In translating the Comments of Cornelius à Lapide on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, the Translator has endeavoured, next to accuracy, to secure a reproduction of the spirit of the Commentator.
The Translator, accordingly, has limited his efforts to a reproduction of the matter, and as far as possible of the form and spirit off the original, believing that most readers would prefer to see for themselves what Cornelius à Lapide believed to be the plain meaning of Holy Scripture, and to appreciate the piety which he brought to its elucidation. The only liberties taken with the original consist in an attempt to shorten a little its terrible prolixity, and in the correction of a few obvious mistakes on matters of fact.
W. F. C.
1 After his salutation and thanksgiving, 10 he exhorteth them to unity, and 12 reproveth their dissensions. 18 God destroyeth the wisdom of the wise, 21 by the foolishness of preaching, and 26 calleth not the wise, mighty, and noble, but 27, 28 the foolish, weak, and men of no account.
AUL, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
Douay Rheims Version
He reproveth their dissensions about their teachers. The world was to be saved by preaching of the cross, and not by human wisdom or eloquence.
AUL, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes a brother,
Achaia, or the peninsula commonly called the Morea, had in olden times several famous cities. The metropolis of these was the celebrated emporium of Corinth, famed, says Chrysostom, for its two ports, of which Lechæum stood on the Ionian and Schonus on the Ægean Sea. Hence poets, as, e.g., Ovid (Fasti iv.), frequently called it bimaros.
Corinth is said to have had its foundation from Sisyphus, the robber son of Æolus, and to have been called Corcyra (Strabo, lib. 8.), and afterwards Ephyre. Having been destroyed, it was rebuilt by Corinth, son of Marithon, or of Pelops, according to Suidas, or according to others of Orestes, and was called after his name. Cicero, in his speech pro lege Maniliâ, calls this city the light of the whole of Greece. Its natural position was so strong that the Romans found great difficulty in reducing it.
1 Corinth abounded in wealth, in merchandise of all kinds, and in metals, especially brass or copper. This Corinthian copper was well known and in great request; so much so that Pliny (lib. iv., c. 2) says that it was reckoned equal to gold or silver. From this wealth were derived the pride, gluttony, self-indulgence, lust and ostentatious living of the Corinthians, and it became a proverbial saying that it was not every man’s luck to go to Corinth. Demosthenes replied to a harlot who asked for eight talents of gold as her hire that he did not give so high a price for repentance. For the same reason the Apostle is called upon to rebuke their vices, and especially in ch. vi.
2 At Corinth flourished a large number of orators and philosophers, amongst whom was Periander, one of the Seven Men of Greece. Paul, we can see, went to Corinth because it gave him so excellent an opportunity for spreading the Gospel. There he converted many to Christ, by the of the Lord who appeared to him in a vision at Corinth and said, “Be not afraid but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am with thee and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee; for I have much people in thus city.” Under Paul’s preaching the Corinthian Christians made such progress that Paul himself speaks (i. 5; xiv. 26) of their wisdom, prudence, gift of prophecy, and other gifts bestowed on them by God.
3 From this there arose among the Corinthians pride, self-seeking, and strife, and especially after the arrival of Apollos. Some then came to prefer him to Paul, as a more polished and eloquent speaker. Thence came schisms; whole one party would boast, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos.” This caused Paul to write to them this Epistle, in which, through the first four chapters, he tries to lead them away from pride in human wisdom and eloquence, and from all contentious support of their teachers, Paul and Apollos, and to bring them to the humility of the Cross, to the doctrine of the faith in Christ.
4 The Corinthians had written to Paul, asking him to resolve certain difficulties they felt (vii. 1), which he does in this letter. After dealing in the first four chapters with their schisms and striving after empty wisdom, he proceeds in ch. v. to order the fornicator to be excommunicated, and in ch. vi., to rebuke them for this sin of fornication, and for going to law before heathen judges. In ch. vii. he answers their first question about matrimony and virginity, and lays down the laws of Christian marriage, putting over against it and before it the evangelical counsel of virginity and celibacy. Then in chs. viii. and x., he deals with the question of eating of things offered to idols, and lays down that such eating was lawful bot needed caution, lest the weaker brethren should be offended. In ch. xi., he replies to their third question, one concerning the veiling of women, as well as their fourth about the Eucharist and Agapæ. In ch. xii., he discourses of the gifts of the Spirit, pointing out that different gifts were distributed by the Holy Spirit to different people. Ch. xiii. dwells on the pre-eminent place among the gifts and graces of the Spirit occupied by charity. Ch. xiv. is an answer to the fifth question of the Corinthians, as to whether the gift of tongues was superior to the gift of prophecy. He answers in the negative. Ch.xv. resolves their sixth doubt, and gives manifold proofs of the resurrection, and describes its gifts, its mode, and order. In ch. xvi. he orders a collection to be made for the poor saints at Jerusalem, and he closes all with salutations.
5 Both this and the Second Epistle were written before that to the Romans; for, as Chrysostom points out, the collection which he orders here (1 Cor. xvi. 2), he speaks of in Rom. xv. 25, 26, as having already taken place. The Greek MSS. say that thus Epistle was written at Philippi and sent by Timotheus, and in this they are supported by the Syriac and the Regia Latina. But it seems more likely from xvi. 8, and other passages, that it was written at Ephesus (Acts xix. 1 ), in A.D. 57 (Baronius and Œcumenius).
Ver. 1.—Sosthenes. He was chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth; having been converted to Christ by Paul, he was severely beaten for his faith before Gallio, the Proconsul (Acts xviii. 17), and after his death was placed among the Saints.—November 28th.
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints [supply, Paul writes and salutes in praying], grace be unto you and peace from God. For called to be saints the Syriac translates, called and saints. For in the Greek it is not the participle λεγόμενος or κεκλημένος, i.e., summoned, named, called; but, κλητὸς a word which denotes having a call to holiness, or holy by way of call, called to holiness.
