1 In what account the ministers ought to be had. 7 We have nothing which we have not received. 9 The apostles spectacles to the world, angels, and men, 13 the filth and offscouring of the world: 15 yet our fathers in Christ, 16 whom we ought to follow.
ET a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Douay Rheims Version
God's ministers are not to be judged. He reprehends their boasting of their preachers and describes the treatment the apostles every where met with.
ET a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God.
i. He shows that he cares nothing for their judgment, or for that of other men, but for God’s only.
ii. He reproves their elation at their gifts (vers. 7, 8.).
iii. And chiefly he urges upon the, the example of himself and of the other Apostles, who, as the offscouring of the world, preached the Gospel with humility, despised and persecuted by all (vers. 9-14).
iv. He exhorts them as his children, as having begotten them in Christ, and threatens to come soon to Corinth to rebuke and punish these false, boastful, and puffed-up teachers (vers. 15-21).
Ver. 1.—Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ. I have forbidden you to boast yourselves in Paul or Apollos; but lest any man should therefore despise us, I say that every one should regard us as minsters of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Kemnitius raises a railing objection based on these last words, that the Council of Trent was wrong in relying on this passage to prove that the Pope can give dispensation in the matter of vows and laws; for he says that a steward’s duty is not to relax laws but to distribute goods. I answer that the Council knew this very well; but that its argument was simply this: If the stewardship of the affairs of the Church has been intrusted to the Pope, therefore he can in certain cases, when there is need, dispense, that is, dissolve vows and oaths, and remit penances and the debt of temporal punishment, just as the steward of a household can, when the honour or profit of his lord demands it, make dispensations, grants, or remissions—for this belongs to the office intrusted to him; only he is bound to dispense rightly, not to squander thoughtlessly, as S. Bernard says (de Precep. et Disp., and de Consid. lib. iii.): “It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful. Where necessity urges it, a dispensation is excusable; where expedience calls for it, it is laudable. I mean, of course, expedience which makes for the common good, not that of the individual; for where neither of these exists, not only is a dispensation a breach of faith, it is a heartless act of squandering.”
The word used here, “steward,” denotes one who has charge of a house, and rules, divides, and arranges everything in it; one, too, who gives gifts and remits debts, when he believes sincerely that to do so would be pleasing to his lord, or make for his honour and advantage. His chief virtues are prudence and faithfulness. So does the Pope, as steward of the Church and vicegerent of Christ, ordain everything, grant indulgences, and dispense with vows.
The mysteries of God mentioned here are the mystic secrets of Divine doctrine and off the Sacraments of Christ. For both these are mysteries of Christ, intrusted by Him to Paul and the other Apostles as His stewards. Hence it was that the strife and divisions of the Corinthians arose from a dispute about the Sacrament of baptism, inasmuch as one would boast that he had received baptism from Paul, another from Apollos. Cf. ch. i. 13.
Ver. 2.—Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful. You have been called from the study of wisdom and human eloquence to the simple and lowly teaching of Christ, so as not to dispute whether Paul or Apollos is the wiser or the more eloquent; and I have said that both of us are stewards of this teaching. Perchance, as you are always ready to draw comparisons between us, you will now begin to dispute about our stewardship, and ask, as men will, which of us is the more faithful in his office of preacher. Many of you say that Paul is the more faithful and more powerful, but Apollos more eloquent. Each will boast of his own teacher, and say that he is better and more faithful than we. Therefore to cut away all occasion for comparison let me tell you that I care nothing for the judgment of you or of any other man, but for God’s alone. So says Theophylact, following Chrysostom.
The chief quality requires in a steward is faithfulness. S. Paul alludes to the words of Christ: “Who then is a faithful and wise steward?” (S. Luke xii. 42). Theophylact says: “He is faithful if he does not regard his master’s goods as his own, if he foes not treat them as if he were owner of them, but distribute them as another’s and his master’s: of he does not speak of them as his own, but on the contrary say that what is his own belongs to his master.” So, too, is a teacher or preacher faithful who does not seek his own glory, but the glory of God and the conversion of souls, and do all he can to forward these two objects, not only by his preaching, but also by a perfect example of a holy life.
Ver. 3.—But with me it is a very small thing . . . or of man’s judgment. The Latin version give “of man’s day.” The meaning is the same; for the “day of the Lord” is frequently put for the “judgment of the Lord,” and a day is commonly named for defendants to appear for judgment. Cf. S. Jerome (ad Algas. qu. x.). He adds that Paul, as a native of the Cilician Tarsus, used the Greek idiom common there, and called “human judgment” “man’s day.”
