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Bible Commentaries

The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide
1 Corinthians 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-40

CHAPTER7

SYNOPSIS OF THE CHAPTER

In this chapter he answers five questions of the Corinthians about the laws of matrimony, and about the counsel of virginity and celibacy—

i. The first question is whether matrimony and its use are lawful for a Christian, as being born again and sanctified. The answer is that they are lawful, and that, moreover, when either party demands his due, it ought to be given, and that therefore it is better to marry than to burn.

ii. The second is (ver10) concerning divorce, whether it is lawful, and S. Paul answers that it is not.

iii. The third is (ver12), If a believer have an unbelieving partner, can they continue to live together? He answers that they both can and ought, if the unbeliever consents to live in peace with the believer.

iv. The fourth is (ver17) whether a man"s state is to be changed because of his faith; whether, e.g., a married person who was a slave when a heathen becomes free when a Christian, whether a Gentile becomes a Jew. He answers in the negative, and says that each should remain in his station.

v. The fifth is (ver25) whether at all events those who are converted to Christ as virgins ought to remain so. He replies that virginity is not enjoined on any as a precept, but that it is on all as a counsel, as being better than matrimony for six reasons:—

(a) Because of the present necessity, inasmuch as only a short time is given us for obtaining, not temporal but eternal gain: she that is a virgin is wholly intent in these things (ver26).

(b) Because he that is married is, as it were, bound to his wife with the wedding-bond, but the unmarried is free and unconstrained (ver27).

(c) Because the unmarried is free from the tribulation of the flesh which attacks the married (ver28).

(d) Because a virgin thinks only of what is pleasing to God, but one that is married has a heart divided between God and his wife (ver32).

(e) Because a virgin is holy in body and in soul, but the married not in body, and often not in soul (ver34).

(f) Because he that is unmarried gives his virgin an opportunity to serve God without interruption, whereas the married have a thousand hindrances to piety and devotion (ver35).

Ver1.—Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me. In answer to the questions you have put to me about the rights, use, and end of matrimony and the single life, I answer that it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Notice here from S. Anselm and Ambrose that certain false Apostles, in order to seem more holy, taught that marriage was to be despised, because of the words of Christ (S. Matthew 10:12), "There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven"s sake," which they interpreted as applying to all Christians, especially since the act of fornication, which had been so severely condemned by the Apostle in the preceding chapter, is physically the same as conjugal copulation. The Corinthians, therefore, asked S. Paul by letter whether Christians ought to be so chaste, and ought to be so much free for prayer, godliness, and purity as to be bound, even though married, to abstain altogether from intercourse with their wives.

It is good for a man not to touch a woman. It is beautiful, exemplary, and excellent. The Greek here is καλὸν. So Theophylact. Good is not here the same as useful or expedient, as Erasmus turns it, but denotes that moral and spiritual good which of itself conduces to victory over passion, to piety, and salvation (cf. vers32 , 34 , 35). To touch a woman or to know is with the Hebrews a modest form of speech, denoting the act of conjugal copulation.

S. Jerome (lib.i. contra Jovin.) adds that the Apostle says touch, "because the very touching of a woman is dangerous, and to be avoided by every man." These are his words: "The Apostle does not say it is good not to have a wife, but "it is good not to touch a woman," as though there were danger in the touch, not to be escaped from by any one who should so touch her: being one who steals away the precious souls of men, and makes the hearts of youths to fly out of their control. Shall any one nurse a fire in his bosom and not be burnt? or walk upon hot coals and not suffer harm? In the same way, therefore, that he who touches fire is burnt, so when man and woman touch they feel its effect and perceive the difference between the sexes. The fables of the heathen relate that Mithras and Ericthonius, either on stone or in the earth, were generated by the mere heat of lust. Hence too Joseph fled from the Egyptian woman, because she wished to touch him; and as though he and been bitten by a mad dog and feared lest the poison should eat its way, he cast off the cloak that she had touched," Let men and youths take note of these words.

Cardinal Vitriaco, a wise and learned man, relates of S. Mary d"Oignies that she had so weakened and dried up her body by fastings that for several years she felt not even the first motions of lust, and that when a certain holy man clasped her hand in pure spiritual affection, and thus caused the motions of the flesh to arise, she, being ignorant of this, heard a voice from heaven which said, "Do not touch me," She did not understand it, but told it to another who did, and thenceforward she abstained from all such contact.

S. Gregory (Dial. lib. iv. c11) relates how S. Ursinus, a presbyter, had lived in chastity separated from his wife, and when he was on his death-bed, drawing has last breath, his wife came near and put her ear to his mouth, to hear if he still breathed. He, still having a few minutes to live, on perceiving this, said with as much strength as he could summon, "Depart from me, woman—a spark still lingers in the embers; do not fan it into a flame." Well sung the poet:—

"Regulus by a glance, the Siren of Achelous with a song,

The Thessalian sage with gentle rubbing slays:

So with eyes, with hands, with song does woman burn,

And wield the three-forked light of angry Jove,"

S. Jerome rightly infers from this (lib. i. contra Jovin.) that it is an evil for a man to touch a woman. He does not say it is sinful, as Jovinian and others falsely alleged against him, but evil. For this touching is an act of concupiscence, and of the depraved pleasure of the flesh; but it is nevertheless excused by the good of wedlock, but is wholly removed by the good of the single life.

It may be urged from Gen, ii18 , where it is said that it is not good for a man to be alone, that it is therefore good to touch a woman. I answer that in Genesis, God is speaking of the good of the species, Paul of the individual; God in the time when the world was uninhabited, Paul when it is full; God of temporal good, Paul of the good of the eternal life of the Spirit. In this it is good for a man not to touch a woman.

Ver2.—Nevertheless to avoid fornication let every man have his own wife. Lest being unmarried, and unwilling to live a chaste life, he fall into fornication. Every man, say Melancthon and Bucer, must include the priest and the monk. I reply that every man means every man that is free, not bound by vow, disease, or old age: for such are incapable if matrimony. Laws and documents must be interpreted according to their subject-matter: they only apply to those capable of receiving them, not to those who are not. To him then who is free, and unbound, and can fulfil the requirements of matrimony, the apostle gives to precept, but advice and permission, that if he fears to fall into fornication he should marry a wife, or keep to her that he has already married, rather than fall into any danger of committing such a sin. So the Fathers whom I will quote at ver9 all agree in saying. This must be the Apostle"s meaning, for otherwise he would contradict himself, for throughout the whole chapter he urges the life of chastity.