Note first, that Paul throughout this chapter and everywhere else holds up to admiration this benefit of calling. Secondly, that this and all other benefits he humbly and devoutly ascribes to the Divine benevolence and to the power of humility. Chrysostom has here a noteworthy passage in the moral part of his first homily.
Thirdly, it is plain from this, in opposition to Pelagius, that, not for our merits, but by the mere grace of God, have we been called to the faith and the grace of Christ. Again, that all Christians were formally called Saints: not because they were really so, but by way of call, profession, duty.
Fourthly, he calls them saints in Christ, that is sanctified through the merits of Christ, namely, in Baptism and its consequent gifts.
Fifthly: “the church,” and the “called to be saints” are the same thing. For the latter is in opposition and is explanatory of the former: so that if you ask, What is the Church? I shall answer from this passage of S. Paul: It consists of those called to be saints, or it is a congregation and assembly of the faithful, who have been called to holiness.
Whence, sixthly, it is evident from here that the Church is visible; for Paul writes these things not to an abstract idea, but “to the church which is at Corinth,” which was able to read and see his letters, as is plain.
Seventhly, from this place it is evident that there is the same Church everywhere, a part of which was the Church at Corinth. Whence he says: “With all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours;” i.e., all Christians, wherever they exist: whether with me in this place of ours, or in any other place you please. Theirs, then, viz., of the Corinthians, and ours, viz., of me and Sosthenes. He adds this, that no one might suppose when he said Jesus Christ our Lord, that he meant to say that Christ is the Lord of Paul and Sosthenes alone, So Chrysostom says: “By this Paul tacitly enjoins the Corinthians that they ought to lay aside contentions and to be of one mind, as being members of the same Church, and of the sane Head, Christ.” Next, he reminds them that he writes this letter specially indeed to the Corinthians, but, nevertheless, that he wishes it to be a circular letter to all Christians, in the same way that the letters of the other Apostles and of the Bishops in those first ages were circular letters.
Cajetan’s interpretation of “ours,” that it means, “Our jurisdiction extends itself to Corinth and to the Corinthians, so that the city and district of Corinth is both theirs and ours,” is forced. Lastly, why that is called the Church, or the summoning, or the assemvly of those called to the faith, which formerly was called the synagogue, that is, the congregation; and what it is, its nature and its marks, see in Bellarmine in his sound and learned dissertation on the Church (lib. i., c 1, 2 et seq.)
Ver. 4.—I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ. “For the grace,” in Greek, ε̉πὶ τὴ χάριτι, that is, on account of the grace of God, which is given you in Christ, i.e., through Christ. See Can. 25. “The source,” says S. Bernard (Serm. 13 in Cant.), “of all the springs and rivers is the sea: but the source of all virtue and knowledge is the Lord Jesus Christ: the continence of the flesh, the energy of the heart, the rectitude of the will, all flow from that spring: let the heavenly stream be given back to its source” (by thanksgiving), “so that the farthest parts of the earth may be replenished ; ‘I will not give my glory to another,’ saith God” (Isa. xlviii. 11).
Ver. 5.—That in everything ye are enriched by Him (by Christ), in all utterances (of the preaching of the Gospel), and in all knowledge, that is, in spiritual understanding of Him. In other words, I give thanks to God, because by me and Apollos He put before you, richly, the preaching and doctrine of the Gospel and a perception and understanding of it.
Ver. 6.—Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you—i.e., by which, as by two testimonies, the Christian faith was founded and established in you. For the Greeks interpret the Greek καθώς, i.e., even as, by enallage, δι ών, through which, that is, the word and knowledge. Others interpret, Even as the testimony, thus: by which things, viz., by the preaching of the Gospel, and by the knowledge of it, as by a sure testimony, it is known that you are faithful and disciples of Christ.
Ver. 7.—Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His second Advent, when you will receive from Christ an abundant supply of all graces, and your consummation in heavenly glory.
Ver. 8.—Who shall also confirm you, so far as His part is; i.e., shall give grace which can confirm you, and shall confirm you indeed, if you are willing to receive it, to use it, and to confirm yourselves in the faith and love of Christ: shall confirm you, I say, for this, that ye may be, and may persevere unto the end (of life) blameless; that is, unaccused, whom no one can charge with having committed anything against the faith and love of Christ. The Apostle speaks to the whole Church, in which the greater number were holy and blameless, although some few were sowing schisms, and these in the following verse he reproves and condemns.
In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is an ellipse common with the Apostle: for we must supply, that ye may be and may appear, blameless in that day of the advent and judgment of Christ.
Ver. 9.—God is faithful, by whom ye were called into the of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Note, faithful with S. Paul is the same as constant, truthful, as I shall show on 1 Tim i. 15; not, according to Calvin, as though God saves those only who have been effectually called by Him, and all of them; and as though He bids and makes each one of them believe with a firm faith that he will be saved. For if so, why, in the next verse, anxious about the salvation of the Corinthians, does he condemn their divisions? Had not the Corinthians believed?—and yet, having lapsed into schisms, they had incurred the danger of damnation, and, therefore, Paul endeavours to avert it from them. The faithful, therefore, can lapse into sin and be damned. God, then, is said to be faithful, because, not without cause, will He, O Corinthians, withdraw His help from you which He began to give, and afterwards promised that He would give, in order that you might persevere and be confirmed in the faith and fellowship of Jesus; nor will He desert you unless He be first deserted by you; as the Council of Trent teaches (following S. Augustine). Sess. vi. c. 11 and 13, where it lays down the same three things which the Apostle does here: (1.) That God gives the grace of Christ to all the justified: because, if they are willing, they are able to persevere in righteousness. (2.) That they by their own will can fall from it. (3.) That no one knows whether he will persevere, and whether he is of the number of the elect, unless he has a special revelation of it from God.
Note secondly. Paul here calls the communion of the faith, grace and glory of Christ which is enjoyed in the Church of Christ, the fellowship of His Son; or that partaking of Christ in which we gave a fellowship of sonship, inheritance, the Sacraments, and all the benefits of Christ. In other words: Ye are called to be sons of God, fellows, members, brothers, and co-heirs of Christ: so Anselm, Ambrose, Theophylact and Chrysostom (whom see), and 1 S. John i. 3. And here notice: although, as the Apostle says, all faithful Christians are of the fellowship of Christ, yet some are more so than others: that is to say, those who share more largely of the life and grace of Christ: as those who follow, not only the precepts, but also the counsels of Christ; even as the Apostles were more of the fellowship of Christ than other Christians.
