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SYNOPSIS OF THE CHAPTER
i. He puts prophecy before the gift of tongues, because ( a ) it is of great use in edifying others, and tongues are not, unless some one interpret; ( b ) because (Ver. 21) prophecy is given to the faithful, while tongues are a sign to them that believe not, and he proves this from Isaiah xxviii.
ii. He gives a rule for the due use of these gifts, and lays down laws to be observed in the meetings of the Church for public worship; amongst other things he bids (ver. 34) women keep silence always.
The Apostle began in chap. xii. to treat of the various gifts of the Spirit, which He distributes to whom He wills and as He wills; and then, to take away all boasting from the Corinthians about these gifts, and especially about the gift of tongues, he exhorted them, in chap. xiii., to follow after charity as the queen of all graces and gifts; he now, in this chapter, returns to consider these gifts, and points out that not only charity but also prophecy excels the gift of tongues.
The question arises, What does S. Paul mean in this chapter by prophecy and what by a prophet? This is the chief difficulty to be met with here.
The word "prophet," properly speaking, denotes one who, by revelation from God, foretells an event before it comes to pass. The word is of Greek, not Latin, origin, coming from two words denoting to speak beforehand, as though the prophet saw an event before it happened. This is the origin of the word. Like most words, it then acquired a secondary meaning, and was extended to signify one who reveals the secrets of the heart or other mysteries, and one, especially who knows the will of God, and becomes His interpreter and messenger to others, and who sees and proclaims the mysteries of the mind and will of God. So Abraham, from being admitted to familiar intercourse with God, was honoured with the title of prophet ( Gen 20:7 ).
Hence prophecy generally in Scripture is the power of knowing more fully and more surely than is given to most men the counsels and determinations of God, and also of proclaiming them for the purpose of edifying the Church. This power is inspired by the Holy Spirit into some men, who are hence called prophets. A part of this power consists in a provision and prediction of future events, or even of any hidden things, whether past or future. Another part of it, and one that is far more important and more exalted, one not derived from study but inspired by the same Spirit, consists in discoursing more ably and more divinely of the being and attributes of God. If it were derived from study, it would be knowledge and doctrine, not prophecy; and so S. Paul, who received his Gospel, not from man but by the revelation of Jesus Christ ( Gal 1:12 ), taught and preached rather from a constant flow of prophecy than of doctrine.
1. They then are called prophets who, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, forth-tell future events or hidden mysteries.
2. Those teachers only who so exhort to piety are to be called prophets.
3. Those too received the name of prophets who were borne along by a Divine impulse to praise God with hymns and to provoke the people to devotion. So, in 1 Samuel 10:0 , the Spirit of God came on Saul and he prophesied; and again, in chap. 12., he laid aside his clothes and lay down naked, singing his prophecies a whole day and night. Again, since Elijah and EIisha had disciples, who at fixed times, like men devoted to religion, occupied themselves more zealously than others in singing psalms, in prayers and praises, in investigating, meditating on, and teaching the law, and since they sometimes were carried away by the power of the Spirit, as, e.g ., he who anointed Jehu hence all these were called prophets, and their sons or disciples were called sons of the prophets. Frequent mention of them is made in 2 Kings. They were especially so called because among them were some true prophets.
4. Hence the name of prophet is extended to any singers, so that to prophesy is the same as to play or to sing anything in praise of God. So, in 1 Chronicles 25:1 , the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun are said to prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals. Still among them there were prophets indeed, such as the leaders of the singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, composed the psalms that bear their names, as the Hebrews hand down to us by tradition.
(5.) By an abuse of the word, those are called prophets who, under the influence of some evil spirit, lose their self-control, and utter idiotic and frensied sounds. So, in 1 Samuel 18:9 , it is said that "an evil spirit of God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of his house," i.e ., he spoke and acted as one demented, like one filled with frensy. Hence the heathen called their poets seers and prophets, because they seemed borne along by the irresistible power of the Muses, as, e.g ., the Sibyls in composing and singing their songs. So Ovid ( Fasti , lib. vi. 5.) says "God is within us, enkindling us to song,
And fanning into flame the sparks of heavenly truth."
So, in Tit 1:21 , the poet Epimenides is called a prophet.
(6.) "To prophesy" also denotes the working of miracles; for this was the work of prophets, who were holy men, gifted from above, and like organs of God and of His wisdom and power. So, in Ecclus. xlviii., the dead body of Elisha is said to have prophesied, because by its touch it raised a man from the dead ( 2Ki 13:21 ). The word "prophet" is so used in S. Luke 7:16 .
(7.) To prophesy is to confirm prophecy. So, in Ecclus. xlxx., the bones of Joseph are said to have prophesied after his death, viz., when they were carried with the Israelites out of Egypt, and so testified silently that the prophecy about them was true.
From all these it is evident that prophecy, strictly speaking, is that gift which was frequently given before Christ came, as well as in the Primitive church, but which now for the most part has ceased, and is only vouchsafed to a very few men, for a testimony to their exceptional holiness. The frequency of such gifts was miraculous, and came almost to an end with the Apostles; that is to say, they are not now given, as then, promiscuously, but to very few and very seldom. It was the purpose of the Lord that those miracles should shine forth brightly, to draw the attention of the heathen to the Gospel, and to convince them of its truth. Now, however, that the faith has been well grounded and the world converted, He withdraws them and bids the Church depend for her growth and perfection on the usual instruments of teaching and exhortation. Cf. Jansenius ( Concordia , c. 47).
A second question arises, Which of these various meanings does S. Paul apply here to the word "prophet?" Chrysostom and Theophylact say that he uses the word in the strict meaning of "one who foretells future things." This was his meaning, they say, in chapter xii. Theodoret takes prophecy to mean the revelation of thoughts and other hidden mysteries, and quotes ver. 24 in support of his opinion.