Moreover, the apostle is speaking primarily to the married alone, and not to the unmarried. To these latter he begins to speak in ver8 , Now I say to the unmarried and widows, where the adversative now marks the change. He says too here let every man have, not let every man marry, because he is speaking to those who already had wives. So S. Jerome (lib. i. contra Jovin.) says, "Let every man that is married have his own wife," i.e., continue to have her, not dismiss or repudiate her, but rather use her lawfully and chastely. The word have signifies not an inchoate but a continuous action. So 2 Timothy 1:13: "Hold fast the form of sound words," where the same word is used. So in S. Luke 19:26: Unto every one that hath (that uses his talent) shall be given; and from him that hath not (does not use), even that he hath shall be taken away from him; otherwise there cannot well be taken from a man what he has not. That this is the true meaning is evident from that follows in ver3.

Ver3.—Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence. A modest paraphrase for the conjugal debt.

Ver4.—The wife hath not power of her own body but the husband, She has not power, that is, over those members which distinguish woman from man, in so far as they serve for the conjugal act. Power she has not over them so as to contain at her own will or to have intercourse with another. That power belongs to the husband alone, and that for himself only, not for another. Cf. S. Augustine (contra Julian, lib. v.). The Greek is literally, has no right over her body, whether to contain or to hand it over to another.

Likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Hence it is clear that, though in the government of the family the wife should be subject and obedient to her husband, yet in the right of exacting and returning the marriage debt she is equal with her husband, has the same right over his body that he has over hers, and this from the marriage contract, in which each has given to the other the same power over the body, and received the same power over the other"s body. The husband, therefore, is as much bound to render his wife, as the wife her husband, faithfulness and the marriage debt. This is taught at length in their expositions of this passage by Chrysostom. Theophylact, Œcumenius, Primasius, Anselm, and by S. Jerome (Cit32 , qu2 , cap. Apostolus), who says that husband and wife are declared to be equal in rights and duties. "When, therefore," says S. Chrysostom (Hom19), "a harlot comes and tempts you, say that your body is not your own but your wife"s. Similarly, let the wife say to any one who proposes to rob her of her chastity, "My body is not mine but my husband"s.""

Ver5.—Defraud ye not one the other. By denying the marriage debt. The words and to fasting, though in the Greek, are wanting in the Latin. Hence Nicholas I., in his answers to the questions if the Bulgarians (c50), writes to them that, throughout the forty days of Lent, they should not come at their wives. But this is a matter of counsel.

And come together again. From this Peter Martyr and the Magdeburgians conclude that it is not lawful for married persons to vow perpetual continence by mutual consent. But the answer to this is that the Apostle is not prescribing but permitting the marriage act.

Ver6.—But I speak this by permission and not of commandment.

1. I permit the act of copulation by way of indulgence: I do not prescribe it. Nay, S. Augustine (Enchirid. c78) takes it: "I say this by way of pardon." The Greek word denotes forgiveness, and hence S. Augustine gathers that it is a venial sin to have sexual connection, not for the sake of children but for carnal pleasure, and to avoid the temptations of Satan; for pardon is given to what is sinful. So too indulgence is given in what concerns sin, or at all events a lesser good, as S. Thomas has rightly observed.

2. That there is no precept given here is also evident, because the Apostle permits married people to contain for a time, that they may give themselves to fasting and to prayer; therefore, if they agree to devote their whole life to fasting and to prayer, he permits them to contain themselves for life.

3. He says come together, and gives the reason, "that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency;" i.e., that there may be no danger of your falling into adultery, or other acts of impurity, because of your incontinency. Therefore, when the cause does not exist, viz., the danger of incontinency, as it does not exist in those who have sufficient high-mindedness to curb it and tame it, he permits them to be continent for life.

4. He says in ver7 , "I would that all men were even as I myself," i.e., not chaste in some way or other, but altogether continent, unmarried, nay, virgin souls, even as I, who am unmarried. So Ambrose, Theodoret, Theophylact, Anselm, Chrysostom, Œcumenius and Epiphanius (Hæres78), S. Jerome ( Ephesians 22ad Eustoch.)

5. In the early days of the Church many married persons, in obedience to this admonition of S. Paul, observed by mutual consent perpetual chastity, as Tertullian tells us (ad Uxor. lib. i. c. vi., and de Resurr. Carn. c8 , and de Orland. Virg. c13). The same is said by the author of commentaries de Sing. Cleric., given by S. Cyprian.

Here are some examples of married persons, not merely of low estate, but people illustrious both for their birth and holiness and renown, who preserved their continency and chastity unimpaired in wedlock.

(1.) There are the Blessed Virgin and Joseph, who have raised the banner of chastity not only before virgins, but also before they married. (2.) We have the illustrious martyrs Cecilia and Valerian, who were of such merit that the body of S. Cecilia has been found by Clement VIII. in this age, after the lapse of so many centuries, undecayed and uninjured. (3.) There are SS. Julian and Basilissa, whose illustrious life is narrated by Surius. (4.) S. Pulcheria Augusta, sister of the Emperor Theodosius, made a vow to God of perpetual chastity, and on the death of Theodosius, married Marcian, stipulating that she should keep her vow, and raised him to the Imperial throne; and this vow was faithfully kept unbroken by both, as Cedrenus and others testify. (5.) We have the Emperor Henry II. and Cunegund, the latter of whom walked over hot iron to prove her chastity. (6.) There is the example of Boleslaus V., King of the Poles, who was called the Maid, and Cunegund, daughter of Belas, King if the Hungarians. (7.) King Conrad, son of the Emperor Henry IV., with Matilda his wife. (8.) Alphonse II. King of the Asturians, who by keeping himself from his wife gained the name of "the Chaste." (9.) Queen Richardis, who, though married to King Charles the Fat, retained her virginity. (10.) Pharaildis, niece of S. Amelberga and Pepin, was ever-virgin though married. (11.) Edward III. and Egitha were virgin spouses. (12.) Ethelreda, Queen of the East Angles, though twice married, remained a virgin. (13.) We have two married people of Arvernum, spoken of by Gregory of Tours (de Gloria Conf. c. xxxii.): "When the wife was dead, the husband raised his hands towards heaven, saying: "I thank Thee, Maker of all things, that as Thou didst vouchsafe to intrust her to me, so I restore her to Thee undefiled by any conjugal delight." But she smilingly said: "Peace, peace, O man of God; it is snot necessary to publish our secret." Shortly afterwards the husband died and was buried in another place; and, lo! in the morning the two tombs were found together, as is today: and therefore natives there are wont to speak of them as the Two Lovers, and to pay them the highest honour." Nowadays two examples of the same thing nay be found.