Ver. 10.—I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, into whose one and the same fellowship, family, house, and Church we are all called, as many as are faithful and Christians, that ye all speak the same thing—that is to say, that, like brothers, ye agree in words and in speech, and that ye all say at the same time “I am of Christ;” but let not one say, “I am of Paul,” another, “I of Apollos.” And, again, that ye agree not only in speech, but also in mind: otherwise your verbal confession would be feigned and false. Whence he adds as the root of concord:—
That ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment, that ye think the same think the same thing and agree among yourselves in Christ, that ye be fitly united to each other in one mind and spirit in Christ. For the Greek signifies, aptly and harmoniously to join and cement anything, so that the parts agree with each other and with the whole. And because a thing is then perfect and complete when it has in this way been neatly and harmoniously united, hence the word signifies also to perfect, as Ps. viii. 2; 2 Cor. viii. 11. Be perfect, i.e., mutually agree amongst yourselves and with your Head; and Ps. xl. 6 (Sept.).
Ver. 11.—For it hath been declared unto me by them of Chloë. Some think that Chloë is the name of a place, but this place is nowhere else mentioned; nor does the Greek well allow Chloë to be a place. Whence more truly Chrysostom and the Syriac suppose it to be the name of a family or of a woman, and then the meaning is, I have heard from the family of Chloë. By a similar Greek idiom it is said, Rom. xvi. 10, 11: “Salute them which are of Aristobulus, of Narcissus,” viz., of the house and family.
Ver. 12.—That every one of you; i.e., Whoever of you contend with one another, and foment any part of schism. (For there were among the Corinthians many others well-disposed and peaceful, unconnected with schism, and consequently with the following words): says, in turn, alternately or respectively; for not each one was saying, I am of Paul, I of Apollos, I of Cephas, but in turn; since one would say, I am of Paul, another, I of Apollos, a third, I of Cephas. In the words “every one,” therefore, there is a distributive and disjunctive force familiar to the Hebrews; for every one ambitiously and contentiously was saying, “I am of Paul,” &c., I am of Paul, viz., a disciple, a catechumen; I of Cephas, that is to say, taught or baptized by the Blessed Pontiff Peter at Antiôch, at Rome, or elsewhere. For Peter had not yet been at Corinth, as is deduced from ch. iv. 15. Whence Baronius thinks that these are the words of those who were avoiding divisions, which had properly arisen because of Paul and Apollos, as appears in ch. iii. 4, and that, to escape from them, while others were boasting of their teachers, they would declare they were the disciples neither of Paul, nor of Apollos but of Peter, the head of the Church; as though they should say, “This man says and boasts that he is the disciple of Paul, that man of Apollos; but I say that I am of Cephas, that is, that I am a disciple of Peter, who is the head of the Church, and the Vicar of Christ: for to him I cling, in him I glory; he converted and baptized me by Paul or Apollos or some other.” Whence another rising higher would say: “I am of Christ, who is the supreme Head of Apostles and of the Church, whose Vicar Peter is, whose ministers are Paul and Apollos.” For it is to be noted that he adds I am of Christ as the words of those who speak not amiss but rightly, if there is no contention and contempt of the Apostles and the Vicars of Christ, as the Anabaptists now despise Prelates; for it became all to say, “We are of Christ,” viz., Christians; whereas some called themselves disciples of Paul, or of Apollos, or of Cephas. So Ambrose, Theophylact, S. Thomas. The occasion of the schism seems to have been that Apollos, who was eloquent, acute, and learned in the Scriptures, was then teaching at Corinth (Acts xviii. 27), and compared to him S. Paul seemed to some cold and bald, because he avoided in his preaching all display of knowledge or of rhetorical ornament, as he says himself (ch. ii. 4.)
Lastly, S. Jerome (on Tit. i.) gathers from this passage that Bishops were given jurisdiction over presbyters, so as to remove all scandals, and that the Church before this was governed by the Presbyters in common to the Epistles to Titus.
Ver. 13.—Were ye baptized in the name of Paul? Christ is one, and in His name all were alike baptized. In vain then, he says, do ye contend for us, which of us is to be the greatest, when we are but the ministers of baptism. Hence, theologians teach that the validity of Baptism and the other Sacraments depends not on the disposition of the receiver, or of the minister, but flows from the Sacrament itself.
Note 1. that to be baptized in the name of Christ is the same as to be baptized in the invocation, profession, power, merit, and baptism of Christ, and so to have a right to the name of Christ. Therefore we are called Christians from Christ, and not Paulians, or Apollinians. For the power of excellency which Christ has in Baptism and the other Sacraments, see S. Thomas.
2. S. Thomas and others, as well as the history of the Greek Church, show that that Church uses as its form of Baptism, not “I baptize thee,” but “Let the servant of Christ be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” so that no one can say, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos.”
3. Erasmus, Faber, and other innovators, wrongly argue that by parity of reasoning it is wrong to say, “I am of Scotus,” and “I of Thomas;” “I am a pupil and follower of Francis,” “I of Dominic;” because the Apostle is only censuring contentions for the pre–eminence, and the schisms of which some at Corinth boasted, and which divided the Church into hostile factions: so that they attributed the power and excellence of Baptism and of the faith not to Christ, but to Paul or Apollos. But this is no condemnation of monastic institutions, or of the schools and academies of the philosophers and theologians; for though they differ from one another in their customs, their rites, and opinions, yet they are joined together in the same faith, the same Christian charity and humility. If any one does otherwise, his religion will be vain, and we will hand over his vanity and contentiousness to be corrected by S. Paul with that of the Corinthians. This is the sin of the individual, not of the Order; as in this chapter it is the sin of individual Corinthians that is dealt with, not that of the Church. Far more truly and suitably may we use this passage against the schisms of modern innovators. For they say, “I am of Calvin,” or “I of Luther,” or “I of Menno,” and this in matters of faith and religion. For Calvin teaches one faith, Luther another, Menno another. But the diversity of Religious Orders makes for the greater beauty, strength, and unity of the Church; just as a camp is beautified, strengthened and united by the due distribution of its legions. For without this distribution it would be in confusion.