But we should notice that the Apostle is describing in this chapter everything that took place then in the public assemblies of the Church, and that he includes them all under the names of tongues and of prophesying. For the Holy Spirit then would fill many in the Church to sing and speak spiritual songs, hymns, prayers, collects, and psalms in strange tongues, in the presence of an unlettered crowd of all sorts of men, just as He did on the day of Pentecost, as described in Acts ii. This is supported by S. Dionysius ( de Div. Nomin . c. 3) and by Tertullian ( Apol . 29), and the Apostle calls this "the gift of tongues," or "speaking in tongues." To others the Holy Spirit would give the power of ex- pounding Holy Scripture, or of teaching or preaching, or of singing, or of leading the people in exalted prayer in the vulgar tongue, and hence, as Chrysostom and Theodoret point out, of manifesting the secrets of men's hearts, and even of uttering real prophecies. All these things S. Paul includes here under the name of prophecy, especially preaching and teaching, and he opposes them to the gift of tongues. Cf. vers. 4-6, 31, and especially vers. 25, 26. For the prophets of old time not only foretold future things, but taught and preached, and mingled with their teaching psalms and prayers. Therefore the Apostle here puts this kind of prophecy before tongues, and throughout the whole chapter exhorts them to it, and gives directions for its due use and its order in the public assemblies of the Church, both before and after the Eucharist; for in these assemblies one would expound Holy Scripture, another exhort, a third sing a hymn, a fourth a psalm, even sometimes in a foreign tongue. Cf. Ambrose, Anselm, and Philo ( de Essæis ). The word "prophet" has this meaning also in chap. xi. vers. 4, 5.
We must notice too, that S. Paul does not here call all prophets who simply explain the obscure passages of the Prophets or of Holy Scripture, nor yet all those who teach others or exhort, as some writers suppose, but only those who do so by the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and not from learning acquired by laborious study. This is plain from ver. 30, where he says. "If anything be revealed to another, let the first hold his peace," and from ver. 32: "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." By the name of prophets he means those who were filled with the Holy Spirit, and received from Him some revelation of doctrine, or word of exhortation, or of prayer. This was frequently given then, as appears from ver. 26. But when that influence of the Holy Spirit ceased, it was succeeded by reading of the Scriptures, preaching, psalm-singing before the Mass, during the Mass, and after the Mass. Cf. note on ver. 26. Ver. 1. Follow after Charity. Pursue it eagerly so as to obtain it, just as a huntsman pursues a wild animal.
Desire spiritual gifts. These are, S. Chrysostom says, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, not His graces, as, e.g ., the gift of tongues or of healing, and the others referred to in chap. xi. S. Paul bids them desire these, try to obtain them, especially by prayer, not from any desire for superiority but from charity, that they may profit others and the Church at large by means of those gifts.
But rather that ye may prophesy. Viz., that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit ye may teach, say, or sing such things as may stir up the devotion of others. This has just been seen to be the force of "prophecy." Ver. 2. He that speaketh in a tongue , &c. S. Augustine ( de Gen. ad Litt. lib. xii.), Primasius, and Cajetan read the nominative in the last clause of this verse, "Howbeit the Spirit speaketh mysteries," The meaning then would be: The Holy Spirit speaks of hidden mysteries in the Holy Scriptures, which cannot be understood, except some prophet or doctor interpret them. But this meaning is foreign to the context, and this reading is not supported by the Greek or Latin copies. Ver. 3. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to . . . comfort . This is what I said before, that to prophesy means here to speak words which edify, exhort, and comfort others. Hence, to prophesy is better than to speak in unknown tongues, which no one understands, and from which no one can receive instruction, edification, or comfort.
Ver. 6. Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues . . . or by doctrine? His tongues would profit them nothing unless he added to them a revelation, that is an explanation of the revelation given him; or knowledge , that is a declaration of what he knew, whether infused by God or acquired by study; or prophecy , that is a statement of what he knew, either by prophecy properly so called or improperly, in the way of explanation of hidden and difficult things, especially of Holy Scripture; or doctrine , that is an accommodation of his discourse to their capacity. Such is pretty nearly the explanation given by S. Thomas and Theophylact. To complete the sense of the verse we must supply: But I shall do nothing of this sort if I merely speak with tongues and do not interpret, so that you may understand me; therefore it is better to prophesy than to speak with tongues, unless some one interpret.
But in the second place we can understand the Apostle's meaning still better if we join knowledge with doctrine, and revelation with prophecy. For, as it was from their stores of knowledge that learned men drew the teaching that they gave others, so was it from revelation that they prophesied. Prophecy is distinguished from doctrine in that it is received by revelation, doctrine from knowledge; for what we teach has been acquired by intellectual study. So Tolatus and Jansenius, in the place quoted above, say that S. Paul's meaning is, "Though I speak in unknown tongues, but do not teach you, whether by knowledge gained by study or by prophecy received by revelation, I shall profit you nothing."