It would, however, be better to say that Paul, being a Hebrew, borrowed this from the idiom of the Hebrews. For he is alluding to Jer, xvii. 16, where Jeremiah, being mocked and persecuted because of his prophecies, says: “Neither have I desired man’s day; Thou knowest.” The day of man is that wherein man prospers, and is honoured and praised by all as powerful, happy, and enviable. Jeremiah’s meaning, then, is: “I have not desired longer life, prosperity, riches, honours, pleasures, or the applauses of men; for if I had looked for such things I should not have prophesied to them of sadness and disaster, but I should have praised their glory and their lusts; but this I did not do, nor desired man’s day or his applause. For I know that man is but frail and miserable, and quickly to vanish away in death with all his goods and glory. Knowing this and recollecting it, I have not desired to please man in my prophecies and teachings, but to please and obey Thee, alone, O God, and to win commendation from none but Thee, and I call upon Thee to be my witness to this by saying, ‘Thou knowest,’ just as Job did when he said (xvi. 19), ‘Behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high.’”
So, too, say S. Jerome, Rabanus, Hugo, S. Thomas, and others. In imitation of Jeremiah, therefore, the Apostle says: “With me it is a very small thing to be judged of you or of man’s day.” In other words, he cared little for the power and wisdom of this world, for man’s favour and applause. Happy he who could say, ” I have not desired man’s day,” and call God for a witness to his truth. This is the height of perfection which enables a man to count all things as dross if only he can gain Christ. This noble portion was that of Moss, who abjured his position as son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
S. Chrysostom well moralises here: “Let us not, therefore, seek the praises of men. For to do so is to offer an insult to God, as though we counted His praise insufficient, and so passed Him by, and strove for that of our fellow-servants. For as those who contend for the mastery in a small arena seek for themselves a larger, because they think that the other is not large enough to display their prowess, so do they who contend in the sight of God pass by the larger arena, when they seek for the applause of men, and heap up for themselves punishment through their lust for the lesser good. Everything has been perverted, the whole world overturned, by this desire of ours to do everything for the sake of men, by our want of diligence in good works, by our disdaining the praise of God, and seeking only that of our fellow-servants. In our crimes, again, we despise God, and fear man; for if man were present we should abstain from fornication, and even though our lust burnt more fiercely its violence would be held in check by very shame lest we be seen by man. But when none but God sees us, we not only are guilty of adultery and fornication, but we have dared and still dare to commit far more heinous wickedness. Would not this alone be enough to bring down upon us God’s avenging thunders? Hence it is that all our woes have sprung, because in our disgraceful actions we fear not God but man.”
S. Chrysostom again (Hom. 17 in Ep. ad Rom.) says: “Just as boys in play put on each other’s heads crowns of hay, and often laugh behind his back at the boy they have crowned, so too do those who speak you fair to your face jeer at you quietly among themselves. What else is this but placing crowns of hay on each other’s heads? Would or were nothing else but hay! But as it is, this crown of ours is full of warning to us, for it destroys all that we have rightly done. Consider, then, its value; flee from the loss it entails. For if there are a hundred, or a thousand, or a host without number to applaud you, yet all of them are nothing more than chattering jackdaws. Nay, if you but think of the cloud of angel-witnesses they will seem viler than worms, and their words more flimsy than cobwebs, more fleeting than smoke, or than a dream of the night. Say to thy soul what Paul said, ‘Knowest thou not that we shall judge angels?’ Then call it away from such a feast, and chide it, and say, ‘Dost thou that art to sit in judgment on angels wish to be judged by such unclean spirits?’”
S. Jerome too (ad Pammach.) wisely says: “The first monastic virtue is to despise the judgment of men, and always to bear in mind the words of the Apostle, ‘If yet I pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ.’ Some such saying, too, did God address to the Prophets when He told them that He would make their face as a city of brass, and an adamantine stone, and an iron pillar, that they might not tremble at the threats of the people, but with unmoved brow tread under foot the impudent jeers of their adversaries.”
Lastly, Anselm says here: “The righteous look not for man’s judgment but for the award of the Eternal Judge, and therefore with Paul they despise the words of detractors.”
This is what one of the Saints meant when he said, “If you wish to be happy learn to despise and to be despised.” Yea, I judge not mine own self. I cannot certainly judge myself, my works, my motives, my conscience.