The religious of the various Orders are united not only under one head, the Supreme Pontiff, in the one Church, but also by their living under the same Order, whether their state be lay or cleric. For the Religious Orders make, as it were, one legion in the Church, and that its strongest one. As, then, the members of the same body are joined in one, and as the soldiers of the same legion are more united to one another than the soldiers of different legions, so the Religious who are aspiring to the height of perfection are bound together more closely than all others by the bond of religion and of prayer to God.
If there is amongst them who calumniates, envies, opposes another Order that man’s religion is vain; he is not a Religious, nay, he is not a Christian, but a heathen; he is not led by the spirit of God, but by that of the devil. For the true Religious says with S. Bernard in his Apology, “For one Order I work; to all others I show charity.” In work, I am a Franciscan, in charity a Dominican, an Augustinian, a Benedictine, &c. And therefore I am a religious of all Orders; I have work for one, charity for all. Therefore I rejoice in the good of all Orders: I am pleased at the prosperity of all, I envy none. For all are mine, and I belong to all. Is Christ divided in the different orders? God forbid. For the same Christ is the Institutor, Author, and Governor of all Religious Orders, and that makes for their greater concord. Let not then that which ought to be the cause of greater harmony be the cause of the most disgraceful division, which is hateful to God, lest we hear the words, “Whereas there is among you envying and strife and divisions, are ye not carnal?” And again, “Is thine eye evil because I am good?” If it has pleased God to add Order to Order, to raise up new ones to supplement the old, to give them fresh supplies of His grace and of His Spirit, who can find fault with God? who can envy the new Orders? who deprive the Church of such workmen? Suppose that they do carry off the prize; I will rejoice that God is honoured through them, and that more souls are saved; and may I be a sharer of their labours, for I seek not mine own glory, but that of God.
Ver. 16.—And I baptized also the house of Stephanas. Stephanas, says Theophylact, was a well–known inhabitant of Corinth, whose faith and charity are praised by S. Paul ch. xvi.17).
Ver. 17.—For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel. Preaching and the administration of the Sacraments are the two duties of Pastors, but especially the former. And therefore the chief work of Bishops, Archbishops, and Primates is to preach the Gospel: and this they are bound to do themselves, unless lawfully hindered (Council of Trent, Sess. v. c. 2, and Sess. iv. c. 4). But they may with Paul intrust the administration of Baptism and the other Sacraments to Parish Priests and their assistants.
Not with wisdom of words. I.e., with eloquence and rhetorical adornment, not according to the Gospel. The Greek word for wisdom gives us Sophists, the Greek orators who particularly pleaded in the law courts. Of this are modern innovators in religion, who rightly style themselves “ministers of the word.” Not so did Paul, “lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect,” i.e., should become emptied of its force, by men supposing that they had obtained salvation, and their belief in the faith through human eloquence, instead of by the power of the Passion of Christ. This was the origin of the schism of those who said, “I am of Paul,” “I of Apollos,” because the eloquence of Apollos was pleasing to some of the more fastidious Corinthians, and to those who loved eloquence; while on the other, Paul pleased those who sought for the spirit rather than the words, inasmuch as he was unskilled indeed in rhetoric but not in knowledge. And thence it is that S. Paul here and in the next three chapters attacks and abases in different ways eloquence and worldly wisdom. The “wisdom of words” can be taken for natural philosophy, of the wisdom of human reason; for it is opposed to the Cross in ver.18; and again, in verses 19, 20–27, he explains it as philosophy and human reason and prudence. (Maldonatus.)
Ver. 18.—For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness. Any declaration about the salvation bestowed by the Cross, or about our redemption by the Cross and Passion of Christ, seems foolishness to men who are sceptical and perverse, and therefore ready to perish. Isaiah, too, says this in the person of Christ: “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel” (Isa. viii. 18). See also Heb. ii 13.
Ver. 19.—For it is written. This is from Isa. xxix. 14, where, following the Hebrew, the verbs are transitive, but the sense is the same. Note that Paul refers to the whole circle of worldly wisdom what the Prophet said of the wisdom of the Jews alone, which was Pharisaic. For both are alike in this connection, and the meaning is, “I will make men unwilling to use worldly wisdom for their salvation, but only the Gospel and the Cross of Christ.“
Ver. 20.—Where is the wise? The Gentile philosopher.
Where is the scribe? The Jewish doctor. S. Paul is quoting Isa. xxxiii. 18.
Note, as the Greeks called their wise men philosophers, and the Chaldeans theirs magi, so the Jews called theirs sopharim, “scribes.” “Scribes” is from the same root as “Scripture,” and implies that they were occupied with the Holy Scriptures. Their duty, in fact, was to preserve the Holy Scriptures in their integrity, to carefully correct all transcripts, to interpret them by writing and by word of mouth, and to write out or state the answers they gave to questions about the Law. (Epiphan. hæres. 16).
Where is the disputer of this world? The student of physical science who narrowly investigates the secrets of nature and the world. In other words, philosophers and scribes have been cast aside, and all the wise of this world thrown down and put to confusion by the preaching of the Apostles, by the glory of the Gospel. (So S. Chrysostom.)
Paul here and in the following verses is aiming at philosophers both ancient and modern, and not at such Christians as Dionysius the Areopagite, Hierotheus, Paul himself, Clement of Rome, Nathanael, Gamaliel, Apollos, as the Anabaptists seem to think. He has in his mind the Gentile teachers who at this very time were going round the world, like rivals to the Apostles, and under the garb of piety, wisdom, and eloquence were attempting to attract to themselves, and away from the Apostles, the various nations, as though they alone taught true wisdom, and the way to virtue, righteousness, and salvation; as, e.g., Musonius, Dio, Epictetus, Damys, Diogenes Minor, Apollonius of Tyana, who was greatly looked up to by the Greeks at that time because of his mystic powers, and was given a statue at Ephesus, and placed among the gods. (Baronius, Annals, A.D. 75.)
Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? I.e., has shown to be foolish: a manifestation of its true nature is described as if it were a change of its essence. It is foolish, he says, seen in the light of the Cross and of Christ and of salvation. The light of this knowledge requires faith, not subtlely. S. Ambrose says, “The knowledge of fishermen has made foolish the knowledge of philosophers,” since it has surpassed their limits, and the limits of nature.
So, too, did God by His creative work show the folly of the saying of the philosophers, that “Out of nothing nothing comes,” and that in consequence the universe was uncreate and eternal. So in His Incarnation did He show the folly of the saying, “God cannot be contained by a body, time, and place;” and in His Passion the saying, “God cannot suffer and die.” So in the Eucharist He shows the foolishness of their principles and of those of our modern innovators who say, “An accident cannot exist without a subject; a body cannot be in a point; two bodies cannot be in the same place at the same time.” For though these things are out of Nature’s reach, yet they are not impossible to God, who is Omnipotent, and transcends all nature.
S. Paulinus quotes this passage of S. Paul’s in a letter (27) to Aper, who had been a lawyer and then had embraced the monastic life, and was, therefore, exposed to ridicule. From this he confirms him in his purpose, and shows him how to despise the laughter and sneers of men. “I congratulate you,” he says, “on having scorned that wisdom which is rejected of God, and on having preferred to have fellowship rather with Christ’s little ones than with the wise of the world. It is from this that you have merited the grace from God of the hatred of men; this would not be had you not begun to be a true follower of Christ.” And a little lower, in showing the fruit and dignity of his purpose, he says, “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for it is not you that they hate, but Him who has begun to be in you, whose work is in you, whose humility they despise, whose holiness they loathe. Joyfully recognise yourself to be a sharer in this good with Prophets and Apostles. From the beginning of the world Christ has ever suffered and triumphed in His own: in Abel He was killed by His brother; in Noah He was mocked by His son; in Abraham He was a pilgrim; in Isaac He was offered up; in Jacob He served; in Joseph He was sold; in Moses exposed and forced to flee; in the Prophets stoned and persecuted; in the apostles tossed about on sea and land; in His Martyrs often slain and in different ways. In you, too, He suffers reproaches, and thus world hates Him in you; but thanks be to Him that He overcomes when He is judged and triumphs in us.” Again, praising and admiring his change of life, he says, “Where now is the once feared advocate and judge? Would that I had wings to fly to you, to see you no longer yourself, but changed from a lion to a calf—to see Christ in Aper, who has now laid aside his ferocity and strength, and become a lamb unto God instead of a wild boar of this world. For you are a boar, but of the corn-field, not of the forest; you are rich in the good fruit of the holy discipline, and have fed yourself with the fruit of virtues.”
Ver. 21.—For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Mark the phrase, “in the wisdom of God,” God shows His wisdom in the marvellous structure and government of the world, as S. Thomas says. In other words, the world in its foolishness knew not God practically in His wisdom stamped on His Creation, as the Author of its salvation, and Leader to a life of bliss; nor yet speculatively, because philosophers regarded God as powerless to create; they thought Him to act under necessity, and to be void of providence, &c.
Hence it is that God has revealed Himself and His salvation to the world in a way which seems to the world foolishness, viz., by the Cross. He has thus stooped to men, and become as or were foolish among them; just as a teacher will sometimes act as a boy, and talk as a boy, amongst boys. So Christ, because He was not understood as God, revealed Himself to men, as a man, and one liable to suffering. This is wisdom unspeakable. See S, Thomas, Anselm, and others.
Ver. 22.—For the Jews require a sign . . . but we preach Christ crucified. A Theban, when asked what he thought of the Romans, said that “the Romans boasted themselves in their spears, the Greeks on their eloquence, the Thebans in their virtues.” But the Apostle says that he and other Christians boast themselves in Christ crucified. This is our spear, our eloquence, and our virtue.
Ver. 23.—Into the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. Notice here, with S. Chrysostom (Hom. iv. moral in loco, and above on ver.17), that the power of the Cross shines forth not only in itself but also in its preaching: (1.) In the fact that the Apostles, few in number, simple fishermen, poor, unlearned, unknown, and Jews, in all these respects hateful to the world, yet brought the world into subjection to the Cross. (2.) In the fact that they subdued most bitter enemies, demons, sin, death, hell, kings, princes, philosophers, orators, Greeks, barbarians, laws, judgments. Long-existing religions, and time-honoured traditions. (3.) In that they persuaded men by simple preaching, and not by arms, wisdom, or eloquence. (4.) In that in so short a time they spread the faith of Christ over the whole world. (5.) In that by the grace of Christ they overcame most cheerfully and courageously what is hardest to be borne by the natural strength of man, the threats of tyrants, scourgings, deaths, and tortures. (6.) In that they preached a doctrine not about a glorious God, but a crucified One, and Him their Saviour to be believed in and adored; and a law of Christ displeasing to nature and flesh. Wherefore Tertullian (lib. contra Jud.) beautifully and fitly compares the Kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of all kings and people, and prefers it before them all: “Solomon,” he says, “reigned, but only in the borders of Judæa from Dan to Beersheba: Darius reigned over the Babylonians and Parthians, but not further; Pharaoh reigned over the Egyptians, but over them only. The kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar stretched only from India to Ethiopia. Alexander of Macedon, after subduing all Asia and other countries, could not keep what he had conquered. So have the Germans, Britons, Moors, and Romans bounds set to their dominions. But the kingdom of Christ has reached to all parts, His name is believed on everywhere, is worshipped by all nations, everywhere reigns, is everywhere adored; He is equal to all, King over all, Judge over all, God and Lord of all.”