Thirdly, Cassianus ( Collat xiv. 8) sees here the four senses of Holy Scripture: in the doctrine the literal sense, in the revelation the allegorical, in the knowledge the tropological, in the prophecy the allegorical. But this is a mystical and symbolic interpretation. Ver. 7. And even things without life , &c. That tongues profit nothing unless they are understood can be seen, even from a comparison drawn from inanimate things; for a pipe or harp are of no use unless they give a distinct sound. Unless a man knows what is played he will take no pleasure in the sounds, nor will he be induced to dance to the music. Ver. 9. So likewise ye . . . how shall it be known what is spoken. For the tongue is the stamp, the image, the index, and messenger of the mind. As Aristotle says ( Peri Hermen . lib. ii.), "words are signs of the feelings which lie concealed in the soul." Hence Socrates used to determine the mind and character of any one from his voice, and would say, "Speak, young man, that I may see you." But this cannot be if the language of the speaker is unknown to the hearer. Ver. 10. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. As a matter of fact, or for example, there are many different languages: no nation is without its language, no language without its meaning. Others, as Œcumenius, refer the none to the instrument, and say that no pipe or harp but has its proper sound; others, more generally, no object is without its voice. As Ausonius sings to Paulinus: "No creature silent is, nor winged bird,
Nor beast that walks the earth, nor hissing snake:
The cymbals smitten sound, the stage when struck
By dancers' feet, the drum its echo gives."
The best meaning, however, is that no tongue is void of meaning. Ver. 11 . I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian. As Ovid says: "A barbarian here am I, and understood by none."
The word "barbarian" is onomatopoetic, and was first applied by the Greeks to any one who spoke another language than Greek; then by the Romans to one who spoke neither Greek nor Latin; afterwards it denoted any one who spoke any other tongue but that of his native country. Hence Anacharsis the Scythian, when ridiculed as a barbarian by the Athenians, well replied, "The Scythians are barbarians to the Athenians, the Athenians just as much barbarians to the Scythians." Ver. 12. Forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts. Since ye desire to have the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit enumerated in chap. xii, seek them from God abundantly, that ye may use them, not for ostentation, but for the perfecting of the Church. Ver. 13 . Let him that speaketh . . . pray that he may interpret. Paul is here speaking of public prayer, in which one man, even though a layman, inspired by the Holy Spirit, would offer up prayer in an audible voice before all, the others listening, and joining their prayers to his. This is the meaning, as appears from the following verses. But Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Anselm explain it thus: Let him pray that he may receive the gift of the interpretation of tongues, so as to make his own prayer intelligible to others. Ver. 14 . For if I pray in an unknown tongue my spirit prayeth. (1.) My spirit is refreshed; (2.) according to S. Chrysostom, the gift of the Holy Spirit which is in me prayeth, makes me pray and utter my prayer in public. (3.) Theophylact and Erasmus, following S. Basil, understand breath by spirit; in other words, My voice, produced by the vital and vocal breath, prays; but my mind is unfruitful, because it does not understand the meaning of the words uttered. Primasius, too, says that the word "spirit" here is to be understood of prayers uttered sometimes while the mind is thinking of something else. But the first is the true sense, and best fits in with what follows. S. Thomas, commenting on this clause, gives three other meanings, but they are not those in the Apostle's mind.
But my understanding is unfruitful. S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Ambrose, S. Thomas, and Cajetan think that the Apostle is speaking here of those who had received the gift of tongues, but who, like Balaam's ass, did not understand what they said, or at all events did not enter into the mysteries contained in their words. S. Augustine says the same ( de Gen. ad Litt. lib. xii. c. 8 and 9), and it is gathered from ver. 28. For these prayed without fruit in such tongues; for, though their spirit fed on God in pious devotion, yet their mind was not fed on any understanding, of the words of the prayer.
But I say that the Greek νοΰς here is the same as "meaning." It is so rendered in the Latin in ver. 19, and in chap. ii. 16, and in Rev. xvii. 9, where we read, "Here is the meaning" (of the vision of the beast) "which hath wisdom." S. Paul makes the same distinction between the tongue and the mind, or the letter and the spirit, which is so common amongst rhetoricians. "Sense" or meaning here is passive understanding, that by which I am understood by all not active, by which I understand things. This "mind," or signification of tongues, is without fruit, because no one takes it in, and no one is aroused to devotion. This is the natural meaning, and S. Basil seems to hold it ( in Reg. Brev. Interrog. 278).
Secondly, Œcumenius and Theodoret give an explanation which is not improbable: My mind, or my aim and object, is without fruit, not on the part of the speaker but the hearer, whom the speaker strives to excite to piety. It is certain, from vers. 14, 16 and 19, that S. Paul is speaking of fruit on the side of the hearers; for he is speaking of the prayers and spiritual songs which some of the laity composed under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and uttered in public, or sang in the church at the time of their spiritual feasts, for the comfort, instruction, or exhortation of the people. He wishes them to be said in the vulgar tongue, so as to be understood by all; otherwise, he says, they would be fruitless.
You will perhaps say that the Mass and Canonical Hours ought then to be said now in the vulgar tongue. I deny that this follows, for the Apostle is speaking of the prayers which any lay person might compose for the edification or quickening of the people, not of the public Divine offices, which the clergy now perform with the approbation, not to say at the command, and in the name of the whole Church, to worship and praise God with a solemn and uniform majesty in Latin. For if the vernacular tongue were used, it would come to pass (1.) that the uneducated would not understand Divine mysteries, or rather they would misunderstand them, and accept heretical opinions; (2.) the language would have to vary with the countries, or even with the cities. Although all the Germans speak the same language, yet each province has a different idiom: the Westphalians have one, the Swiss another, the Hessians another, and so on. And so if the Divine office were said in the vernacular, in such a difference of dialects division would arise, and sacred things would be ridiculed and despised.