Ver7.—For I would that all men were even as I myself. That is so far as the single life and continency is concerned. The Apostle means that he wishes it if it could well be. I would, therefore, denotes as inchoate and imperfect act of the will. This is evident too from his subjoining,

But every man hath his proper gift of God. The word all again means each one, or all taken one by one, not collectively. For if all men in a body were to abstain, there would be no matrimony, and the human race and the world would come to an end together. In the same way we are said to be able to avoid all venial sins: that is, all taken singly, not collectively, or in other words, each one. Others take all collectively, inasmuch as if God were to inspire all men with this resolution of continency, it would be a sign that the number of the elect was completed, and that God wished to put an end to the world. But Paul was well aware that God at that time was willing the contrary, in order that the Church might increase and be multiplied through matrimony. The first explanation therefore is the sounder.

But everyman hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner and another after that, That is, he has his own gift of his own will, says the treatise de Castitate, falsely assigned to Pope Sixtus III., which is preserved in the Biblioth. SS. Patrum, vol. v. It is, however, the work of some Pelagian; for the tenor of the whole treatise is to show that chastity is the work of free-will, and of a man"s own volition, and not of the grace of God. (Cf. Bellarmine, de Monach. lib. ii. c31 , and de Clericis, lib.i. c21 , ad4.) But this is the error of Pelagius; for if you take away the grace of God from a man"s will it can no longer be called "his proper gift of God." For the will if a man is nothing else but the free choice of his own will. For God has given to all an equal and similar gift of free-will; wherefore that one chooses chastity, another matrimony, cannot be said to e the gift of God if you take away His grace; but it would have to be attributed to the free choice of each man, and that choice therefore in diverse things is unlike and unequal.

Proper gift then denotes the gift of conjugal, virginal, or widowed chastity. But heretics say that priests therefore, and monks, if they have not the gift of chastity, may lawfully enter on matrimony. But by parity of reason, it might be said ghat therefore married people, if they have not the gift of conjugal chastity, as many adulterers have not, may lawfully commit adultery, or enter upon a second marriage with one that is an adulterer. Or again that if a wife is absent, is unwilling, or is ill, the husband may go to another woman, if he alleges that he has not the gift of widowed chastity. And although the passion of Luther may admit this excuse as valid, yet all shrink from it; and the Romans and other heathen, by the instinct of nature, regarded all such tenets as monstrous.

I reply, then, with Chrysostom and the Fathers cited, that the Apostle is here giving consolation and indulgence to the weak, and to those that are married, for having embraced the gift and state of conjugal chastity, then before they might have remained virgins. For of others that are not married he adds, It is good for them if they abide even as I that is, it is good for them, if they will, to remain virgins; but this I do not command, nay, I am consoling the married, and I permit them the due use of wedlock, in order that they may avoid all scruple, by the reflection that each one has his own gift from God, and that they have the gift of wedlock, i.e., conjugal chastity; for matrimony itself is a gift of God, and was instituted by Him. God wills, in order to replenish the earth, in a general and indeterminate way, that some should be married; and yet this gift of wedlock is less than the gift of virginity.

It may be said that not only is matrimony a gift from God, but that one is a virgin and another married is also a gift from God. I answer that this is true enough, as when God inspires one with a purpose to lead a single life, and another a married life; as, e.g., in the case of a queen who may bear an honest offspring to the good of the realm and the Church; but still God does not always do this, but leaves it wholly to the decision of many whether they will choose the married or unmarried life.

It will be retorted, "How, then, is it that the Apostle says that each one has his proper gift of God?" I answer that this word gift is of two-fold meaning: (1.) It denotes the state itself of matrimony, or celibacy, or religion; (2.) The grace that is necessary and peculiar to this or that state. If you take the first, then each man"s own gift is from God, but only materially, inasmuch as that gift which each one has chosen for himself and made his own is also from God. For God instituted, either directly or by His Church, matrimony and celibacy and other states, and gave this or that state to each one according as he wished for it; and in this sense each one has his own gift, partly from God and partly from himself and his own will. But properly and formally, that this gift or that is proper to this or that man, is often a matter of free-will. Yet it may be said to be so far from God as the whole direction of secondary causes, and all good providence generally is from God. For God in His providence directs each one through his parents, companions, confessors, teachers, and through other secondary causes, by which it comes to pass that one devoted himself, though freely, to matrimony, another to the priesthood. For all this direction does not place him under compulsion, but leaves him free.

Here notice1. that the Apostle might have said, "Every man hath his proper state of himself, having chosen it by an exercise of his free-will;" but he chose rather to say that "every man hath his proper gift of God," because he wished to console the married. Lest any one, therefore, who was of scrupulous conscience and penitent should torture himself and say, "Paul wishes us to be like him, single and virgins; why ever did I then, miserable man that I am, enter into matrimony? It is my own fault that I did not embrace the better state of virginity, that I have deprived myself of so great a good, that I have plunged myself into the cares and distractions of marriage"—for this is how weak-minded, troubled, and melancholy people often look at things, and especially when they find difficulties in their state; and therefore they seek after higher and more perfect things, and torture themselves by attributing to their own imprudence the loss of some good, and the miseries that they have incurred—Paul, then, to obviate this, says that the gift, in the sense explained above, is not of man but of God. And therefore each one ought to be content with his state and calling, as being the gift of God—ought to be happy, perfect himself, and give thanks to God.

