This Sunday, the 8th after Pentecost, brings us an Epistle or first reading in the Vetus Ordo, the Traditional Latin Mass, from the Apostle to the Gentiles’ Letter to the Romans 8: 12-17.
We have already seen some context for Romans in previous offerings. We have already had a look into a possible thematic flow of these green Sundays as we move deeper into the time after Pentecost. Last Sunday’s Epistle from Romans 6 presented the contrast of slavery to sin and slavery to God, the two types of slavery not being at all the same. This Sunday’s Epistle also presents a contrast, life according to the flesh or the spirit.
So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For 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 have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
It is sometimes noted that the word “Trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Ironically, “Bible only,” sola Scriptura Christians believe in the Trinity anyway. However, in this important passage from Paul, we find an affirmation of the Three Persons in relation to each other. The technical term “Trinity” would be coined by the (probably) first writer in Latin, the combative North African Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus +c. 220). He eventually wound up a heretic and schismatic due to his strict morals and his concern about the secularization of the Church. Some things don’t change.
Last week we heard about slavery, which for the Jews was quite a different institution than for the Romans to whom Paul is writing. Keep in mind that these readings would have rung differently in their ears as they were read aloud according to the ancient way of reading. In this cutting or pericope of Romans, Paul is playing up the theme of filiation, adoption as children, which implies freedom but also suffering. The image of being “glorified” is also found in John’s Gospel as when in the Prologue John says that “we saw His glory, the glory as of the Only begotten of the Father” (v. 1:14), meaning that John and others saw Christ being crucified. Hence, sonship and crucifixion are linked for Christ but also for us as well. We are members of Christ’s Person through baptism.
Let’s linger with two points. First, the idea of sonship, filiation and adoption in a Roman context. Remember: context is important. After that, the intimacy that filiation, becoming a true child of the Father, brings with it and what it means.
In verse 15, Paul says in the RSV translation, “you have received the spirit of sonship.” However, the Greek word for “sonship” is huiothesía, a compound of huiós, “son” with títhemi, “place, make, establish.” Paul is talking about “adoption as sons.” The Latin Vulgate which is read at Mass says: “accepístis spíritum adoptiónis filiórum, in quo clamámus: Abba – Pater. … You have received the Spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
Our adoption by God via baptism takes us out of slavery and gives us a new status as free members of the Church and as sons and daughters. Baptism confers this freedom, membership, and adoption.
In ancient Rome, even natural children of a father required the father’s recognition (Latin recognitio) before they were legally considered to be his legitimate children and heirs with any rights. Adoption could grant those very same rights and privileges. Roman adoptio removed a person under the power of a parent from one familia and put him into another while adrogatio (“a calling towards”) legally placed people who were not under the power of a parent into a familia, thus placing them under the authority of that family’s paterfamilias. In Latin, a familia is a household and all belonging to it, a family estate, family property, fortune, slaves, etc. A familia had a head, the paterfamilias (or –familiae, the –as being a Greek genitive), the master of the house.
Applied to Christian filiation, adoption of sonship, the baptized are no longer subject to Satan and destined for Hell, but are now under new mastership of God.
In Rome there was also an “adoption” by being named an heir with the right of taking the name of the one bequeathing the patrimony. However, this was not an adoption in the fullest sense: you became heir of the father’s name and property without the other powers of a paterfamilias until they were confirmed by magistrates, etc.
Even after baptism our state can be deepened through confirmation.
Ancient Roman slaves could be freed, but that did not make them Roman citizens with the greater rights. By baptism, however, we become citizens of heaven, members of the familia, the Church.
Not only are we free, but we gain even the chance of eternal salvation.
In ancient Rome – think of the people listening to Paul’s letter being read aloud – a slave could become a citizen through certain types of manumission, by adoption, through military service, or a special grant to a community or territory. In a way, we Christians have undergone all of these. By the laying of His hand upon us (manus “hand” and mittere), which Christ does in the person of the alter Christus, the priest or bishop, in baptism and confirmation we have been freed. We have been made sons and daughters of a heavenly Father.
We are now also soldiers in the Church Militant ready for obedient service.