You will urge, secondly, perhaps that the people do not understand Latin: what fruit then have they from the Latin Mass? I answer, (1.) They participate in the sacrifice and also the sacrament if they wish to; (2.) in all the prayers which the priest offers for all men, and especially for those present; (3.) they are inflamed by the decent rites and ceremonies to devotion and elevation of their souls to God in private prayer, especially since parish priests are bound, by the Council of Trent (sess. xxii. c. 8), to explain the service to the people in their sermons. See Bellarmine ( de Verbo. Dei. lib. ii. c. 16). Ver. 15. I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also . I will pray with sense and meaning, intelligibly, so that others may understand me. S. Paul alludes to Psalms 47:7 , where the same double meaning of understanding on the part of speaker and hearer is found. Ver. 16 . Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit , &c. To bless here is to praise God with heart and mouth. S. Thomas understands it of the public blessing of the people; so also do Primasius, Haymo, and Salmeron, the latter of whom strives by many arguments to prove that the Apostle is speaking here of the sacrifice of the Mass, in which the priest blesses God rather than the people; for the two Greek words for "blessing" and "giving thanks," used indifferently by the Evangelists and S. Paul in their accounts of the institution of the Eucharist, are used here, and seem to point to the Mass. It hence derives its names of the "Blessing" and the "Eucharist," or giving of thanks. Add to this that in all the liturgies of the Mass, including those of S. James, S. Clement, S. Basil, and S. Chrysostom, after the consecration of the bread and wine, the people are wont to answer "Amen!" The Apostle, then, seems to mean here that public blessings, prayers, and Masses should not be celebrated in the church in an utterly unknown tongue, but that among the Greeks Greek should be used, among the Hebrews Hebrew, and among the Latins Latin; for these languages are for the most part understood by all who are of each race respectively. If it is impossible to use one language which is understood by all the different peoples who hear the same Mass, then one which is the best known should be selected, such as Latin among us, so that many "in the room of the unlearned" may answer "Amen!" as the Apostle requires.
But that the Apostle is not speaking of the solemn blessing in the Mass, but of any other uttered by some private member, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, in hymn or psalm or prayer, appears (1.) from the Greek particle for else , which, in its meaning of because , gives the cause of the preceding verse. The singular, used in "thy giving of thanks," points also to the private and personal devotion of each of the faithful. (2.) It appears from the drift of the whole chapter, and especially from the conclusion, stated in ver. 26, "Let all things be done to edifying." (3.) It appears again from ver. 31, where he says: "Ye may all prophesy one by one;" and from ver. 29 "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge;" but it was of any one's fresh and private blessing, or prophecy that they were to judge; for the common prayer and liturgy of the whole Church, having been approved of by the whole Church, ought not to be subjected to examination for judgment. All this will better appear from the next paragraph.
The unlearned. Gagneius, following Severian, says the unlearned is the catechumen. Primasius says he is a neophyte. Chrysostom, Ephrem, Theophylact, S. Thomas, and others give the best meaning, viz., one untaught, unlettered, and with no knowledge of tongues.
S. Thomas, Primasius, and Haymo take the "unlearned" here to be the minister who at Divine service says "Amen!" for the people at the end of the Collects. These Fathers say that S. Paul means that at all events the minister at the Mass and other sacred rites should be able to understand the priest, or him who offers up prayer in public, in any other language than the vernacular, and should be able to respond, "Amen!" This is good and fitting teaching, but not necessarily the one uppermost in the mind of the Apostle.
But the "unlearned" here denotes, not some minister of the sacred rites, but any one of the laity. The Greek gives us, "he who sits among the unlearned" that is, is himself unlearned. Prophets and teachers used to sit in one place, the lay people in another. This is the explanation given by Chrysostom and Theophylact. Justin (Revelation 2:0; Revelation 2:0 ) says that the whole of the laity, and consequently any individual of it, was wont to answer "Amen!" Hence S. Jerome, towards the end of his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, says that the people used to answer "Amen!" with a noise like thunder. A minister now says it for the people, so as to prevent a confused murmuring.
The Apostle is speaking here, we must notice once more, of the extempore prayer of the individual, uttered for the purpose of edifying, and which might possibly contain some doctrinal error, as is hinted in ver. 29. He directs that in such prayers the vulgar be used, so that the people may not answer "Amen!" to a prayer in an unknown tongue which is meaningless, absurd, or heretical. He is not speaking of prayers approved by the Church, which for that very reason are free from error, to which a single minister makes reply, and to which the people can add private prayers of their own. Moreover, the Council of Trent orders that sometimes, instead of the sermon, these prayers be explained to the people.
Again, it is lawful to pray in a language not understood by the person who prays, if you are certain that the prayers are good ones, as, e.g ., when nuns say the Canonical Hours in Latin. In the same way the laity, when the priest offers up prayers in Latin, can pray with him, and add the intention of seeking that the priest may obtain for himself and all the people what he asks in the name of the Church in the beautiful prayers provided. And even if they do not understand them, and get no nourishment for their understanding from the meaning of the prayers, yet they reap the fruit of devotion to God, and of reverence towards the prayers; nay, they merit and obtain more than those who understand them if they pray with more humility, piety, and fervour.
S. Jordanes, when asked whether such prayers as these of nuns were pleasing to God, well replied: " Just as a jewel in the hand of a peasant who knows not its value is worth as much as if it were in the hand of a goldsmith or jeweller who knew its value, so too prayers in the mouth of one who does not understand them are worth as much as if they were uttered by one who knew their meaning ." A petition presented to a king by an ignorant peasant would obtain as much consideration as one presented by a learned man; for it is written: "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise;" and again, "If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (S. Matthew 21:16 ; S. Luk 19:40 ). In the same way, in the "Lives of the Fathers," Abbot Pastor is related to have said to one who complained to him, that though he prayed he felt no contrition, because he knew not the meaning of the words that he used: " Do you none the less persevere in prayer, for like as a charmer sings words which the snake hears but understands not, and yet is subdued and tamed by them, so when we use words whose meaning we know not, the devils hear them and understand them, and are terrified and driven away ." Cf. S. Thomas and Cajetan.