Ver. 4.—For I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified. I do not judge myself. For though I am not conscious of any unfaithfulness in my Apostolic office, yet I am not really just: I do not mean in the sight of men, for I do nor care for their judgment: I mean in the sight of God, who perhaps sees in me sins that I do not. Hence S. Basil (Constit. Monast. c. 1) says: “Although in many things we all offend, yet we have no conception at all of the greater part of our offences. This is why the Apostle once said, ‘I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified.’ It is as if he had said, ‘I commit many venial sins of which I am bot aware.’ For the same reason the prophet said, ‘Who understands his offences?’ You will not then be saying what is not true if you call yourself a sinner.”
From this we can argue against the Protestants that the justified have no sure knowledge, much less faith that they are justified. They reply that S. Paul means here that as regards his works he did not know that he was justified, but that he had a sure knowledge of it from faith and Holy Scripture, which promise justification to every one that believeth on Christ. In other words, they say that they know that they are justified, not because they are free from sins, and live holy lives, but through God’s mercy accepting their belief in the free gift of justification by Christ. But this answer of theirs is frivolous and feigned, for the Apostle goes on to say,
Ver. 5.—Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light, &c. He will reveal the thoughts and actions of men that lie hid in darkness. He means, then, that to God alone are naked and open the hidden things of man, his intentions, his secret motives, and the depths of his heart, which is to him like a bottomless sea, and therefore that none but God sees man’s justification. None, therefore, save God should judge another, or even himself, for his faith, his works, or the grace of Christ. For we often think that we are doing right when we are acting amiss: we often suppose that we are led by the grace of Christ, and act out of love for Him, when all the time we are impelled by our own lust or by the love of our own fame. Cf. Chrysostom and Ambrose and S. Jerome ( Dial. 2 contra Pelag.). S. Augustine, too, has some beautiful remarks on this point in his sermon on Ps. xlii., where he says that the deep of human misery and blindness calls to the deep of Divine mercy and illumination.
This argument is confirmed by the following reflections: (1.) that God even does not look upon us as justified by works but by faith, and this, according to the Protestants, we know of as well as God does; for we believe, they say, by faith. Therefore, according to them, what the Apostle says is false; for he says that God alone knows it and not we. (2.) The words which say that God beings to light the hidden things of darkness, and makes manifest the counsels of the hearts, do not mean that God surveys and manifests men’s faith, but their designs, their motives, and works. (3.) Just as the nature of our works is uncertain to us, so too is our faith, which according to Protestants alone justifies: for no man can know for a certainty that he believes on Christ with a faith that is firm and Divine, and therefore still less can he know that he is justified by it. The Holy Spirit often says the same elsewhere. Cf. Eccl. ix. 1; Prov. xx. 9; Job ix. 21; Jer. xvii.9.
Ver. 6.—And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself, &c. “Above that which is written” may refer (1.) to ch. i. 2, 3; or (2.) with S. Chrysostom it may mean “contrary to that which is written” in Holy Scripture against pride. It is foolish, therefore, for the Protestants to abuse this passage into an argument against tradition. S. Paul evidently means that what he had said against their idle boasting of the gifts of their teachers, and about not caring for the applause and opinion of men, but only for God’s, had been said of them in the person of himself and Apollos. He had been speaking of others in his own name, so as to avoid offending any of the Corinthian teachers, or their disciples, by mentioning their names. That ye might learn in us, therefore, is the expression of his desire, that when he speaks of himself or Apollos, they may apply what he said to the other teachers, who had been the occasion of the schism, of which he and Apollos were guiltless. He urges the Corinthians by his own example of moderation and conciliatory disposition not to be puffed up, or boast of one against another, viz., for this or that catechist or teacher, by saying, “I was baptized by Paul; I was converted by Apollos.” It is, too, an exhortation to the teachers not to be proud and puffed up because they might be wiser or more eloquent than other teachers, or boast of their disciples as being better instructed than those of other teachers, above that which he had just now written. For in what follows he is reproving the teachers rather than disciples; but he does it in a mild way and under another name, the teachers, I mean, who has been the chief cause of the empty contention and divisions among his Corinthian disciples. This will be seen by reference to ch. v. 15, 18, 19, and also ch. iii. 10, as well as to the whole of ch. xi. of the Second Epistle. For the false teachers whom he here speaks of mildly, because they had not yet disclosed their true nature, are the same apparently as those that in 2 Cor. xi. he speaks more severely of as imposters, and guilty of Judaising, and teaching false doctrine. Hence, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Œcumenius point put, S. Paul first censures the teachers in the words, “that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written,” i.e., that you, teachers, might learn from me and Apollos that you are, as I said before, merely stewards of God. Then he proceeds to rebuke the disciples in the words, “that no one of you be puffed up for one against another,” i.e., that no disciple boast of his teacher as wiser or more eloquent than another. S. Paul, then, while he seems to continue his address to the Corinthians, is in them and through them reproving their teachers. Just so a tutor endowed with tact and judgment will, when he wishes to chide a king’s sons, chide their servants, as if they were guilty, that so the princes may take it to themselves.