2. Gift may be the grace befitting each state. The married require one kind of grace to maintain conjugal fidelity, virgins another to live in virginity; and this grace peculiar to each is formally from God, because, it being given that you have chosen a certain state, whether of matrimony, or celibacy, or any other, God will give you the grace that is proper to that state to enable you, if you will, to live rightly in it. For this belongs to the rightly ordered providence of God, that since He has not seen fit to prescribe to each of us his state, but has left the choice of it, as well as mist other things, to our own free-will, He will not forsake a man when he has made his choice, but will give him the grace necessary for living honestly in that state. Consequently He will supply to all the means necessary to salvation, by which, if thy are willing, they will be enabled to live holily and be saved. For else it would be impossible for many to be saved, as, e.g., for religious and others who have taken a vow of chastity, for one married who has bound himself to a person that is hard to please, infirm, or detestable. To meet and overcome such difficulties they need to receive from God proper and sufficient grace. For neither the married can be loosed from matrimony, nor the religious from their vow, to adopt some other state more fitting for them.

In this the sense of this passage is: Choose whatever state you like, and God will give you grace to live in it holily. So Ambrose. And that this is the strict meaning if the Apostle is evident from the words, "For I would," which import: I have said that I allow, but do not command, the state of wedlock; for I would that all would abstain from it, and cultivate chastity, and live a single life; but still each one has his own gift—let him be content with that, kat him exercise that. Let the single man who has received virginal or widowed chastity, i.e., the grace by which he can contain himself, look upon it as the gift of God; let the married, who has received conjugal chastity, i.e., the grace of using wedlock chastely, look upon it as the gift of God, be content with it, and use it as such.

Hence it follows (1.) that God gives to minks, even though they be apostates, the gift of sufficient grace to enable them, if they will, to live chastely; that is to say, if they pray to God, give themselves to fasting, to holy reading, to manual labour, to constant occupation. Otherwise they would be bound to an impossibility, and God would be wanting to them in things necessary, and they would not have the gift proper to their state, although the Apostle here asserts that each one, whether unmarried, or virgin, or married, has the gift of chastity proper to his state.

It follows (2.) that if any one changed his state for the better, God also changes and gives him a greater gift, and a greater measure of grace befitting that state, for this is necessary to a more perfect state. So the Council of Trent (Sess. xxiv. can9) lays down: "If any one says that clerks who have been placed in Holy Orders, or regulars who have solemnly professed chastity, and who do not think that they have the gift of chastity, can lawfully enter into matrimony, let him be anathema, since God does not deny it to them that seek for it, nor suffer us to be tempted above that we are able."

Hath his gift of God. The gifts of God are twofold1. Some are wholly from God. So the gifts of Nature, which is but another name for god, inasmuch as He is the Author and Maker of Nature, are talent, judgment, memory, and a good disposition. The gifts of grace again are faith, hope, charity, and all the virtues infused by God, as the Author of grace.

2. Other gifts are from God indeed, but require for their due effect out co-operation. For example, all prevenient grace and good inspirations are gifts of God; so all good works, and the acts of all virtues, are gifts of God, says S. Augustine, because he gives (a) prevenient grace to excite us to these works and these actions, and (b) co-operating grace, by which He works with men to produce such things. Yet this grace so acts that man is left free, and has it in his power to act or not, to use this grace or not. In this sense all good works are gifts of God: yet they are free to man, and subject to his will and power. Of this second class the Apostle is here speaking in connection with the gift of chastity. The gift of chastity is, strictly speaking, an infused habit, or an acquired habit in those who already have it infused. But for those who have not yet the habit, there is sufficient help of grace, both internal and external, prepared for each one by God, so that by freely co-operating with it, each one may live in chastity, if he is willing to use that help. And this is evident from what is said in vers25 , 35 , 38 , about the single life being counselled by God and Christ, who puts it before all men, and advises them to adopt it. But God does not advise a man to anything which is not in his power; but the single life is not in the power of each man, unless his will is helped by the grace of God. Therefore Christ has prepared, and is prepared to give to each one, this grace that is necessary to a single life and to virginity. If he is ready to give to each one virginal chastity, much more conjugal. Whoever, therefore, has his proper gift, that if his proper grace, in its beginning, will have it also in its perfect ending, if he will only pray to God earnestly and constantly to give him the grace prepared for him, and then co-operate vigorously with the grace that he has received.

Ver8.—I say, therefore, to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. I am unmarried: let them remain the same. Hence it is most evident that S. Paul has no wife, but was single.

Ver9.—But if they cannot contain, let then marry, for it is better to marry than to burn. This may be a reference to Ruth 1:13. It is better to marry than to burn, unless, that is, you are already wedded to Christ by a vow. Cf. S. Ambrose (ad Virg. Laps.c. v.). for to those who are bound by a vow of chastity, and are professed, as well as for husbands, it is better to burn and commit fornication than to marry a second time. For such marriage would be a permanent sacrilege or adultery, which is worse than fornication, or some momentary sacrilege; just as it is better to sin than to be in a constant state of sin, and to sin from obstinacy and contempt. But it is best of all neither to marry, nor to burn, but to contain, as Ambrose says; and this can be done by all tho have professed chastity, as was said in the last note, no matter how grievously they may be tempted. The Apostle going it so in his sore temptation, as many other saints have done, and especially he to whom the devils exclaimed, when they were overcome by him and put to confusion through the resistance he made to their temptation: "Thou hast conquered, hast conquered, for thou hast been in the fire and not been burnt."

Burn here does not denote to be on fire, or to be tempted by the heat of lust, but to be injured and overcome by it, to yield and consent to it. For it is not he that feels the heat of the fire that is sain to be burnt by it, but he that is injured and scorched by it. So Virgil sings of Dido, who had been overcome by love for neas (n468): "The ill-starred Dido burns and wanders frantically about the city." Cf. also Sirach 23:22. The Apostle is giving the reason why he wishes the incontinent and weak to marry, viz., lest they should burn, i.e., commit fornication; others, who are combatants of great soul, he wishes to contain. In other words, let those who do not contain marry, for it is better to marry than to burn. So Theodoret, Ambrose, Anselm, S. Thomas, Augustine (de Sancta Virgen, c74), Jerome (Apolog. pro Lib. contra Jovin.). "It is better," says S. Jerome, "to marry a husband than to commit fornication." And S. Ambrose says: "To burn is to be at the mercy of the desires; for when the will consents to the heat of the flesh it burns. To suffer the desires and not be overcome by them is the part of an illustrious and perfect man."