The case is different with the Lord's Prayer, which every one ought to learn and intelligently use in the vernacular, that he may know exactly what he should ask of God, as has been often laid down in synods. Cajetan, on the other hand, gathers from this passage that it is better for organs, and musical instruments generally, to be excluded from church services, in order that the Hours and the Masses may be sung so as to be understood, and so that the people may be able to answer "Amen!" But the practice of the Church is against this, which makes use of organs and other musical instruments in Divine service, as David did, to stir up the devotion of the people, who just as little understand the Latin language. The Church does this for three reasons: (1.) as we join in praising God, not only in spirit but also in body, so we should praise Him, not only with the best music of the voice, but also of instruments; for every spirit, every creature, every instrument ought to praise Him whose due never can be reached. (2.) To arouse the listeners, and especially the uneducated, to religious fervour, as David and Elisha were enkindled by psalms and harps, and as Saul was stirred up by music to give God praise. (3.) That the beauty, solemnity, and majesty of Divine service may be the greater. Prudentius, in his Apotheosis , written against the Jews, and the Faculty of Paris, in its decree (tit. xix. prop. 6), explain this verse thus: "When St. Paul says that in the church he would rather speak five words with his understanding than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue, he is speaking of sermons addressed to the people, in which a flow of words void of thought is useless. He says nothing about Church canticles, which are governed by another law."
Nevertheless, we must in these matters guard against lightness, as the Council of Trent bids. Hence S. Augustine ( Hom . in Ps. xxxiii.) says that pipes and organs used in theatres had been rejected by the Church, because the heathen used them then for lust in the theatres, and for banquets, and at their sacrifices. But, following the example and injunctions of David, we may use organs and other musical instruments, if it be done with piety, soberness, and gravity (cf. Ps. cl.). S. John, too (Rev. v. 8, and xiv. 2), heard in heaven, where all are perfected, harps, though of course more solemn and Divine than ours on earth.
Amen. Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodoret have translated this faithfully or truly ; the Septuagint, so be it. "Amen" signifies truly or even firmly. It is not the expression of an oath, but of one who affirms or confirms. It is used as an affirmation when it is put at the beginning of a sentence, as, e.g ., "Amen, Amen, I say unto you." And in this sense S. Augustine ( in Joan. Tract. 41) calls "Amen" the oath of Christ, because Christ's oath was not strictly an oath but a simple affirmation. It is a mark of confirmation when put at the end of a prayer, or it signifies the consent of the hearer; it sometimes marks an assertion and agreement, sometimes a wish. It stands for agreement in Deut. xxvii., where the people are bidden to answer "Amen" in token that they were willing to accept the blessings for keeping the law and the curses for breaking it. But in a prayer, as, e.g ., in the Lord's Prayer, it merely denotes a wish that what is sought for in the prayer may be obtained. The Rabbinical writers say that there are two "Amens," one perfect and the other imperfect in three ways: (1.) that of a pupil, when "Amen" is said, not as though the prayer is understood, but it is left to the direction of another to dictate it, as it were; (2.) when the "Amen" is said before the end of the prayer it is called "surreptitious," (3.) and "divided" when the answer is given by one who is not thinking of the prayer, because he is occupied with something else. Ver. 18 . I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all. The Latin rendering is, "I speak with the tongues of you all," which suggests the question, What could be S. Paul's meaning in this, since there was but one tongue in Greece, and at Corinth in particular, viz., Greek? Haymo's answer is that he refers to the different dialects of Greek. A better answer would be, that foreigners and merchants of all nations flocked to Corinth as a great emporium, just as to-day, at Antwerp, Venice, or Paris, we find the commerce and language of the French, Italians, and English, and other nations, and that S. Paul is therefore referring to the different languages to be heard in the streets of Corinth, But Ephrem, Chrysostom, Jerome ( ad Hedibiam ), and others support the rendering of the text. All the tongues that you speak and more I speak: I do not extol, I do not condemn the gift of tongues, for I use it myself, but I do not use it, as you do, for ostentation, but to edification. Ver. 19 Ye in the church I had rather speak, &c. A very few words spoken so as to be understood are better than a multitude of foreign words not understood by the hearer.
Notice (1.) that understanding is to be taken here passively, and denotes the meaning by which I and my speech are understood; hence he adds, "that I might teach others also." For there is a contrast between the meaning, and the foreign tongue understood by no one. See note to ver. 14. But (2.) Anselm takes it of the active understanding, that by which I myself understand what I say, and so can better explain it to others. (3.) Chrysostom says that it means with judgment that he would rather speak and teach with tact and judgment, so that the hearers, no matter how rude and uncultured they might be, might take in and retain what he said. But the first sense is the best, and most to the point. Ver. 20. Brethren, be not children in understanding. Understanding here is not the same word in the Greek as in the preceding verse: It can, with Chrysostom and Ephrem, be rendered "mind." Do not become children in mind, judgment, and reason, so as to display your gift of tongues as children might.
Howbeit in malice be ye children. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Ephrem render this: "Let malice be as unknown to you as to infants." So, too, S. Augustine (qu. lxi. lib. 73) says: "Be, like infants, free from malice." As "infant" is derived from in , "not," and fans , "speaking," and as a child who cannot speak knows still less of malice or anything else, so too the Christian is to be an infant in evil, not to know it nor to be able to speak of it, e.g ., not to know what emulation, defilement, fornication are. So Theophylact following S. Chrysostom. Tertullian ( contra Valent. lib. ii.) beautifully says: " The Apostle bids us after God be children again, that we may be infants in malice through our simplicity, and at last wise in understanding ." Clement of Alexandria ( Pæd . lib. i. c. 5) has pointed out that "children" here is not synonymous with "fools." The whole of his chapter, in which he points out how all Christians should be children, may be studied with advantage. Ver. 21 . In the law. Viz., Isaiah 28:11 . As Chrysostom remarks, the law is sometimes used to denote, not merely the Pentateuch, but also the Prophets and the whole of the Old Testament.