The expression “puffed up,” to describe one that is proud and swollen with arrogance, is a figure borrowed from wine skins. They are said to be puffed out when by being filled with air they resemble in form and size a solid body. Similarly, the proud man who is well satisfied with his knowledge, or eloquence, or some such gift, but within is devoid of all such powers, is just like a wine skin that is swollen out with wind.
Ver. 7.—For who maketh thee to differ from another? 1. The Greek word denotes as much the act of placing a man above others as separate him and dividing him off from them. So Theophylact paraphrases it, By whose suffrage was it that this separation and pre-eminence was given thee?” It was not of men, but of God. It is God’s to make to differ and to judge, and therefore you ought not to care for man’s judgment. So understood, these words hark back to ver. 4.
But it is better to understand them: Who gives you any pre-eminence over the herd of your fellow-Christians, O Corinthian catechumen? No one but yourself, who are puffed up, because you think that you have been baptized and taught by one that is a more holy, eloquent, and wise teacher than others: even so it does not follow that you share in his good qualities. It is this schismatic spirit that the Apostle has before him, as is evident from what has gone before, and as is pointed out by Ambrose, Anselm, and Theodoret.
3. But what, it seems to me, is most within the scope of the Apostle’s aim, who, as I said, is addressing the teachers, is this Who, O teacher, makes you to differ from another, as to be a better teacher and a better Christian, but yourself, who vainly extol your own wisdom and eloquence above that of others, or of your followers whom you have taught, as Psaphon did his birds, to sing your praises? If you say, “It is my labour, my zeal and industry, that mark me off from others,” I answer, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” Thy talent for labour, thy abilities, and all the natural gifts of which you boast came to you from God. Much more came from Him thy supernatural gifts; therefore to Him give all the glory. S. Ephrem (de Pænitentiâ) wisely says: “Offer to God what is not thine own, that he may give thee what is His.” Hence the Council of Arausica (Can. 22) lays down that we have nothing of our own except falsehood and sin. This is the literal sense, and the Apostle’s meaning.
Nevertheless, we must take notice that S. Augustine frequently, prosper, Fulgentius and the Council of Arausica (Can. 6) transfer these words of the Apostle’s by parity of reasoning from the natural gifts of eloquence and wisdom, primarily referred to here, to the supernatural gifts and good works achieved by natural strength alone, as well as the labour, zeal, and industry of teachers, affect nothing for grace and holiness; and if these gifts to not warrant a man in boasting himself of his natural abilities, much less will they allow him to glory in the sphere of the supernatural, that they have made him holy, or more holy than others. This is the reason why S. Augustine refers these words to grace and predestination, in the sense that no one can separate himself from the mess of sinful human nature and make a beginning of his own salvation, by his own efforts and his own natural strength, as the Pelagians and Semi-pelagians held.
It is, then, not the powers of nature but God that separates the man justified from the man not justified; for God is the great First Cause of all the gifts that the justified has, in such a way that he has nothing to mark him off from the non-justified, save what he has received from God. He is, therefore, debarred from all boasting. This, however, does not remove the fact that all this at the same time depends for its efficacy on the free co-operation if our will. For as S. Augustine lays down, through free-will assisted by grace, he who is converted can separate himself from him that is not. He says (de Spir. et Lit.c. 34): “To yield to the call of God, or to resist it, is an act of my own will. And this not only does not weaken the force of the words, ‘What hast thou that thou didst not receive?’ it even strengthens them. The soul cannot receive and have the gifts spoken of here except by consenting; and through this consent what it has, and what it receives, are of God. For to receive and to have are the acts of one that receives and has.” In other words they are the acts of one that consents freely to the grace of God calling him. S. Bernard (de Grat. et lib. Arbit.) says tersely: “What God gives to our free-will can no more be given without the consent of the receiver than without the grace of the Giver.”
If then it be asked: What makes a man that believes to differ from one that refuses to believe, it being understood that each received from God an equal grace of calling to faith,—I should reply: He that believes does so through free-will, and not through his natural powers, as Pelagius supposed, and through the strength given him by Grace he makes himself to differ from one that believes not. For it was in his own power to assent, or not to assent, to grace, and therefore to believe or not to believe: when, then, he believes, he does so freely: he assents freely to the grace of God; he freely distinguishes himself from him that believes not.