It may be objected that S. Cyprian ( Ephesians 11ad. Pompon. lib. i.) says of virgins who have consecrated themselves to Christ, that "if they cannot or will not persevere, it is better for them to marry than to burn." But Pamelius, following Turrianus and Hosius, well replies that S. Cyprian is not speaking of virgins already consecrated but of those about to be. These he advises not to dedicate and vow themselves to Christ if they do not intend to persevere; and in the same epistle he points out that that would be adulterous towards Christ if, after a vow of chastity, they should be wedded to men. Like the apostle here, he is speaking, therefore, not of those who are already bound, but of those who are free. Erasmus therefore is wrong and impudent, as usual, in making a note in the margin of this passage of S. Cyprian"s, "Cyprian allows sacred virgins to marry."

It may be objected secondly that S. Augustine says (de Sancta Virgin. c34) that those vowed virgins who commit fornication would do better to marry than to burn, i.e., than to be consumed by the flame of lust.

I answer (1.) that this is a mere passing remark of S. Augustine"s, meaning that for such it would be better, i.e., a less evil to marry than to commit fornication. He does not deny that they sin by marrying, but he only asserts that they sin less by marrying than by committing fornication. In the same way we might say to a robber, "It is better to rob a man than to kill him," i.e., it is a less evil. (2.) For such it is even absolutely better to marry than to burn, if only they enter into wedlock lawfully, that is to say, with the consent of the Church and a dispensation of their vow of continency from the Pope. (3.) Possibly, and not improbably. S. Augustine"s meaning was that even for those who have no such dispensation it is better to marry than to commit fornication persistently, i.e., to live in a state of fornication and concubinage. And the reason is that such a one, if she marries, sins indeed grievously against her vow by marrying; yet still, after her marriage she may keep her vow of chastity and be free from sin, viz., by not exacting, but only paying the marriage debt, as the women commonly do of whom S. Augustine is here speaking. If, however, such a one is constantly breaking her vow, and she consequently sins more grievously than she would by marrying. For those acts of fornication constantly repeated seem to be a far worse evil and more grievously sinful than the single act of entering into a contract of marriage against a vow of continency. For though this one act virtually includes many, viz., the seeing and paying of the marriage debt as oft as it shall please either, yet this is only remotely and implicitly. But one who commits fornication constantly sins directly and explicitly, and daily repeats such actions; therefore he sins more grievously. For it is worse to sin explicitly and in many acts than by one tacit and implicit action.

Observe also that at the time of S. Augustine these maidens who had vowed and professes chastity, though they might sin by marrying, yet might contract a lawful marriage. For the Church, as S. Augustine gives us plainly enough to understand, had not at that rime made the solemn vow an absolute barrier to matrimony. Moreover, it is evident from his next words that S. Augustine is of opinion that such ought simply and absolutely to keep their vow of chastity; for he adds: "Those virgins who repent them of their profession and are wearied of confession, unless they direct their heart aright, and again overcome their lust by the fear of God, must be reckoned among the dead."

Lastly, that the Apostle is here speaking to those who are free, and not to those who are bound by a vow, is proved at length by Chrysostom, Theodoret, Theophylact, Œcumenius, by Epiphanius (Hæres61), Ambrose (ad Virgin. Lapsam c5), Augustine (de adulter. Conjug. lib. i. c15), Jerome (contra Jovin, lib. i.). S. Ephrem, 1300 years ago, being asked to whom this verse applies, wrote a most exhaustive treatise about it, in which he abundantly proves that it has to do, not with religious or the clergy, and those who have taken a vow of chastity, but with seculars who are free.

Vers10 , 11.—And unto the married I command, &c. The Apostle now passes from the question of marriage to that of divorce; for, as this verse indicated, the Corinthians had put to Paul a second question, one relating to divorce. Granted that in matrimony its use was lawful, nay obligatory, as S. Paul has said, at all events may not one that is faithful to his marriage vow dissolve it and have a divorce? And again, when a divorce has taken place, may not the wife or the husband marry again? This verse and ver11give the answer to the question.

He says let her remain unmarried. Hence it follows that divorce, even supposing it to be just and lawful, does not loose the marriage knot, but only dispenses with the marriage debt; so that if the wife os an adulteress it is not lawful for the innocent husband to enter into another marriage. And the same holds good for the wife if the husband is an adulterer.

We should take notice of this against the heretics Erasmus, Cajetan, and Catherinus, who say that this cannot be proved from Scripture, but only from the Canons. But they mistake, as is evident from this passage of S. Paul"s. For the Apostle is here speaking evidently of a just separation made by the wife when she is innocent, and injured by her husband committing adultery, for he permits her to remain separated, or to be reconciled to her husband. For if he were speaking if an unjust separation, such as when a wife flies from her husband without any fault on his side, he would have had not to permit of separation but altogether to order a reconciliation.

It may be said that the word reconciled points to some offence and injury done by the wife who caused the separation, and that therefore S. Paul is speaking if an unjust separation. I reply by denying the premiss. For reconcile merely signifies a return to mutual good-will; and the offending party in spoken of as being reconciled to the offended just as much as the offended to the offending. For instance, in2Macc. i5 , it is said "that God may hear your prayers and be reconciled to you." The Councils and Fathers explain this passage in this way, and lay down from it that fornication dissolves the marriage bond so far as bed and board are concerned, but not so that it is lawful to marry another. Cf. Concil. Milevit. c17; Concil. Elibert. c9; Concil. Florent. (Instruct. Armen. de Matrim.); Concil. Trident Sess. xx. can7); Pope Evaristus ( Ephesians 2); S. Augustine de Adulter. Conjug. (lib. ii. c4); S. Jerome (Ep. ad Amand.); Theodoret, Œcumenius, Haymo, Anselm and others.