It is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people. This is a difficult passage, and to understand it we must explain the passage in Isaiah cited by the Apostle. The prophet's meaning in vers. 9 and 10 is, that God is wont to teach knowledge and wisdom to those who have left childish delights and an immature age, and are men with the capacity for knowledge; but these Jews, who (ver. 7) take delight in the pleasures of wine and in drunkenness, are like children do not take solid food and are consequently unfitted for doctrine and true wisdom. Filled with wine, they scoff at me and at other prophets who denounce to them punishments from heaven for their drunkenness and other sins, and they say. "Precept must be upon precept, line upon line . . . here a little and there a little."
S. Jerome and Haymo point out that in this passage there is an ironical play upon words. Isaiah and other prophets were often saying, "Thus saith," or, "Thus ordereth the Lord." Hence the Jews, when drunken over their cups, would repeat in derision, "Order and order again" (precept upon precept), "Expect and expect again" (line upon line). It was as if they had said: "The prophets are always dinning into our ears, 'Thus saith the Lord,' and are always threatening or promising things which never come to pass, bidding us expect here a little and there a little, and nothing comes of it all." The same is oftentimes the experience of preachers, that the wicked ridicule, repeat, and sneer at their sermons and threatenings. Rabbi David, Rabbi Abraham, and after them Vatablus, Isidorus, Clarius, Pagninus, and Forterius give a very cold rendering to this verse (10) "precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little." The meaning then is: "These Jews are taught roughly and gradually line upon line, just as boys are taught their alphabet." But the following verses show that the prophet had in his mind scoffers and mockers, not untaught boys, for the punishments threatened are against scorners. S. Paul renders the sense of Isaiah and not the exact words: he applies the passage of Isaiah to the gift of tongues bestowed on the Apostles, who spoke with other tongues, not to scoff but to edify.
The sense then is: God, speaking by Isaiah, says: "My exhortation to repentance, given by Isaiah and other prophets, seemed to you, 0 Jews, troublesome and ridiculous, just as if I had spoken to you with inarticulate sounds or in a foreign tongue; hence you imitate what seem to you the meaningless sounds of the prophets, and you repeat in mockery their words. Wherefore, by the Chaldeans, who seem to you stammerers and lispers, will I punish you, that they, as the ministers of My righteousness, may restrain your unbelief by the strange sounds of their foreign tongue, and may ridicule you as their captives, and in their language mock and condemn your Hebrew words; and they shall serve as a type of the Apostles, whom in the time of Christ I will send to reprove your equal unbelief then, by the gift of unknown tongues, and they shall seem to you as men that lisp or speak indistinctly, and they shall be scoffed at by you and the wise of this world as foolish preachers of the Cross of Christ."
The literal meaning of Isaiah refers to his own time, and to the Chaldeans who were to overthrow Jerusalem; the allegorical refers to the gift of tongues given to the Apostles for a sign, not to the faithful but to unbelievers, of the malediction with which God punishes the incredulous, not of the benediction with which He teaches His own servants. This verse of S. Paul shows the sense of Isaiah. Cf. S. Jerome and Cyril on Isa. xxviii. Ver. 22. Wherefore tongues are for a sign . . . to them that believe not. Viz., to the unbelieving Jews, both here and in Isaiah xxviii, rather than to the Gentiles. This sign must therefore not be used by the faithful for vain glory.
Prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. The teaching of the word of God and exhortation are a sign of the blessing with which God trains up His servants, and stirs them up to every good work (see ver. 3). Sign here is not the same as "miracle," for the Chaldeans worked no miracle when in their own tongue they chided the Jews; but sign stands for a symbol, and mark of reproof, teaching, and exhortation. But understand what has been said of the believing and unbelieving, as applying to them primarily and principally; for in a secondary sense tongues serve for a sign to the faithful, and prophecy to the unbelievers. Cf. vers. 23 and 25. Vers. 23, 24. If therefore the whole church, . . . he is judged of all. If all speak together confusedly and noisily, they will seem to be mad; but if all teach the faith from the Scriptures and other authorities, and preach of the way to lead a right life, the outsider will be convinced of, and reproved for, his unbelief and evil life, by all the teachers and preachers. Ver. 25 . And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest . Out of the gift of discerning of spirits, or because God directs the tongue of the prophet, i.e ., the preacher, the most hidden sins of his heart will be described and reproved, and the man will think that the preacher speaks as a prophet to him in particular. It is evident from this that this was a common occurrence; it is also evident that these teachers and preachers were, strictly speaking, real prophets.
There is a parallel case in the, life of S. Augustine by Possidonius (c. 15), where it is said that on one occasion S. Augustine left the subject that he had decided to speak on, and discoursed on Manichæism. This led to the conversion of a certain Manichæan, who chanced to be present, as S. Augustine afterwards learnt. He believed it to be due to the direct guidance of God. Hence ( de Doct. Christ. lib. iv. c. 15) he says that prayer should always be offered to God before preaching, that He would direct the mind and tongue of the preacher suitably to the capacity and disposition of the audience.
Others, however, understand "the secrets of his heart" to mean the sins which the unbeliever or unlearned has, but which he does not know to be sins, e.g ., when he does not know that idolatry and fornication are sinful. He will learn this when he hears the prophet discoursing about them, and condemning them as sinful. But the first meaning is the best. Ver. 26 . How is it then, brethren? . . . Let all things be done unto edifying. "Every one of you" is, of course, distributive. It is not meant that each one had all these things, but one had one thing, another another. Whoever of you has a psalm, or a doctrine, or a revelation, or an interpretation, or the gift of tongues, let him sing the praises of God, or pour forth his prayers and other devotions.