By membership of the society, the family, of the Church, a holy and priestly People, we gain privileges and obligations. God has recognized us as His own children with a perfect adoption. This is true freedom and true heirship, excluding nothing and, in fact, lavishing on us even more than we might have had before we fell under the Devil’s dominion through sin. O felix culpa!
This is a difficult mystery to grasp: we are already sons and daughters in a perfect sonship by adoption, but that sonship is not yet complete. We lack the final essential component, that is, perseverance in faith and obedience for the whole course of our lives and their ratification in death and our particular judgment.
It is through many trials that we come to the perfection of adoption which we now share in an imperfectly perfect way.
Moving quickly to the second point, intimacy with the Father, you may have noticed that striking phrase of Paul, “we cry, “Abba! Father!” (v. 15).
Paul wrote in Greek. However, here is the interjection of an Aramaic word: Abba. Rome’s Christian community would have had both Gentile Romans and Jews. We see abba elsewhere in the New Testament. For example, in Mark 14:36 Jesus is in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He cries out to the Father in the Greek text, “Abba, patér“.
Let’s halt for a moment. You will sometimes hear from the pulpit that Abba is a term of intimacy with the Father which is rendered into English as “Daddy.” No. And No. “Abba” isn’t “Daddy.” It is wholly other than that. It is a term of intimacy, but it carries the connotation not of mere affection but rather of obedience, as is demonstrated precisely in Our Lord’s obedience when He says: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt” (v. 36). A child says “Abba” when obeying. Abba is rather like respectful “Sir,” which comes through archaic “sire” from Norman “sieur” (think, French monsieur,” Italian monsignore) and ultimately Latin senior. In English “to sire” is what a male does in begetting children. Synonyms of “sire” include, “author, originator, lord” which sounds an awful lot like the First Person of the Trinity.
Christ was both the High Priest offering sacrifice and the victim being offered. Christ was the fulfillment of the two figures of Abraham and Isaac foreshadowed in Gen 22. Abraham carried the knife and Isaac carried the wood up the hill, which is identified as what would later be the Temple Mount of Jerusalem (2 Chron 3:1). When Isaac (a promised son as Jesus was as well, born of a woman who otherwise could not bear children) noticed that they had fire and wood but no animal to sacrifice, what is the first thing we hear him say to Abraham? He said “‘ab … Father.” Then he went up the hill, willing to die in obedience to his father’s will.
God as Father is one of Christ’s most important teachings. This is borne out by how, at their request, He teaches His disciples how to pray: patér hémón… Our Father…” (Matt 6:9). Christ clearly intended for us to think of the First Person of the Trinity as Father, hence His constant address of eternal Begetter as such.
In his letter to the Galatians Paul again addresses the theme of slaves and sons. Here’s “Abba, Father” again.
When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?
How can you turn back again? (Gal 4:9)
You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. (Rom 8: 15)
Divine filiation, adoption by God the Father as children brings us into a new reality, which does not exclude suffering in this world. In fact, it more or less calls for it.
“Father… Abba,” is intimate, but it also teaches us the way of obedience to God’s will. Abba is how the obedient address the Father. How obedient was Christ?
being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8)
Christ stressed God as Father. He taught a specific prayer to underscore the relationship. Hence, learning properly how to address God and know God in our lives precisely as “FATHER” is a foundational aspect of our Christian identity.
It is no wonder that God as Father and fatherhood in general is attacked by today by the confused and perhaps demonically influenced. If we don’t learn to be obedient in our relation to the First Person as Father, then we don’t accept God’s authority. In fact, those who confuse the First Person as, mere Creator or Mother/Father or… whatever… don’t recognized God’s true authority. The result is that they make themselves their own authority, which is exactly the temptation of the serpent in the Garden.
Convert from Lutheranism, ordained to the priesthood in 1991 by St. John Paul II in Rome for the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni. Classics at University of Minnesota. Licence and Doctoral studies in Patristic Theology at the Augustinianum in Rome. Formerly a collaborator of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” moderator of the Catholic Online Forum, columnist for The Wanderer and the UK’s Catholic Herald, Fox News contributor. Speaker. Blogist. fatherzonline.com @fatherz