It may be said that Ambrose, commenting on this verse, says that the Apostle speaks of the wife only, because it is never lawful for her to marry another after she is divorced; but that it is lawful for the husband, after putting away an adulterous wife, to marry another, because he is the head of the woman. I answer that from this and similar passages it is evident that this commentary on S. Paul"s Epistles is not the work of S. Ambrose, or at all events that these passages are interpolations. For in matrimony and divorce the same law governs the wife which governs the husband, as the true Ambrose lays down (in Lucam viii. and de Abraham, lib. i. c4). What then the Apostle says of the wife applies equally to the husband; for he is speaking to all that are married, as he says himself; and moreover, in ver5 , he declared that the marriage rights of husband and wife are equal, and that each has equal power over the other"s body.

Let not the husband put away his wife. I.e., without grave and just cause; for it is allowed to put her away because of fornication and other just causes.

Ver12.—But to the rest speak I . . . let him not put her away.

The rest are those that are married and belong to different religions; and to them I say, that if a brother, i.e., one of the faithful, have a wife that is an unbeliever, &c. In other words, I have thus far spoken to married people when both are of the number of the faithful, as I implied in ver5 , when I said "that ye may give yourselves to prayer." Now, however, I am addressing those of whim one is a believer, the other an unbeliever. This is the explanation given by many together with S. Augustine, who will be quoted directly.

But if this is so it is certainly strange that the Apostle did not express himself more clearly, for by the addition of a single word he might have said more simply: "To the faithful who are married it is not I that speak but the Lord; but to the rest, viz., to those married couples of whom one is an unbeliever, I speak, not the Lord." But by saying not to the faithful, but unto the married, he seems to speak in general terms of all that are married, whether believers or unbelievers. Nor is it to be objected to this that in ver5 he speaks casually to the faithful, for there he is excepting from the general law which governs the marriage debt those of the faithful who are married, when by mutual consent they give themselves to prayer. But this exception is not to be made to cover all the marriage laws, which the Apostle in this chapter us laying down for all who are married. Moreover, the Apostle so far has not said a single word about the unbeliever, or about a difference of religion.

Hence we may say secondly and better, that the rest are those who are not joined in matrimony. For by the words but and the rest this verse is opposed to ver10 , as will appear more clearly directly.

Speak I, not the Lord. "I command," says Theodoret. But S. Augustine (de Adulter. Conjug. lib. i. c13et seq.), Anselm, and S. Thomas interpret it: I give the following advice, viz., that the believing husband is not to put away an unbelieving wife who lives at peace with him, and vice vers.

There is a third interpretation, and the best of all, given us from the Roman, Plantinian, and other Bibles, which put a full stop after the words, But to the rest speak I, not the Lord, this separating them from what follows and joining them to what precedes. We have then the meaning as follows: To the rest, viz., the unmarried, the Lord gives no command (supply command from ver, 10), but I say, and I advise what I said and advised before in ver8 , viz., that it is good for them to remain as they are, unmarried.

This interpretation too is supported by the antithesis between the rest and the married, by which it is clear that the rest must be the unmarried, not married people of different faiths. Moreover, he explains himself in this way in ver25 , where he says, "Now, concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord, yet I give my judgment," which is identical with what he says here, "To the rest speak I, not the Lord."

If any brother hath a wife that believeth not. This is the third question put to Paul by the Corinthians: Can one of the faithful that is married live with an unbelieving partner? S. Augustine and others, as I have said, connect these words with the preceding, which then give as the meaning: Although Christ permitted a believer to put away his wife that believeth not, yet I give as my advice that he do not put her away; for to put her away is neither expedient for her salvation nor for that of the children, if she is willing to live with a believer without casting reproach on her Creator and on the faith. Hence many doctors, cited by Henriquez (de Matrim. lib. xi. c8), gather indirectly by analogy that, since Paul forbids what Christ permits, one of the faithful that is married may, by Christ"s permission, put away an unbelieving partner that refuses to be converted, and contract another marriage. On the contrary, when both are believers, neither is allowed this, as has been said. But if we separate these words, as the Roman Bible does, from the preceding, by a full stop, nothing if the kind can be proved. Nay, Thomas Sanchez (de Matrim. vol. ii. disp73 , no7), who does not read any full stop, as S. Augustine does not, and so refers these words to what follows, thinks that all that is exactly to be gathered from this is that Christ permits to a married believer separation a toro, but not dissolution of a marriage entered into with one that believes not. In the third place, this passage might be explained to mean that Christ laid down no law on this matter, but left it to be settled by His Apostles and His Church, according to needs of different ages, as, e.g., the Church afterwards declared the marriage of a believer with as unbeliever null and void, if one was a believer at the time of the marriage. According to S. Augustine"s reading, this rendering is obtained with difficulty; according to the Roman, not at all. For all that the Apostle means is that the believer is not to put away an unbeliever, if the latter is willing to live with the former. Cf. note to ver15.

Infidelity in S. Paul"s time was no impediment that destroyed a marriage contracted with a believer, nor did it prevent it from being contracted, if the believer ran no risk of apostatising, and if the unbeliever would consent to live in peace with the believer, retaining his faith, as S. Paul here lays down. But now by long custom it has become the law of the Church that not heresy but infidelity not only impedes, but also destroys a marriage which any one who was a believer at the time might wish to contract with an unbeliever.

Ver14.—For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife. Such union by marriage is holy. The believer, therefore, is not, as you so scrupulously fear, defiled by contact with an unbeliever, but rather the unbeliever, as Anselm says, is sanctified by a kind of moral naming and sprinkling of holiness, both because he is the husband of a holy, that is a believing, wife, and also because by not hindering his wife in her faith, and by living happily with her, he as it were paves the way for himself to be converted by the prayers, merits, words, and example of his believing wife, and so to become holy. So did S. Cecilia convert her husband Valerian; Theodora, Sisinnius; Clotilda, Clodævus. So say Anselm, Theophylact, Chrysostom.

