Today’s Catechism sections explore the relationship of Jesus with the Law of the Old Testament. Supporting material comes from St. Augustine’s “Contra Faustum”.

I. JESUS AND THE LAW

577 At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus issued a solemn warning in which he presented God's law, given on Sinai during the first covenant, in light of the grace of the New Covenant:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law, until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.329

578 Jesus, Israel's Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its all embracing detail - according to his own words, down to "the least of these commandments".330 He is in fact the only one who could keep it perfectly.331 On their own admission the Jews were never able to observe the Law in its entirety without violating the least of its precepts.332 This is why every year on the Day of Atonement the children of Israel ask God's forgiveness for their transgressions of the Law. The Law indeed makes up one inseparable whole, and St. James recalls, "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it."333

579 This principle of integral observance of the Law not only in letter but in spirit was dear to the Pharisees. By giving Israel this principle they had led many Jews of Jesus' time to an extreme religious zeal.334 This zeal, were it not to lapse into "hypocritical" casuistry,335 could only prepare the People for the unprecedented intervention of God through the perfect fulfillment of the Law by the only Righteous One in place of all sinners.336

580 The perfect fulfillment of the Law could be the work of none but the divine legislator, born subject to the Law in the person of the Son.337 In Jesus, the Law no longer appears engraved on tables of stone but "upon the heart" of the Servant who becomes "a covenant to the people", because he will "faithfully bring forth justice".338 Jesus fulfills the Law to the point of taking upon himself "the curse of the Law" incurred by those who do not "abide by the things written in the book of the Law, and do them", for his death took place to redeem them "from the transgressions under the first covenant".339

581 The Jewish people and their spiritual leaders viewed Jesus as a rabbi.340 He often argued within the framework of rabbinical interpretation of the Law.341 Yet Jesus could not help but offend the teachers of the Law, for he was not content to propose his interpretation alongside theirs but taught the people "as one who had authority, and not as their scribes".342 In Jesus, the same Word of God that had resounded on Mount Sinai to give the written Law to Moses, made itself heard anew on the Mount of the Beatitudes.343 Jesus did not abolish the Law but fulfilled it by giving its ultimate interpretation in a divine way: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old. . . But I say to you... "344 With this same divine authority, he disavowed certain human traditions of the Pharisees that were "making void the word of God".345

582 Going even further, Jesus perfects the dietary law, so important in Jewish daily life, by revealing its pedagogical meaning through a divine interpretation: "Whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him. . . (Thus he declared all foods clean.). . . What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts. . ."346 In presenting with divine authority the definitive interpretation of the Law, Jesus found himself confronted by certain teachers of the Law who did not accept his interpretation of the Law, guaranteed though it was by the divine signs that accompanied it.347 This was the case especially with the sabbath laws, for he recalls, often with rabbinical arguments, that the sabbath rest is not violated by serving God and neighbour,348 which his own healings did.

IN BRIEF

592 Jesus did not abolish the Law of Sinai, but rather fulfilled it (cf ⇒ Mt 5:17-19) with such perfection (cf ⇒ Jn 8:46) that he revealed its ultimate meaning (cf ⇒ Mt 5:33) and redeemed the transgressions against it (cf ⇒ Heb 9:15).

St. Augustine, in his book “Contra Faustum” (XVII) explains the fulfillment of the law through Jesus.

5. Every one can see the weakness of the argument that Christ could not have said, "Think not that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill," unless He had done something to create a suspicion of this kind. Of course, we grant that the unenlightened Jews may have looked upon Christ as the destroyer of the law and the prophets; but their very suspicion makes it certain that the true and truthful One, in saying that He came not to destroy the law and the prophets, referred to no other law than that of the Jews. This is proved by the words that follow: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But whosoever shall do and teach them, shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." This applied to the Pharisees, who taught the law in word, while they broke it in deed. Christ says of the Pharisees in another place, "What they say, that do; but do not after their works: for they say, and do not." (Matthew 23:3) So here also He adds, "For I say unto you, Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven;" (Matthew 5:17-20) that is, Unless you shall both do and teach what they teach without doing, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. This law, therefore, which the Pharisees taught without keeping it, Christ says He came not to destroy, but to fulfill; for this was the law connected with the seat of Moses in which the Pharisees sat, who because they said without doing, are to be heard, but not to be imitated.

6. Faustus does not understand, or pretends not to understand, what it is to fulfill the law. He supposes the expression to mean the addition of words to the law, regarding which it is written that nothing is to be added to or taken away from the Scriptures of God. From this Faustus argues that there can be no fulfillment of what is spoken of as so perfect that nothing can be added to it or taken from it. Faustus requires to be told that the law is fulfilled by living as it enjoins. "Love is the fulfilling of the law," (Romans 13:10) as the apostle says. The Lord has vouchsafed both to manifest and to impart this love, by sending the Holy Spirit to His believing people. So it is said by the same apostle: "The love of God is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us." (Romans 5:5) And the Lord Himself says: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another." (John 13:35) The law, then, is fulfilled both by the observance of its precepts and by the accomplishment of its prophecies. For "the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:7) The law itself, by being fulfilled, becomes grace and truth. Grace is the fulfillment of love, and truth is the accomplishment of the prophecies. And as both grace and truth are by Christ, it follows that He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it; not by supplying any defects in the law, but by obedience to what is written in the law. Christ's own words declare this. For He does not say, One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till its defects are supplied, but "till all be fulfilled."

Footnotes

329 ⇒ Mt 5:17-19.
330 ⇒ Mt 5:19.
331 Cf. ⇒ Jn 8:46.
332 Cf. ⇒ Jn 7:19; ⇒ Acts 13:38-41; ⇒ 15:10.
333 ⇒ Jas 2:10; cf. ⇒ Gal 3:10; ⇒ 5:3.
334 Cf. ⇒ Rom 10:2.
335 Cf. ⇒ Mt 15:31; ⇒ Lk 11:39-54.
336 Cf ⇒ Is 53:11; ⇒ Heb 9:15.
337 Cf. ⇒ Gal 4:4.
338 ⇒ Jer 31:33; ⇒ Is 42:3, 6.
339 ⇒ Gal 3:13; ⇒ 3:10; ⇒ Heb 9:15.
340 Cf ⇒ Jn 11:28; ⇒ 3:2; ⇒ Mt 22:23-24, ⇒ 34-36.
341 Cf. ⇒ Mt 12:5; ⇒ 9:12; ⇒ Mk 2:23-27; ⇒ Lk 6:6-g; ⇒ Jn 7:22-23.
342 ⇒ Mt 7:28-29.
343 Cf. ⇒ Mt 5:1.
344 ⇒ Mt 5:33-34.
345 ⇒ Mk 7:13; cf. ⇒ 3:8.
346 ⇒ Mk 7:18-21; cf. ⇒ Gal 3:24.
347 Cf. ⇒ Jn 5:36; ⇒ 10:25, ⇒ 37-38; ⇒ 12:37.
348 Cf. ⇒ Num 28 9; ⇒ Mt 12:5; ⇒ Mk 2:25-27; ⇒ Lk 13:15-16; ⇒ 14:3-4; ⇒ Jn 7:22-24.