Ver. 25.—Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. That is, say Ambrose and Anselm, the foolishness and weakness of God, or what men think is the foolishness and weakness in God and in Christ incarnate and suffering, as e.g., His humanity, morality, Passion and Cross, was just that by which Christ, when seemingly conquered, yet most wisely and most powerfully conquered men, Satan, and the whole world. In other words, God’s wisdom and strength by what was foolish and weak, viz., the Cross. And therefore Jerome and S. Augustine explain the passage of Habakkuk (iii. 4) “He had horns coming out of His hands,” thus: The strength and weapons by which, as by horns, Christ slew His foes were the arms of the Cross to which the hands of Christ ere nailed. Hence it is that the cross in the sky appeared to Constantine the Great as he was going to battle against Maxentius, with the inscription, “In this sign thou shalt conquer” (Euseb., Life of Constantine, lib. i. c. 22).
Literally and morally the power and wisdom of the Cross are seen (1.) in that on the Cross God showed His supreme love to us, that so He might draw us to Him; for God, under no necessity, with no prospect of advantage to Himself, of His own will stooped to the Cross from love of man, solely. This He yet did with such wisdom that no damage was dine by it to the loftiness and glory of His Godhead; for the Godhead in Him suffered nothing, but He bore all His suffering in the Manhood which He had assumed. (2.) In that on the Cross He redeemed man, not by the power of His Godhead, but through the righteousness and humility of His Passion, as S. Augustine says. (3.) In that on the Cross He set before us a most perfect example of obedience, constancy, endurance of punishment, patience, fortitude, and all virtues, as well as mortification of vices. (4.) In that on the Cross He condemned the wisdom and pride of the world, and gave to man, who had fallen through pride and self–indulgence, a mirror of life, viz., a mode of recovery through humility and the Cross. (See also S. Thomas. 3, p. qu. 46, art. 3 and 4, and S. Augustine, De Trin. lib. xiii. c. 12.)
S. Bernard, in his exhortation to the Soldiers of the Temple (c. 11), says: “The weakness of Christ was no less beneficial to us than His majesty; for although the power of His Godhead ordered the removal of the yoke of sin, yet the weakness of His flesh destroyed by death the rights of death over man. And therefore the Apostle beautifully says: ‘The weakness of God is stronger than men.’ But His foolishness by which He was pleased to save the world, so as to confound the wise; which made Him, though He was in the form of God and equal to God, empty Himself, and take upon Him the form of a servant; by which, though he was rich, He yet for our sake became poor, though He was great He became little, though he was high yet He became humbled, though He was powerful He became weak; through which He hungered, thirsted, and was weary on the journey, and suffered all that His own will and no necessity laid upon Him; this foolishness of His, was it not to us the way of prudence, the form of righteousness, the example of holiness? Therefore the Apostle also adds, ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than men.’ Death then set us free from death, life from error, grace from sin. And truly His death won the victory through His righteousness; because the Just One, by paying what he never took, rightly recovered all that He had lost.”
Hence it is that Francis and the greatest Saints have sought to be considered foolish by the world, in order that they might the rather please God. Some religious Orders, indeed, so regard this as the height of perfection and Christian wisdom that they enjoin their members to love, desire, and embrace contempt, ridicule, insults, and injuries, and to long to be considered fools, just as eagerly as worldly men seek for a reputation for wisdom, for honour, and renown. They do this to teach them in this way (1.) to utterly despise the world; (2.) to humiliate themselves and uproot their innate desire of honour, praise, glory, and high position; (3.) to be more like Christ, and to clothe themselves with His garments and His marks, who for our sakes, and to give us an example of virtue and perfection, chose these things Himself, willed to be considered foolish, and became a scorn of men, and the outcast of the people, They say, therefore, with S. Paul, “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.”
All this does the Cross of Christ teach if you often meditate on it; nay, the Cross is the fount of wisdom. S. Bonaventura, when asked where he had drunk in so much wisdom, showed a crucifix almost worn away by kisses. S. Jacoponus, a man of good birth and of great learning, after having learned from the Cross of Christ to become foolish to the world, was asked by Christ, who appeared to him in a friendly and familiar way, why he was so enamoured of this foolishness, and he answered with his customary pious pleasantry, “Because Thou, Lord, hast been more foolish than I.” In short, S. Chrysostom (Hom. 4 on the Cross and the Robber) sums up the power and praise of the Cross as follows: “If you to know the power of the Cross, and what I have to say in its praise, listen: The Cross is the hope of Christians, the resurrection of the dead, the way of them that despair, the staff of the lame, the consolation of the poor, the curb of the rich, the destruction of the proud, the punishment of them that live badly, victory over the demons, subjection of the devil, the instructor of the young, nourishment of the needy, hope of the hopeless, the rudder of seafarers, haven to the storm–tossed, wall to the besieged, father to the fatherless, defender of widows, counsellor of the just, rest to the weary, guardian of little ones, head of men, end of the aged, light to them that sit in darkness, the magnificence of kings, an everlasting shield, wisdom of the foolish, liberty to the slaves, a philosophy for kings. law ro the lawless, the boast of martyrs, the self-denial monks, the chastity of virgins, the joy of priests, the foundation of the Church, the destruction of temples, the rejection of idols, a stumbling-block to the Jews, perdition to the ungodly, strength to the weak, physician to the sick, bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked.”
Ver. 26.—For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. The for gives the reason of what had gone before. This verse contains another proof of what was said in ver. 21, “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” For this is proved in two ways: (1.) in ver. 23, from the object of preaching, viz., the Cross, by which God was pleased to save the world, but which to the world seems foolishness; (2.) from the ministers of preaching, viz., the Apostles, whose duty it was to preach salvation through the Cross, and who were men of no account, unpolished, despised, and foolish in the eyes of the world.
Again, the particle for fitly joins this verse to the preceding; ver. 25 gives an indefinite and general statement which is true, not only of the Cross, but also of the preachers of the Cross, as Athanasius points out (Ad Antiochum, qu. 129).