It may be said that he can boast himself, then, of having so distinguished himself from the other. But I answer that boasting is excluded, since he should attribute the chief glory, nay, the whole to God, by whose grace he has so separated himself. The reason is that by the strength of grace alone, not by natural powers, did he perform, or have power to do, or to wish for, the act by which he separated himself. From the same source came his strength for the embracing of grace, which is not distinguishable from assent to it, and for any attempt, or movement, or inclination towards it. For in that act there is not the least ground for saying that it has been effected by the power of free-will alone; for the whole of it, as far as its substance and real modes is concerned, is of grace and all of free-will; just as every work is wholly from God as its first cause, and wholly also from its secondary cause. But from grace it has it that it is supernatural and meritorious, and thence comes all its worth; it has from free-will its freedom only. As, then, the act itself and the co-operation with them, a man can no more boast of his co-operation and election than a beggar who is offered a hundred pieces of gold can boast of his having accepted them. And all that the Apostle means is that no one can so boast himself of anything as though he had nor received it from God. Otherwise, all virtue by itself, and the virtuous man by himself, are worthy of praise and honour; but this praise and virtue must be attributed to God; for whoever converts himself and separates himself from others does so not by his own natural abilities but by the power of the grace of God.
Nor is it to be said that the Apostle’s meaning is otherwise from the fact of his speaking literally, as I said before, of differences in wisdom, eloquence, and other natural gifts, which undeniably a man can acquire, or excel in by his own labours, zeal, and industry, and so make himself to differ from others less learned, and can also therefore give his own labour and zeal the credit, and boast moderately of his advancement. The Apostle is merely excluding that boasting which arises from pride and contempt of others: as if, for instance, you were to arrogantly boast that what you have is your own and came not from God. This is evidently S. Paul’s meaning, from the words he adds: “Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” If, then, you accommodate this sentence to supernatural things, it only excludes, according to S. Paul’s meaning, that boasting which arises from a pride despising others, attributing all to itself, and not referring everything to God and His grace as the Well-spring of all. But you do not do this if you say that by the power of God’s grace you have freely distinguished and divided yourself from sinners who prefer to remain in their sin; for you then give the praise and glory first and last to God and His Grace. All the same, however, free-will has its own praise and glory, though that praise and glory, be it recollected, was received by the grace of God.
From what has been said it follows that he who is converted is to be distinguished from him who is not, and that he is converted as well by grace as by free-will. For although both have prevenient grace, which is often equally exerted on many, yet the one has as well co-operating grace, which is wanting to the other who has no wish to be converted, and by this he is freely distinguished from the other and converted. Moreover, it was foreseen that his prevenient grace would be effectual in him here and now; and because God foresaw this, He predestinated him to it, knowing that with it he would most surely co-operate and be converted: but such grace He does not give to another man who is nit converted. We are, therefore, in general to think of this as the actual cause of our conversion and salvation. For this effectual grace is peculiar to the predestinate and the elect, if only it remains with them to the end of their life, as S. Augustine says. Hence, it is clear that it id not so much free-will as grace that divides the just from the unjust: for grace effects the conversion and justification of the righteous man who does not hinder the efficacious working of grace, but freely consents to it. But grace does not do this with the unjust, because he places an opposing barrier in the way of grace in refusing to consent to it and co-operate with it, and so grace becomes in him ineffectual and vain. Wherefore S. Ephrem’s advice in c. 10 of the tractate, “Look to thyself,” is wise, “Have charity with all, and abstain from all.” For these two, benevolence and continence, are the principal mark of holiness, which soften the most barbarous of men and bind them to themselves.
Ver. 8.—Now ye are full. This is, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Anselm say, ironical. Ye are filled with wisdom and grace, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so it is your boast that you are not so much Corinthians as teachers, having nothing further to learn of Christianity. You think yourselves perfect as teachers when you are scarcely disciples at all of the true and perfect wisdom. S. Chrysostom says, To be satisfied with little is the mark of a weak mind: and to think one’s self rich by a small addition of means is the mark of one that is sick and miserable; but true godliness is never satisfied.”
S. Thomas notices that S. Paul here points out four kinds of pride in the Corinthians, or rather in their teachers. First, when one thinks that he has from himself and not from God whatever good he possesses: this is alluded to in the words, “Why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” In these words also is contained the second, which is, when any one attributes to his own merits whatever good he has. The third is when one boasts that he has what he has not, and this is touched in the words, “Now ye are full; now ye are rich.” The fourth is when one despises others, and wishes to stand in a class by himself: this is pointed at in the words, “Ye have reigned as kings without us.”
