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Aquinas on the Meaning of Christ Fulfilling the Law (Matt 5:17)

aquinasstone   I’ve been studying and teaching the Gospel of Matthew for 15 years now,  yet until the last couple of months I have never read Aquinas’ massive, thoughtful, and edifying commentary on the First Gospel. I have still not read most of it but I’ve dipped in at various places and now especially have been blown away by his comments on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). I regret that I did not sit and chew on Aquinas’ insights before completing my own commentary on the Sermon; a loss to myself and my readers. Second edition, deo volente!

As one example of the good that comes from reading Aquinas, here is his succinct and systematic treatment of one of the most perplexing and complicated texts in Scripture — what does Jesus mean when he says that he did come to abolish Torah but to fulfill it. Typical of Aquinas (and the entire pre-modern tradition), Scripture is explained by other Scripture, fitting it all together in a thoughtful unity, all the while leaniaquinas1ng on Augustine and refuting various unorthodox readings such as Faustus.

Aquinas says the Lord fulfilled the Law in five ways:

  • By fulfilling the things prefigured in the Law (Lk 22:37)
  • By fulfilling its legal prescriptions to the letter (Gal 4:4)
  • By doing works through grace, through the Holy Spirit which the Law was unable to do in us (Rom 8:3-4)
  • By providing satisfaction for the sins by which we were transgressors of the Law; when the transgressions were taken away he fulfilled the Law (Rom 3:25)
  • By applying certain perfections to the Law, which were either about the understanding of the Law or for a greater perfection of righteousness/justice (Heb 7:19; confirmed by Matt 5:48)

This is the kind of Scriptural reasoning which is so different than how we have come to read, interpret, and comment upon Holy Scripture in the modern period, even those of us who hold to its inspiration and authority. History, backgrounds, literary context, grammar, etc. — all good and useful tools — have often become the norm and the standard rather than this kind of inner-canonical theological reading and reasoning. We now stand in a glorious place in history where we can utilize a myriad of tools along with a massive tradition to help us read, including the great heritage of this high form of theological interpretation. But it may take some re-training of our hermeneutical sensibilities. ARISTOTLEAQUINAS

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3 Comments so far
  1. Jake Fowler July 30, 2017 5:31 pm

    Great insight indeed. Thanks!

  2. Barnabas Aspray August 4, 2017 5:58 pm

    This is a fascinating insight. I am very curious to know why (& how) you, as a biblical scholar, found yourself picking up Thomas’ 800 year old commentary on Matthew? Not many bible scholars go near that kind of thing.

  3. Jonathan Pennington August 10, 2017 2:01 pm

    A major part of my own journey over the last 15 years has been studying the history of interpretation. I teach and read and research in this area quite a bit but had not read Aquinas on Matthew before. It was high time!