This particle, then, declares the likeness of the Apostles to the Cross that they preached. It is as if S. Paul had said: God willed to use the foolishness and weakness of the Cross, and with it to overcome and subdue to Himself the wisdom and power of all men; and we see this, not only in the Cross itself, and its victory, but also in the Apostles who preach the Cross: for God has not chosen the wise and powerful of this world, but the Apostles, who are poor, simple, and foolish in the eyes of the world, that they might carry the banner of the Cross on high throughout the whole world, and bring all men into obedience to the faith of the Cross, and that they all might believe and hope for their righteousness and salvation through the Cross of Christ.
It is a reason drawn from likeness or analogy. For such as the Cross was—worthless, despicable, and foolish before the world—such should be all preachers of the Cross. For God in His wonderful wisdom has so well adapted everything to the Cross, which is the burden of all preaching, that not only the preachers but believers too should be like the Cross; for the first who were called to the faith were men of low birth, of no reputation, unknown, sinners, publicans, and harlots.
Ye see your calling. The reason and mode of your calling. Because the Apostles who called you are not wise, according to this wisdom, which knows not that which is spiritual and Divine. So S, Thomas applies the words to the Apostles, who called others. S. Chrysostom, however, applies them and rightly (from ver. 2) to those who had been called and converted; for many unlearned gad been converted to Christ, and but few who were learned and nobly born. The words, then, mean: Ye see of what kind are both caller and called.
Some wise and powerful, of course, as, e.g., Dionysius the Areopagite, Paulus the Proconsul, Nicodemus, S. Paul himself, but they were few. Moreover, the Apostle is speaking mainly of the Apostles, who were the first called, though they were poor and of no reputation. And therefore S. Ambrose (on S. Luke, c. vi. 13), says: “See the counsel of God. He chose not the wise, the rich, the noble, but fishermen and publicans to train, that He might not be thought to have drawn any to His grace by His wisdom, to have redeemed us by His riches, to have won us to Him by the influence of power or birth; and that so, not love of disputation, but truth by its reaonableness might prevail.” S. Augustine (vol. x. Serm. 59) says, “Great is the mercy of our Maker. He knew that if the Senator were chosen, he would say, ‘I was chosen because of my rank.’ If the rich man were chosen, he would say, ‘I was chosen for my wealth.’ If a king, he would put it down to his power; if an orator, to his eloquence; if a philosopher, to his wisdom. ‘For the present,’ says the Lord, ‘those proud men must be rejected: they are too haughty. Give Me first that fisherman. Come, poor men. You have nothing, you know nothing; follow Me. The empty vessel must be brought to the plentiful stream.’ The fisherman let down his nets; he received grace, and became a Divine orator. Now while the words of the fishermen are read, orators bow their heads in reverence.” It seems, therefore, that what some fable about the royal birth and renown of the Apostle Bartholomew is groundless.
Ver. 27.—But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. The words “foolish, weak, base,” form a climax, and are used by S. Paul to describe the faithful who had been called to Christ, or rather the Apostles themselves, who had called them. He contrasts them as uncultivated, poor, base, and hence foolish in the eyes of the world, and the world’s laughing-stock, with the wise, strong, and powerful of the world.
Things which are not. This is applied to the same persons as being contemptible and reckoned of no account. In other words, God chose the despised Apostles, who were thought nothing of, that He might destroy, and, as it were, bring to nought things that are, i.e., which are highly esteemed, as e.g., the wise and mighty of the world.
Observe that three things which the world is wont to admire, viz., wisdom, power, and birth, were passed over by God when He called men to faith, righteousness, and salvation; and on the other hand that three things opposite to these were chosen by Him, viz., want of wisdom, of power, and of birth. This was done to show that the work was from God, and that this calling as to be ascribed to the grace of God, and not to human excellence. Thus, in the second century after the Apostles, He chose Agnes, a maiden of thirteen years, who amazed and confounded her judges and all the heathen who saw her by her wonderful fortitude. Well, therefore, does the Collect for her day run: “Almighty and everlasting God, who choosest the weak things of the world to confound the strong, mercifully grant that we who keep the feast of Thy Virgin and Martyr S. Agnes, may receive the fruit of her prayers.” Such too were SS. Agatha, Lucy, Dorothy, Barbara, and a countless number of others whom God seems to have raised up to show the power of His grace in their weakness. Therefore in their Collect the Church prays: “O God, who, amongst other marvels of Thy power, hast also conferred upon feeble women the victory of martyrdom, mercifully grant that we, who keep the ‘birthday’ of Thy blessed Virgin and Martyr, N., may by her example come to Thee,”
Ver. 30.—But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus. By the gift of God Himself, by His grace, were ye called to believe in Christ. So Anselm. To be in Christ is to have been incorporated with Him in Baptism, or to be in the Church of Christ, and in Christianity.
Who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. This righteousness, say our modern innovators, is imputed, because it is ours, not substantially and inherently, but is merely the external righteousness of Christ imputed to us; before God we seem righteous. But I reply: If this be true, then in the same way the active redemption wrought by Christ, which S. Paul here joins with righteousness, will be imputed to us, and consequently we shell be redeemers of ourselves, which is absurd. In the second place, wisdom is infused into us, and so is faith, and so therefore is righteousness; for the Apostle classes together the righteousness and wisdom of Christ as both alike ours.
I say, then, with Chrysostom, Theophylact, Anselm, Ambrose, and S. Thomas, that the sense of this passage is this: Christ is made unto us the author and cause of real Christian wisdom, redemption, sanctification, and righteousness.