Ye have reigned as kings without us. Without our help, you think, O Corinthians, that you triumphantly excel over all God’s saints; and especially you, O teachers, as if you had been given a kingdom, claim for yourselves, while excluding us, a supreme dignity.
And I would to God that ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. As your followers and rivals, or better as being your fathers: for this as a matter of fact we are. So Theophylact, Chrysostom, and Anselm. He does not decline to have partners in the kingdom of God, i.e., in the government of the Church; he only requires them to rule as they ought, that is, to devote themselves to the salvation of the faithful.
Ver. 9.—For I think that God hath set forth us, the Apostles, last, as it were appointed to death. (1.) He contrasts himself and the true Apostles with those vain teachers who sought their own glory and their own advantage. I would, he says, that we Apostles were reigning with you; for so far, I think, are we from reigning triumphantly, that God has exhibited us to the world as the last and most despised of all, as though destined to a well-deserved death. (2.) The simpler meaning is, we are the last to have been sent into the world in these last times. We have been marked out by God for death, as. e.g., by means of wild beasts—not for a kingdom or triumphs, but for death, persecution, and martyrdom. So Tertullian understands it.
Observe that the Apostles are called last, as comperes with those Prophets that went before them, as Isaiah and Jeremiah and others, who were sent by God as Apostles to the Jews and others (Isa. vi. 9). Especially does he call himself last of all, as having been called to his Apostleship by Christ ascended, after the other Apostles had been called by Christ living on the earth.
Moreover, “set forth” denotes (1.) marked out, (2.) made or exhibited, and, as Ephrem terms it, appointed. Cf. Ps. lx. 3 and lxxi. 20. (3.) It denotes put forward publicly as an example to others. Hence it follows—
For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. They were placed, as it were, in a theatre, like those condemned to die by fighting with wild beasts before the eyes of the populace. There seems to be as allusion here to the public games of Rome and other places, where men fought with wild beasts in the arena. The world, he says, delights to regard us as fools, dealers in secret arts, or babblers of novelties, or better still, as men condemned to the beasts.
Observe that “the world” here is a generic name for “angels and men” for they were the only beings to gaze upon the Apostles. Hence, in the Greek, “world” has the article, and the two other terms are without it. We are made, he says, to the good angels an object of compassionate regard, as well as of worthy admiration and honour. But since evil angels and evil men rejoice in our being despised, persecuted, and put to death, we are made a spectacle to evil angels of hatred and rejoicing, as well as of confusion and terror. To good men we are a spectacle and example of fortitude, faith, innocence, patience, meekness, constancy, and holiness of life. So Titelmann.
S. Chrysostom (Hom. 12 in Moral.) applies thus to the theatre of this life, in which we do everything in the presence of God. So, Suetonius says. S. Augustine, when about to die, said to his friends standing round him, “Have I played my part pretty well on this stage and in the theatre?“—“Very well,” his friends replied. Then he rejoined, “Applaud me, therefore, as I take my departure;” and having said this he gave up the ghost. Better and still more appropriate was the use of these words made by Edmund Campian, England’s noble martyr, well named Campianus, a true wrestler and champion of Christ, who, when about to suffer martyrdom, publicly gave out these words as the text of his last sermon. Such a theatrical spectacle was what the Apostles here primarily intends. Cicero says (qu. 2, Tuesul.) that there is no fairer sight than that of a virtuous and conscientious life, and so among Christians there is nothing more beautiful than martyrdom.
The illustrious Paula appositely and piously replied, as S. Jerome says in his eulogy of her, to some caviller who suggested that she might be considered by some insane, because of the fervour of her virtues: “We are made a spectacle unto the world and to angels and to men; we are fools for Christ’s sake; but the foolishness of God is wiser than men. Hence, too, the Saviour said to His Father, ‘Thou knowest My foolishness!’ and again, ‘I was made as it were a monster unto many, but be Thou My strong helper. I became as a beast before Thee, and I am always with Thee’”
Lastly, S. Chrysostom (in Ep. ad Rom. Hom. 17) teaches from this that we ought to fly from eye-service, that is, from serving the eyes of men, that so we turn our eyes towards the eyes of God, and live perpetually in His sight and before Him. There are, he says, two theatres: one most spacious, where sits the King of kings, surrounded by His shining hosts, to view us; the other most insignificant, where stand a few Ethiopians, i.e., men ignorant of what is going on. It is, therefore, the height of madness to pass by this mist spacious theatre of God and of the angels, and to be content with the theatre of a few Ethiopians, and laboriously to strive to please them. When you have a theatre erected for you in the heavens, why do you gather together spectators for yourself on earth? S. Bernard (Serm. 31 inter parvos) treats these words somewhat differently, though his application of them is the same. He says: “We are made a spectacle unto the world, to angels and to men, good and bad alike. The passion of envy inflames the one, the compassion born of pity makes the others minister to us continually; the one desires to see our fall, the other our upward flight. We are undoubtedly half-way between heaven and hell, between the cloister and the world. Both consider diligently what we do, both say, ‘Would that he would join us!’ Their intention is different, but their wishes, perhaps, not unlike. But if the eyes of all are thus upon us, whither have our friends gone, or why did they alone go from us? . . . Let us, then, before it is too late, brethren, rise, nor receive in vain our souls for which, whether for good or evil, others so zealously watch.”
