By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis continued his explanation of St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians at Wednesday’s General Audience, focusing on St Paul’s understanding of the role of the Law for Christians.
St Paul, he said, "has taught us that the ‘children of the promise,’ - that is, all of us, justified by Jesus Christ - are no longer bound by the Law, but are called to the demanding life-style of the freedom of the Gospel.”
A turning point
He explained that for St Paul, the acceptance of faith is the turning point both for salvation history as a whole and in our own personal stories. At the heart of faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus, “which Paul preached in order to inspire faith in the Son of God, the source of salvation.”
So, he said, for Christians, there is a period “before becoming believers” and “after receiving the faith”; and there is, therefore, “a ‘before’ and ‘after’ with regard to the Law itself.”
In the period before receiving the faith, being “under the Law” has a negative sense, “as if one is watched and locked up, a kind of preventative custody.” This period, he said, “is perpetuated as long as one lives in sin."
The law as teacher and guardian
The Law, said Pope Francis, makes us aware of what it means to transgress the law and also makes people aware of their own sin. In a certain sense, it ends up “stimulating the transgression.”
But he went on to explain, using St Paul’s image of the Law as a pedagogue, that while the Law had a “restrictive” function, it also served to protect and support the people of Israel, “it had educated them, disciplined them, and supported them in their weakness.”
So, the Pope said, the Law also had a positive function, that was nonetheless limited in time: when children become adults, they no longer need a guardian. Likewise, “once one has come to faith, the Law exhausts its propaedeutic value and must give way to another authority.”
Considering the role of the law
However, he said, the law still exists and is still important. Pope Francis said the role of the law “deserves to be considered carefully so we do not give way to misunderstandings and take false steps.”
And so, he said, “it is good for us to ask ourselves if we still live in the period in which we need the Law, or if, instead, we are fully aware of having received the grace of becoming children of God so as to live in love.”
It is a good question, he said, and added a second: "Do I despise the Commandments?" He also gave an answer: "No. I observe them, but not as absolutes, because I know that it is Jesus Christ who justifies me."