is the Spirit of the Father, saying the Spirit of Him, namely of God the Father who raised up Jesus Christ from the dead … ‘He who raised up Jesus Christ from the dead shall enliven your own bodies because of the Spirit dwelling in you” (Commentary on Romans, 630).
Thomas asserts that this is “on account of the dignity our bodies have from being receptacles of the Holy Spirit: ‘Do you not know that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit’ ( 1 Cor 6:19)” (Commentary on Romans, 630).
If you live according to the Spirit, you mortify the deeds of the flesh” (Rom 8:13). Thomas affirms that living by the Spirit “you will live, namely the life of grace in the present and the life of glory in the future” (Commentary on Romans, 633).
“Whoever is led by the Spirit of God“ Thomas comments that a person is “ruled by a leader and director, which the Spirit does in us, inasmuch as He enlightens us inwardly about what we ought to do “let your good spirit lead me” (Ps 143:10) (Commentary on Romans, 635).
Thomas explains: “One who is led does not act on his own, … a spiritual man is not only instructed by the Holy Spirit regarding what he ought to do, but his heart is also moved by the Holy Spirit” (Commentary on Romans, 635).
Thomas asserts: “Those are led who are moved by a higher instinct. Animals do not act but are led, because they are moved to perform their actions by nature and not from their own impulse. Similarly the spiritual man is inclined to do something not as though by a movement of his own chiefly, but by the prompting of the holy Spirit. This does not mean that spiritual men do not act through will and free choice, because the Holy Spirit causes the very movement of the will and free choice in them ‘God is at work in in you both to will and to work’ (Phil 2:13).
Thomas attests: “The holy Spirit produces two effects in us: one is fear: ‘his delight shall be the fear of the Lord’ (Is 11:3); the other is love: ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us (Rom 5:5)” (Commentary on Romans, 638).
Thomas shows that initial fear is fear of punishment and is caused by imperfect love “usually found in men at the beginning of their conversion” but fear set on spiritual things, “fears nothing except separation from God. This is holy fear: ‘The fear of the Lord is holy, enduring forever and ever’ (Ps 19:10)…. Fear produces slavery, so charity’s love produces the freedom of sons. For it makes a man act voluntarily for the honor of God – which is characteristic of sons” (Commentary on Romans, 641).
Paul proclaims: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. for you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the spirit of sonship. When we cry ‘Abba” Father! it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness that we are children of God” (Rom 8: 14-16).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on Romans are taken from the translation begun by Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. and edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón. The translation was published by the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, Lander, Wyoming, in 2012.