Ver. 10.—We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ. This is a continuation of the irony of ver. 8. We are reckoned fools because of Christ crucified, whom we preach, and for whose sake we seem to expose ourselves rashly to so many dangers. For the Cross is to the Greeks foolishness. But you in your own eyes are wise in the Gospel of Christ, because of the eloquence and philosophy which you mingle with it, and because you take care to so preach Christ that you run no risk for His sake.
We are weak, as bearing without resistance many grievous adversities, such as hunger, thirst, nakedness, toils, injuries, cursings, persecutions, as is said in ver. 11.
But ye are strong. For you easily by your worldly eloquence, wisdom, and friendship turn the edge of all evils that attack you.
Ye are honourable, but we are despised. You are honoured, we are held in no honour. He teaches modestly, but yet sternly by his own example as a teacher, that the Christian’s boast must not be in renown, wealth, wisdom, eloquence, or the applause of men, but in being despised by others, and in despising glory, and in the Cross of Christ; and especially is this true of the Christian teacher and preacher. So S. Chrysostom. And in this way he endeavours to shame these self-indulgent, vain, and luxurious teachers, and also the Corinthians who preferred to follow such men, rather than the Apostles of Christ, who were giving for them their strength, their substance, and their lives. So Isaiah (viii. 18) says, in the name of himself and the other Prophets, as well as of Paul and the Apostles, “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel.” And as the Annales Minorum relate, S. Francis used to say that he was a despised fool of Christ’s in the world, and was for this beloved of Christ Himself.
Ver. 11.—Even unto this present hour we . . . have no certain dwelling-place. This remarkable description of the Apostle’s life is very like that contained in the Second Epistle (xi. 23), which those that are called to the ministry ought to put before them as an example, as the Apostolic men of great zeal do in England, Holland, India, and Japan.
S. Chrysostom (Hom. 52 on Acts of the Apostles) says excellently on the words of xxvi. 29: “Such is the soul that is raised on high by celestial love that it thinks itself a prisoner for Christ because of the greatness of the promised glory. For as one in love has no eyes for any save her he loves, who is to him everything, so he who has been laid hold of by Christ’s fire becomes like one who should be living alone on the earth, caring nothing for glory and shame. For he so utterly despises temptations and scourgings and imprisonment that it is as though another body endured them, or as though he possessed a body made of granite. For he laughs at those things which are pleasant in this life; he does not feel their force as we do; his body is to him as the body of one dead. So far is he from being taken captive by any passion, as gold that has been purified in the fire is from showing any stain. All this is effected by the love of man for God, when it is great.” But we do not attain this height because we are cold, and ignorant of this Divine philosophy. The philosopher Diogenes saw this, though but darkly and afar off, for then he was asked what men were the noblest, he replied, ” They that despise riches and glory and pleasure and life; they that draw their force from the opposite things to these, from poverty, obscurity, hunger, thirst, toil and death.” Diogenes saw this, but could not practise it, for he was himself a slave to vain-glory.
Ver. 12.—Being reviled, we bless. Infidels and Jews mock us, and call down imprecations on us, saying, “Let these new preachers of a crucified God be slain, let then perish and hang on the accursed cross.” We, however, pray for their peace, that God would give them His light, His grace, and salvation. S. Basil (in Reg. Brevior. 226) points out that to do evil and to do good are connoted by reviling and blessing. He says: “We are bidden to be patient towards all, and to return kindly deeds to those who persecute us unjustly. We are to love fervently, not only those that curse us, but whosoever shows us unkindness in any way whatever, that so we may obey the precept, ‘Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.’”