Hath a psalm. The grace of composing and singing psalms or hymns. So Pliny writes to Trajan that the Christians were wont to sing hymns before dawn to Christ as God.
Hath a revelation. A revelation and exposition, either of some difficult passage of Holy Scripture, or of some future or unrevealed event.
We should notice from this passage that in the Primitive Church the rites and order of Divine Service, instituted by Paul and the other Apostles, were somewhat as follows: (1.) Psalms were sung by all; (2.) the Holy Scriptures were read; (3.) the Bishop preached; (4.) then followed the Eucharist, which at that time consisted of simply the oblation, the consecration, communion, the canon and Lord's Prayer, and some collect to which the people answered, "Amen." (5.) All communicated; (6.) some, inspired by the Holy Spirit, would utter or sing, in different tongues, psalms or hymns to the praise of God, others would prophesy; (7.) some, after the Jewish fashion, would interpret the Holy Scriptures or give an exhortation, and that by two or three, especially prophets or men full of the Spirit; others would listen and then ask questions about what had been said. This was done even by the women, though this was an abuse corrected by S. Paul; and when anything particularly good or pious was said, they would all exclaim together, "Amen, amen! " (8.) All was concluded with the agape, which was a common feast and a symbol of brotherly love, after which prayers and hymns again were used. Justin, in the passage quoted below, enumerates all these in order. He says: " In all the oblations which we offer we praise with thanksgiving " (the first part) " the Maker of all, through His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit; and on the day called Sunday there is an assembly of all who live in town or country, and the commentaries of the Apostles or writings of the Prophets are read " (the second part). " Then when the reader ceases, he who presides delivers a sermon, in which he instructs the people, or exhorts them to practise the good things they have heard " (the third part). " Upon this we all rise together and offer up prayers, and as I have said, when the prayers are finished, bread is offered with wine and water; and the same president, as far as he can, offers up prayers and thanks givings, and the people answer with acclamation, 'Amen! '" (the fourth part). " Then there is made a distribution, and communication with thanksgiving to each one present, of the gifts, and the same is sent by means of the deacons to the absent " (the fifth part) Justin ( Apol. ii . ad Ant .). The sixth, seventh, and eighth parts are described indiscriminately by Tertullian ( Apol. xxxix.): " Our supper shows its nature by its name of agape, which denotes love. We do not sit down to it without first praying to God. Then follows washing of the hands, lights are brought in, and as each one is able from the Holy Scriptures or his own gifts, he utters praise aloud, and the feast is ended also with prayer ." Philo ( de Essæis ) gives a similar account.
We must notice, secondly, that these gifts and this fervour were of short continuance. Still, the Church has retained as far as possible the order and method then observed. Hence our present customs are the legitimate descendants of the eight mentioned above.
1. To the saying of psalms, &c., have succeeded the Hours of Mattins, Lauds, and Prime.
2. To the prophecies, readiness with exposition and homilies, not only in the Hours, but also in the Mass, in the form of the Epistle and Gospel.
3. After the Gospel comes the sermon.
4. Now as then we have the Mass, in which, at the end of the collect, a clerk says "Amen!" for the people.
The fifth, as well as the sixth, seventh, and eighth, have fallen somewhat into abeyance, except that hymns and the Lesser Hours are sung after Mass, and that monks, in their assemblies for worship, are wont to discourse of spiritual things, as Cassian relates ( Collat. Patrum ). Ver. 27. If any man speak in an unknown tongue . . . . let one interpret. This verse depends on the foregoing clause, "Let all things be done to edifying." If any one sing, or teach, or speak with a tongue, let all be done to edifying, so that, e.g ., if tongues are used, then let only two, or at the most three, in each assembly speak, and that in their turns, so that there may be no confusion; and let one interpret, so that the hearers may understand what is said. Ver. 29 . Let the prophets speak two or three, viz., their prophecies or revealed truths, or intuitions or exhortations inspired into them by God. See what was said at the beginning of the chapter.
And let the other judge. Let the other prophets, not the people, judge by the gift they have whether what the prophet or teacher says is prophecy indeed, that is sound and wholesome doctrine, or not; for it does not belong to the laity to judge of the doctrines of religion, as heretics infer from this verse. It would be as absurd and foolish for the people to judge of prophecies, prophets, teachers, and pastors as for a scholar to judge his teacher, a sheep its shepherd, and a soldier his commander.