S. Natalia, the wife of S. Adrian, is illustrious for having not only incited her husband to adopt the faith, but also most gloriously to undergo martyrdom for it. For when she had heard that women were forbidden to serve the martyrs, and that the prison-doors would not be opened to them, she shaved off her hair, and having donned man"s dress, she entered the prison and strengthened the hearts of the martyrs by her good offices. Other matrons followed her example. At length the tyrant Maximianus discovered the fraud, and ordered an anvil to be brought into the prison, and the arms and legs of the martyrs to be placed on it and smashed with a crow-bar. The lictors did as they had been ordered; and when the Blessed Natalia saw it, she went to meet them and asked them to begin with Adrian. The executioners did so, and when the leg of Adrian was placed on the anvil, Natalia caught hold of his foot and held it in position. Then the executioners aimed a blow with all their might, and cut off his feet and smashed his legs. Forthwith Natalia said to Adrian, "I pray thee, my lord, servant of Christ, while your spirit remains in you, stretch forth your hand that they may also cut that off, and that you may be made like the martyrs in all things: for greater sufferings have they endured than these." Then Adrian stretched out his hand, and gave it to Natalia, who placed it on the anvil, and then the executioners cut it off. Then they took the anvil away, and soon after his spirit fled. Cf. his life, September8th.

It is worth our notice what Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople, writes, in his exposition of the Council of Florence (Sess. v.) of Theophilus, a heretic and not a heathen emperor, son of Michael the Stammerer, who was saved by the prayers of his wife Augusta. He had made an onslaught on images, and his mouth was in consequence so violently pulled open that men might see down his throat. This brought him to his senses, and he kissed the holy image. Shortly afterwards he was taken away to appear before the tribunal of God, and through the prayers offered for him by his wife and by holy men he received the pardon; for the queen in her sleep saw a vision of Theophilus bound and being dragged by a vast multitude, going before and following. Before him were borne different instruments of torture, and she saw those following who were being led to punishment until they came into the presence of the terrible Judge, and before Him Theophilus was placed. Then Augusta threw herself at the feet of the Dread Judge, and with many tears besought Him earnestly for her husband. The terrible Judge said to her: "O woman, great is thy faith; for thy sake, and because of the prayers of thy priests, I pardon thy husband." Then He said to His servants: "Loose him, and deliver him to his wife." It is also said that the Patriarch Methodius, having collected and written down the names of all kinds of heretics, including Theophilus, placed the roll under the holy table. Then in the same night on which the queen saw the vision, he too saw a holy angel entering the great temple, and saying, "O Bishop, thy prayers are heard, and Theophilus has found pardon." On awaking from sleep he went to the holy table, and lo! the unsearchable judgment of god, he found the name of Theophilus blotted out. Cf. also Baronuis (Annal. vol. ix., A.D842).

Else were your children unclean. If you were to put away a wife that believed not, your children would be looked upon as having been born in unlawful wedlock, and as therefore illegitimate. But, as it is, they are holy, i.e., clean—conceived and born in honourable and lawful wedlock. So Ambrose, Anselm, Augustine (de Peccat. Meritis. lib.ii. c26). In the second place they would be strictly unclean, because they would be enticed into infidelity, and educated in it by the unbelieving parent, who had sought for the divorce through hatred of his partner; and especially if it is the father that is the unbeliever, for in such cases the children for the most part follow the father. But if the believer remain in wedlock with the unbeliever, the children are holy, because, with the tacit permission of the unbeliever, they can easily be sanctified, baptized, and Christianly educated through the faith, the diligence, and care of the believer. So S. Augustine (de Peccat. Meritis. lib. iii. c12), and after Tertullian, S. Jerome (ad Paulin. Ephesians 153). It is from this passage that Calvin and Beza have gathered their doctrine f imputed righteousness, teaching that the children of believers are strictly holy, and can be saved without baptism. They say that by the very fact that they are children of believers they are regarded as being born in the Church, according to the Divine covenant in Gen. xvii. "I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee." Similarly, in the Civil Law, when one parent is free the children are born free.

But these teachers err, For (1.) the Apostle says equally that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. But it is not precisely correct to say that such a man is sanctified through his wife; neither, therefore, is it strictly true of the child. (2.) The Church is not a civil but a supernatural republic, and in it no one is born a Christian; but by baptism, which has taken the place of circumcision, every one is spiritually born again and is made holy, not civilly but really, by faith, hope, and charity infused into his soul. This is the mind of the Fathers and the whole Church. (3.) It is said absolutely in S. John 3:5, that "except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It is therefore untrue that any one not born of water, but merely of believing parents, can enter into the kingdom of God.

Ver15.—But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. If the unbeliever seek for a dissolution of the marriage, or will not live with his partner without doing injury to God, by endeavouring to draw her way to unbelief or to some wickedness, or by uttering blasphemy against God, or Christ, or the faith, then, as Sanchez lays down from the common consent of the Doctors of the Church (vol. ii. disp74), he by so acting is rightly regarded to wish for a separation; then let the unbeliever depart from the unbelieving, because it is better, says S. Chrysostom, to be divorced from one"s husband than from God.

Observe that the Apostle in this case allows a separation, not only a toro but also a vinculo; and therefore the believer may contract another marriage, this being a concession made by Christ in favour of the faith; otherwise a Christian man or woman would be subject to slavery. For it is a grievous slavery to be bound in matrimony to an unbeliever, so as not to be able to marry another, and to be bound to live a life of celibacy, even if the unbeliever depart. So S. Augustine (de Adulter. Conjug. lib. i. c13), S. Thomas, and S. Ambrose, who says: "The marriage obedience is not owing to him who scoffs at the Author of marriage, but in such case remarriage is lawful."

Further, many doctors, cited by Henriquez (de Matrim. lib. xi. c8), amongst whom is S. Augustine (de Adulter. Conjug. lib. i. c. xix.), gather from this verse and from verse12that the believer whose unbelieving partner is not willing to be converted, even though he may be willing to live with her without injury to God, has by this very fact a right to enter upon a new marriage. But S. Paul and the Canonical decrees (cap. quanto, cap. Gaudemus, tit, de Divort, and cap. Si Infidelis28 , qu2) only deal with the case where the unbeliever wishes to depart, or where he is a blasphemer against the faith. And, therefore, other doctors, cited by Henriquez, think that in this case it is lawful for the believer to marry again. And this opinion is the more sound not only for the reason given above, but also because the Fathers who support the first opinion rely on glosses on the various capitula, which are merely glosses of Orleans, and if anything darken the text.