Ver. 13.—Being defamed, we entreat. When we are reviled, called evil dealers in evil arts, and railed at. The word “blaspheme” has this meaning also in Tit. iii. 2. When thus treated we speak the meekness after the manner of suppliants, as the Greek Fathers take it, or else we entreat God for them. But the first is nearer the Greek. S. Basil (Reg.226, quoted above) renders it “comfort,” in the sense of filling their minds with a perception of the truth. Comfort is used in this sense in Rom. i. 12.
We are made as the filth of the world. We are made, as Theophylact and Theodoret say, as it were the excrement of the world—not once, but always, down to this present hour. We are made like filth that has been collected from all sides, is the literal force of the Greek. We are reckoned as most contemptible, as wretches unworthy of man’s society, fit only to be driven away and destroyed.
S. Paul is here alluding to Lam. iii. 45: “Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.” For Jeremiah was imprisoned by the Jews, cast off, and rejected, and so was a type of Paul and the Apostles, imprisoned, rejected, and at length slain by the Jews and Gentiles.
But Gagneius and others translate this word “expiatory victims.” Hence S. Ambrose, too, commenting on Ps. cxix. 8, reads it, “We are made for the world’s purging.” We should notice that the Greek word here used was applied to the wicked men and others doomed to sacrifice by the Gentiles, in order to get rid of famine or tempests of any other public calamity. So, for instance, did the Decii devote themselves for their country, and Curtius, who, to banish a common plague and appease the Deity, leaped in full armour into a gulf in Rome. So, to, Servius, on the line of the Æneid, “O accursed thirst for gold, to what villainy do you not impel the hearts of men?” notes that famine is called accursed or sacred after the manner of the Gauls. For when the citizens of Marseilles were suffering from pestilence, a certain poor man offered himself to the state to be fed for a full year on the best food at the public expense, and then to be led through the city with execration, clothed with evergreens and sacred garments, that on his head might fall all the evils of the state; and then he was either sacrificed or drowned. Hence Budæus, following Suidas and others, says that καθαρμάταwere men dedicated to death, and thrown into the sea, bearing the burden of all the wickedness of the state, and so sacrificed to Neptune, with the words added: “Be thou our expiatory victim.” Such a victim was the goat sent into the wilderness by the Hebrews (Lev. xvi. 21). But the Greek and Latin versions support the first meaning in preference, and that gives the more literal and simple sense. For S. Paul is here treating of the contempt meted put to him and his companions, whereby they were spurned by tongue and foot as the vilest wretches living.
And are the offscouring of all things unto this day. Offscouring is the translation of a word which denoted such things as scabs, nail-pairings, and such worthless things as are cast aside and trodden under foot by all. So Chrysostom, Theophylact, Anselm. Œcumenius understands it to mean a little rag or cloth by which sweat is wiped off the face; others follow Budæus, and take it to mean “expiatory victim,” as I have said. This is supported, too, by the Syriac Version.
Vers. 14, 15.—I write not these things . . . for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel. And therefore I alone am your spiritual father. Other teachers are but schoolmasters who educate the child sent them by the father. Paul hints that the Corinthians should be ashamed of themselves for passing by the Apostles, who had converted them to Christ, and who were suffering so much for their sake, and for following after vain-glorious teachers, and for wishing to be called their disciples.
Ver. 17.—Who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways. My doctrine and Christian life, say S. Thomas and Anselm.
In Christ. In Christ’s religion.
Ver. 20.—For the Kingdom of God is not in word but in power. The spiritual energy and Christian, and especially Apostolic perfection, in which God reigns, and displays in us and in the Church the effectual working of the Gospel of His grace and Spirit, are not to be found in eloquence, but in the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, viz., in convincing speech, in the power of miracles, in the expulsion of demons, and, as Theophylact and Cajetan say, still more in the sufferings of the Apostle’s life described in vers. 9-11, and in conversion of character and in holy living. So, too, say S. Chrysostom and Anselm: For S. John Baptist did no miracle, and yet began to preach the Kingdom of God in the power of a holy life, in the spirit and efficacy of preaching and exhortation. Cf. the parallel expression in Rom. xiv. 17.
Ver. 21.—What will ye? Shall I come unto you with a rod? Such as becomes the father I spoke of in ver. 15. The rod is a symbol of severity of rebuke and power of punishing. So Chrysostom, Theophylact, Anselm.
Observe here the power of punishing lodged in the Church and her prelates, and exercised by Paul in the next chapter. Œcumemius and Cajetan refer these words of the Apostle’s to the next chapter, in which he sternly rebukes the Corinthians for the incest of the fornicator. However, these words can well be joined with the preceding, in which he reproved the Corinthians for their pride.