1. By way of satisfaction and meritoriously; and this is what the Apostle specially has in his mind here: because Christ paid man’s debt with the most precious price of His own Blood, and so made sanctification for man, and merited for us righteousness, wisdom, and sanctification. In this way He was made for us righteousness, because the righteousness, i.e., the satisfaction of Christ, is ours, just as much as if we had ourselves made satisfaction to God. And hence it is that theologians teach that the satisfaction of Christ is applied to us in justification through the Sacraments, as if naturally first, and that then as a natural consequence our sins are forgiven through that satisfaction, and grace is infused. This condemns the error of Peter Abélard, in which he is followed by the Socinians, who teach that Christ was the teacher of the world, not its redeemer—nay more, that He was sent by the Father to give to man an example of perfect virtue, but not to free him from sin or to redeem him. S. Bernard refutes this in Ep. 190, to Pope Innocent, where he says: “Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth. In short, S. Paul says that He was made to us righteousness by God the Father. Is not then that righteousness mine which was made for me? If my guilt is brought against me, why am I not given the benefit of my righteousness? And indeed what is given me is safer than what is innate. For this has whereof it may glory, but not before God. But the former, since it is effectual to salvation, has no ground of glorying, except in the Lord. ‘For if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head,’ says Job, lest the answer come, ‘What hast thou that thou didst not receive? But if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hast not received it?’ This is the righteousness of man in the blood of his Redeemer, which Abélard, that man of perdition, scoffs and sneers at, and so tries to empty of its force, that he holds and argues that all that the Lord of Glory did in emptying Himself . . . in suffering indignities . . . is to be reduced to this, that it was all done that He might by His life and teaching give to man a rule of life, and by His suffering and death set up a goal of charity.” Abélard’s argument was fallacious and frivolous: the devil, he said, had no right over man; therefore man needed no liberator. The premiss is doubtless true when understood of lawful right, but not of usurped right, under which man through sin by his own free will had submitted himself to the power of the devil, of sin, and of hell.
2. By way of example; because the righteousness of Christ os the most perfect example, to which all our righteousness ought to be conformed. In this sense S. Paul’s meaning is, Christ is an example and mirror of righteousness.
3. Efficiently; because Christ effects and produces this righteousness in us through His Sacraments, and because He teaches the Saints true wisdom and understanding; as, e.g., how to live a good and Christian life, by what road to attain to heaven, and how we must strive after bliss.
4. As our end; because Christ Himself and His glory are the end of our righteousness and sanctification. S. Bernard, in his 22nd Sermon on the Canticles, deals with these four, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption, symbolically. In the first place, he adapts them to the four works of Christ. He says, “Christ was made for us wisdom in His preaching, righteousness in the forgiveness of our sins, sanctification in the life that He spent with sinners, redemption in the sufferings that He bore for sinners.” And again further on he says, “Christ was made for us by God wisdom by teaching prudence, righteousness by forgiving our trespasses, sanctification by the example He set of temperance and of chaste life, redemption by the example He left of patience and of fortitude in dying. Where, I ask, is true wisdom, except in the teaching of Christ? Whence comes true righteousness but from the mercy of Christ? Where is there true temperance but in the life of Christ? Where true fortitude save in the Passion of Christ?”
In the second place, S. Bernard naturally adapts these four to the four virtues, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, which Christ imparts to us. He goes in to say: “Only those, then, who have been imbued with His doctrine are to be called prudent; only those, who by His mercy have obtained forgiveness of their sins, are to be called righteous; only those are to be called temperate who strive to imitate His life; only those are to be called brave who bravely bear adversity and show patience like His. In vain surely does any one strive to acquire virtues, if he thinks that they are to be obtained from any other source but the Lord of virtues, whose teaching is the school of prudence, whose mercy the working of righteousness, whose life the mirror of temperance, whose death the pattern of fortitude.”
Ver. 31.—That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. He is quoting not the words but the sense of Jeremiah ix. 23. So Ambrose, Theophylact, Anselm, St, Thomas. In Jeremiah the passage runs: “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches, but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me.” This it is to glory in the Lord. Jeremiah is speaking of liberation from the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and from the slaughter of the Chaldeans, which were then threatening the Jews. In other words, then, he says: The Jews glory in counsels of their wise men, in the strength of their soldiers, in the riches of Jerusalem, as though these would make them secure against the Chaldeans; but they err, for their true glory is to know and understand God, that is, His Providence, an that it is He alone who worketh mercy, and mercifully sets free whom He will, and not the wisdom, might, or riches of man. Moreover, He alone inflicts just punishment on whom He will, and no wise, mighty, or rich man can set free from this—even as, O Jews, He will inflict it on you, and will bring it to pass, that death (that is, the Chaldeans, shall bring death upon you) shall climb up into your houses, though your windows, and slay all your little ones.
The Apostles rightly adapts this passage to those who were calling others, or who had been called to Christianity, that no one may attribute the grace of Christ to himself, his virtues, or the gifts of nature, but only to Christ, and consequently his tacit exhortation is: “Do not, O Corinthians, glory in yourselves, or in Paul, or in Apollos, your teachers, but in the Lord alone.” For this is what in the beginning he proposed to prove, and therefore all that is here said must be referred to it. Anselm says: “That man glories in the Lord only who knows that it is not of himself, but of Him, not only that he is, but also that it is well with him.” Again that glories in the Lord who, if he has anything which makes him pleasing to God, holds that he has received it, not because of his own wisdom, power, good works, talent, or merits, but merely through the grace of God. Thirdly, he who in all that he does seeks not his own glory, but that of the Lord.
S. Bernard wrote a noteworthy sermon on these words of the Apostle; see also Sermon 25 on Canticles. He says: “Moreover, the whole glorying of the Saints is within and not without, that is, not in the flower of grass, or the mouth of the vulgar, but in the Lord; for God alone is the sole judge of their conscience, Him alone they desire to please, and to please Him is their only real and chief glory.” And Sermon 13 on Canticles: “Brothers, let none of you desire to be praised in this life. For whatever favour you gain for yourselves here which you do not refer to Him, you steal from Him. For whence, thou dust that perishest, whence comes thy glory?” And in his Sentences: “The Apostles knew that glory properly belongs to the Creator, and not to the creature. But he also knew that the rational creature so seeks after glory that it can scarcely or perhaps never overcome this desire, just because it was made in the image of the Creator. Therefore he gave the most wholesome advice when he said: ‘Since you cannot be persuaded not to glory, let him that glorieth glory in the Lord.’” Let us, too, say in company with the Psalmist, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give the praise,” and with the four and twenty elders who cast their crowns before the throne, “Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever” (Rev. v. 13).