Moreover, no gloss by itself can be the foundation of a right, or of a new law. Since, therefore, it is agreed that the marriage of unbelievers is true marriage, and that it is not dissolved by the conversion of either party, because there is no law of God or of the Church to dissolve it, it follows that they must hold to their contract, which by its very nature is indissoluble. This is strengthened by the consideration that each party possesses good faith; therefore it cannot set aside, unless it is agreed that either or both have no right to this marriage, or that one loses his right through the conversion of the other. This, however, is not agreed on, but is highly doubtful. In matters of doubt the position of the possessor is the stronger, and he ought not to be ousted from it because of any doubt that may arise.

Nevertheless, Sanchez adds (disp74 , Numbers 9) that it is lawful for the believer to marry again, because it is now forbidden by the Church to live with an unbeliever who will not be converted, because of the danger of perversion which exists nearly always. The unbeliever is then looked upon as having departed, because he refuses to live with the believer in a lawful and proper manner. But Sanchez means that the Church now forbids in general a believer to continue to live with an unbeliever. But this is denied by Navarrus and others; for though the Fourth Council of Toledo forbids a believer to live with an unbeliever if he is a Jew, this was done merely because of the obstinate tenacity of the Jews to their creed. Neither here nor elsewhere is marriage with a heathen forbidden.

Moreover, the Council of Toledo was merely local, and this same canon has been differently interpreted by different authors, as Sanchez says (disp73 , Numbers 6). And in truth it would be hard and a just cause of offence if, in India, China, and Japan, when the faith is first preached, Christians should be compelled to put away the wives that they had married when unbelievers, or if wives should be compelled to leave their husbands who were unwilling to be converted to Christianity, especially when they were in high position; for occasion would be taken from thence to exterminate Christians and their faith. The case is different in Spain and amongst Christians, where the Church might, without causing scandal, enact this, either by a general law (which as a matter of fact does not exist, as I have said), or by use and custom, by forbidding individuals in particular to remain in marriage with one that was not a believer, because of the danger of perversion. Such a precept it would be the duty of the believer to obey, and therefore it would not be he that was in fault, but the unbeliever, who, by refusing to live in marriage, according to the law binding on the believing partner and the precept of the Church, becomes the cause of the separation. By so acting, the unbeliever will be reckoned to wish for separation, and consequently it would be lawful for the believer to contract another marriage, as Sanchez learnedly argues. For example, Queen Csar, wife of the King of the Persians in the time of the Emperor Mauritius, fled secretly to Constantinople, and was there converted and baptized. When her husband requested her to return, she refused to do so unless he became a Christian. He when went to Constantinople and was there baptized, and assisted out of the font by Augustus, and having received his wife again, he returned joyfully to his home. This happened about the year593 , as Baronius related on the authority of Paul the Deacon and Gregory of Tours. All that has been said must be clearly understood to refer to matrimony contracted when both partied are unbelievers, followed by the conversion of one and the refusal of the other to be converted; for matrimony contracted by an unbeliever with a believer has been declared null and void by the Church since the time of S. Paul and thence it is that difference of faith is a barrier to matrimony. This was the reason why Theresa, sister of Adelphonsus, King of Lige, refused to marry Abdallah, King of the Arabs, unless he adopted the Christian faith. This he promised, but falsely. Therefore on the arrival of Theresa he forced her, in spite of her struggles; but being smitten by God with a sore disease, he was unable to be cured without sending back Theresa to her brother. This is told by Roderic, Vazus, and Baronius (A. D983).

S. Eurosia too, daughter of the King of Bohemia, having been taken prisoner by the King of the Moors, chose death rather than marriage with him; and while she was patiently awaiting the sword of the executioner, she heard an angel saying, "Come, my elect, the spouse of Christ, receive the crown which the Lord hath prepared for you, and the gift that your prayers shall be heard as often as the faithful call upon you for help against rain or any storm whatsoever." Having heard these words, her arms and legs having been lopped off, she gave up the ghost, being renowned for her miracles, as Lucius Marinus Siculus related (de Rebus Hispan, lib. v.).

But God hath called us unto peace. Peace of conscience with God, and of agreement with men. Therefore, on our part, let us not depart from unbelieving husbands, but live with them as peacefully as we can. Secondly, and more fitly, peace here stands for that rest and tranquil life to which the Apostle is urging the married believer. Such a life in separation and solitude is to be preferred to marriage with an unbeliever who wishes to depart, and who is perpetually provoking the believer to quarrel, and disturbing his peace. This better agrees with the mention of departure which has gone just before these words, and of which I shall have more to say.

Ver16.—For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? If we take the first meaning of "peace" given above, the sense will be: Live in peace as far as you can, O believer, with your unbelieving partner, for you know not the good that he may derive thence: perhaps by living with him you will convert him and save him. So Chrysostom, Ambrose, Anselm, Theophylact, and others, If we take the second meaning of peace, the sense will be still better. Peace is the gift of Christ; to this have we been called by Christ, not to unhappy and quarrelsome slavery. If, therefore, the unbeliever seeks by quarrels, abuse, by threats against the faith and against his faithful partner, to drive her away, let her depart and live peacefully, and give up all hope of his conversion. For what ground of hope is there of one that is a heathen, blasphemous, and quarrelsome? Therefore, what do you know, or whence do you hope to save him?

Ver17.— But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. I have said this much about the marriage of an unbeliever with a believer, and about separation and divorce, if the unbeliever seek for it, and about living together in peace; but I do not wish to be understood to mean that a divorce is to be sought for, or that peace is to be broken, merely through lust and a desire to change one"s state, as, e.g., that a believer, because he is a believer and called to Christian liberty, may desire and find an excuse for changing his servile condition into one of freedom, his position as a Gentile into that if a Jew. I ordain, therefore, that each one of the faithful, whether he be a Jew or a Gentile, bond or free, maintain the state and condition which the Lord has given him, and which he had before he became a believer. Let each one walk in his own line; let him be content with that, and live as becometh a Christian; let him not grow restless to change his state because of his Christianity, and so cause the Gentiles to stumble.

This seems to be the answer to a fourth question put to Paul by the Corinthian

 


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Bibliography Information
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:4". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/clc/1-corinthians-7.html. 1890.

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Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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