Ver. 30. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. Let him rise and speak; let the first cease and sit down. S. Ambrose says: " This is a custom of the synagogue which S. Paul borrows and enjoins on us. The elders in dignity sit in their chairs while discoursing, those next to them sit on lower seats, the last on mats spread on the pavement. If anything happens to be revealed to these last, he bids that they be listened to: they are not to be despised, for they are members of the same body. " Ver. 31. For ye may all prophesy . . . and all may be comforted. All the prophets can exhort in their turn, if only the method and order laid down above be observed, and so all can receive exhortation and consolation. The word for "may be comforted" occurs again in 2Cor. i. 6. Some take it as active, when the meaning becomes, "that all may learn when they hear, and may teach when they speak and exhort." Ver. 32 . And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. The prophets can, when they wish, restrain the spirit of prophecy, and keep silence, and give place to other prophets; they are not forced to speak by an irresistible impulse, like heathen fanatics; for, as S. Thomas says, the spirit or gift of prophecy is not a habit but is partly an inspiration, or impartation of light and truth, by which God illuminates the prophet's mind in regard to facts that are future, hidden, or Divine; it is partly a force or impulse by which God touches the heart and impels it to prophesy, while preserving the freedom of the will. So Jonah and Jeremiah restrained themselves on occasion, as did Moses ( Exo 4:30 ). S. Chrysostom's explanation is different. The gift of prophecy, he says, which the prophet has is subject to the judgment of the College of Prophets; but the first sense is more to the context, for S. Paul is giving the reason why the prophets ought in turn to give way to each other and be silent, viz., because the prophetical spirit was under their control. Ver. 33 . For God is not the author of confusion. He does not compel these or those to prophesy at the same time, to make a noise and disturb each other, and so cause such a confusion as is commonly found in uproarious crowds. Ver. 34 . Let women keep silence in the churches. Ambrose, and after him Anselm, say that even the prophetesses are to keep silence: (1.) Because it is against the order of nature and of the Law, in Genesis 3:16 , for women, who have been made subject to men, to speak in their presence. (2.) Because it is opposed to the modesty and humility which befits them. (3.) Because man is endowed with better judgment, reason, discursive power, and discretion than woman. (4.) She is rightly bidden, says S. Anselm, to keep silence, because when she spoke it was to persuade man to sin ( Gen 3:6 ). (5.) To curb her loquacity, for, as it is said, "when two women quarrel it is like the beating of two cymbals or the clanging of two bells." This might readily enough happen in the church if they were allowed to teach. About this silence enjoined on women, see notes on 1 Timothy 2:9 . How much is it then against the command of S. Paul, against all law, right, and seemliness, for a woman to be the head of a church!
Tropologically woman stands for passion and lust, man for reason. Let the first then be silent and obey the reason. Cf. S. Chrysostom ( Hom. 37 in Morali. ). Aristotle ( de Nat. Animal. lib. ix. c. 1) says: " Woman is more pitiful and more inclined to tears than man; also more envious, more ready to complain, to utter curses, and to revenge; she is besides more anxious and desponding than man, more pert and untruthful, and more easily deceived ." Ver. 35. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. Hence Primasius says that men ought to be well taught enough to teach their wives in matters of faith. But what if they are themselves untaught, as is often the case? Who, then, is to teach the woman? Primasius answers that they have preachers, confessors, and teachers to instruct them. Again, it is better for them to be ignorant of some things that are not essentials than to ask and learn about them in public, to their own shame and the scandal of the Church.
You may say that it is recorded in S. Luk 2:38 that Anna the prophetess spoke in the Temple to all concerning Christ. The answer is that she spoke to all in private, and one by one, not in a church assembly, nor in the Temple properly so called, for neither man nor woman, but the priests alone, were allowed to enter the Temple at Jerusalem. Anna, then, spoke to the women singly in the court of the women; for, as Josephus says, the women had a court distinct from the men's court.
You may say again, "Nuns sing in their churches." I answer that theirs is not a church in the sense of being an assembly of the faithful, but merely a choir of nuns. The Apostle does not forbid women to speak or sing among women, but he forbids it in the common assembly only, where both men and women meet. In this Cajetan agrees. Moreover, S. Paul does not allude to such public speaking as is sanctioned by authority, but that particular and individual speech which consists in teaching, exhorting, and asking questions.
Add to this that he is speaking of married women only, for he orders such to keep silence in the church and be subject to their husbands, and ask them at home what they want to know. Ver. 36. What! came the word of God out from you? This is a sarcasm, concluding what had been said in this chapter and the preceding. Did not the Churches of Judæa, Samaria, and Syria believe before you? Look, then, at the order and custom of those Churches, whether they are so contentious about their gifts or make such boasting of their tongues as you do. So Ambrose and Anselm. Ver. 37 . If any man think himself to be a prophet , &c. It is the Lord who commands this order to be observed in your assemblies, by my mouth, not directly by Himself.
This verse is an authority for canons passed by the Popes, and for the laws of the Church.
Melancthon replies that Bishops cannot make fresh canons, because, since the whole of the Holy Scripture has been now written, the Bishops have a full and sufficient guide in the word of God; but he says the civil magistrate can pass new laws, because he has not the word of God to follow.
But this is a frivolous answer. The magistrate has not only the law of nature, but a very full and complete code of laws in the statute-book. But if everything has not been provided for there, and the magistrate may add to the number of laws, why may not Bishops do the same? For the word of God has not provided for everything, as may be seen in the additions made to it by the Canon Law.
Moreover, S. Paul is here enacting human and ecclesiastical laws, not Divine ones; and he had besides the word of God, not indeed written, but received by tradition or revelation from God ( Gal 1:12 ), and that much more fully than we have it. If, therefore, it was lawful for him to add his laws to those given by God, it is also lawful for the Pope and the Bishops, who have succeeded Paul, to do the same. Ver. 38 . But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. He who is not willing to acknowledge these laws and my power will be ignorant, or ignored or condemned by God, who will say to him, "I know you not," for "he that heareth you hear heareth Me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me." Ambrose, Jerome, Ephrem, read the future, "will be ignorant." "Let him be ignorant" has a parallel in "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still;" or, as others render it, "He that is ignorant, let him acknowledge himself ignorant, and behave accordingly, and not presume to pass judgment on other men, and on things of which he knows nothing, but let him rather follow others, as leaders in matters of prophecy and doctrine." But I prefer the first reading, that of the Latin Version, as the plainer, truer, and better supported reading. Ver. 40 . Let all things be done decently and in order. Like S. Ignatius ( Ep. ad. Philipp. et Tars .), S. Paul had a great care for good order in the Church, especially in things indifferent, both because this order is beautiful and decent in itself, and because it prevents confusion and disturbance, and also because it greatly edifies others, even unbelievers. See notes on Colossians 2:5 .
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Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25