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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 5

Lapide's Great Biblical CommentaryLapide's Commentary

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Verses 1-13



i. The Apostle proceeds from the schism of the Corinthians to deal with the scandal caused by incest among them: he blames them for allowing one living openly in incest to remain among them, and orders them to excommunicate him and hand him over to Satan.

ii. He bids them (ver. 6) purge out this and any other leaven of sin, in order that they may with purity celebrate the everlasting Passover, and so eat the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

iii. He orders them (ver.9) not to mingle with Christians that are open sinners; but as for heathens and unbelievers, he says that they are not under the jurisdiction of him or of the Church. Ver. 1. It is reported commonly among you. It is no vague rumour, but a well-ascertained fact.

1. The Gentiles who were not barbarians, but living civilised and honest lives, by natural instinct rejected all such intercourse of a step-son and step-mother. The poets praise Hippolytus for preferring to incur the anger of his father, Theseus, rather than yield to the lust of his step-mother, Phædra. When he was solicited by Phædra and refused to consent to the abomination, he was falsely accused by her to his father of having solicited her, and was torn asunder by him by four horses. There is, however, extant an example of such intercourse in Valerius Maximus (lib. v. De Par. Amore in Lib. ), in the case of King Seleucus, who, on learning from his physician that his son Antiochus was sick unto death from love of his wife Stratonice, handed her over to him.

2. Theodoret, in his preface to this epistle, and Chrysostom here say that this fornicator was an eminent and powerful leader of the schism at Corinth, and this is why the Apostle proceeds so directly from the one sin to the other.

It may be asked whether this incestuous person took his father's wife during his lifetime or afterwards. Some reply that he was dead; but it seems more likely that he was living, from the phrase used, "his father's wife," and also from the words of 2 Cor.vii. 12: "I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong," which seems plainly to mean the father. Anselm and others take the view that the father was still alive. The man, therefore, was at once incestuous and an adulterer, and was obstinate in his sin; for without such obstinacy he would not have been excommunicated. Ver. 2. And ye are puffed up. You meanwhile are so occupied with your contentious pride that you neglect to correct this incestuous person by removing him from your society. So Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Anselm. Learn from this how careful not only prelates but all the faithful should be to remove from the Church scandals and their authors. Vers. 3, 4. For I verily as absent in body . . . in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. As it behoves a Pastor and Bishop to be always present by vigilant care, even though absent in bidy from the Church, I have already judged, i.e ., determined; and by these words I now order that he be excommunicated and handed over to Satan, and that in the name of Christ, by His authority which I wield when I order and judge.

Chrysostom refers the clause in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to what follows, when ye are gathered together . Paul means that they were to assemble, and in a public congregation of the Church they were to excommunicate the incestuous person. This clause, thirdly, may be referred to the words to deliver such an one to Satin ; such delivery and execution of the sentence would be done in the power, name, and place of Christ. Vers. 4, 5. When ye are gathered together . . . deliver such an one unto Satan. I determine and order, O Corinthians, that when you are assembled in the Church, where I shall be present in my spirit, i.e ., in mind, affection, and the authority given me by Christ, this incestuous person be excommunicated and handed over to Satan, who rules outside he Church, and is wont in this world to afflict the excommunicate not only in soul but also in body. It plainly appears from these words that the heretics are wrong in saying that the power of excommunicating resides in the whole congregation, and not in the prelates. On the contrary, he says, I have judged. All that the Apostle means is that the excommunication is to be publicly pronounced by whoever was presiding over the Church, that others might fear to do the like. Hence, he does not say that they were to assemble and hand him over to Satan, but when ye are gathered together I have determined to hand him over to Satan, i.e ., through him who in the name of Christ is in charge of your Church in my place, and whose, therefore, it is to hand him over. In every state judgment takes place, not by the popular voice, but by the judges and magistrates.

The Apostles, moreover, uses this phrase to denote that this spiritual power has been given to the Church, and was exercised by himself and by prelates in the name of the Church, not in the sense that the whole Church has received it directly from Christ, but that Christ gave it to Paul and the other Apostles, not for themselves, but for the good of the Church; for as great confusion would ensue if each one had to be asked to give his sentence, the whole Church discharges this duty by the hands of its heads and rulers. Again, as excommunicating is liable to cause hatred, Paul wishes it to be done with the consent of the whole Church, that so he may win all to his side, and none may protect the powerful fornicator and accuse Paul of over severity. Hence he leaves, as it were, the judgment to them of his own free-will, and out of his modesty he makes them the assessors, approvers, and executors of the sentence pronounced by him of public excommunication of the fornicator by the hands of their president. So often prudent princes and generals will in a difficult and dangerous matter, when any great officer is to be punished, seek the opinion of other great officers, and what is more, leave the judging to them. So Chrysostom, Ambrose, Theophylact, Anselm.

With the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Connect this with deliver , or, better still, as Ambrose does, with when ye are gathered together and my spirit. In other words, in this act of excommunication the Spirit is present with you, and still more with my spirit. For Christ has given His mighty power to His Church, and so the Church can, by her rulers and prelates, excommunicate and deliver over to Satan the contumacious. Ver. 5. To deliver such an one to Satan. Theophylact thinks that by these words Paul actually excommunicates the fornicator, but it is truer to say that by them he orders his excommunication to be carried out by the prelates in the Corinthian Church. If otherwise, he would have said, "I deliver," instead of "I have judged to deliver;" and the same is borne out by his bidding that he be delivered over to Satan in public assembly of the Church.

2. Observe that the ancients understood this passage of the power and act of excommunicating which is lodged in the prelates of the Church. So Chrysostom, Anselm, Augustine, and others quoted by Baronius, p.448, A.D. 57.

2. The excommunicate are said to be delivered over to Satan, because being ejected from the fellowship of Christ and His Church, and being deprived of all its benefits, its prayers, suffrages, sacrifices, and Sacraments, of the protection of God, and of the care of pastors, they are exposed to the tyranny and assaults of the devil, whose rule is outside the Church, and who goes about against them more then before, and impels them to every kind of evil. Cf. Ambrose, Augustine (lib. iii. Ep. contra Parmen. c. 2), Jerome (Ephesians 1:0; Ephesians 1:0 ad Heliod. ), Innocent ( apud S. Aug. Ep. 51).

For the destruction of the flesh. 1. That the devil may harass him with bodily sickness, wounds, and diseases; that his flesh may be brought low and its vigour be destroyed; that being thus humiliated he may learn wisdom. So say Theodoret, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Œcumenius, Anselm.

2. Ambrose and Anselm here, and S. Augustine in the passage just cited, explain it to mean, for the destruction of the pleasure of the body through this confusion and shame. But though shame may restrain a man from the external act when there is danger of its being commonly known, yet it does not do away with the inner desire of the heart, and therefore the first meaning, which is supported by more Fathers, is the more true and suitable.

From these Fathers we gather, though some deny it, that the excommunicate were formally handed over to the devil, and also corporally vexed and possessed by him, that they might learn to fear excommunication. Theodoret says this expressly here, and also at 1 Tim. iv. 20, and Ambrose too there says that this was the tradition of his forefathers, and that this is the strict meaning of "the destruction of the flesh." Frequently examples of diabolic possession are to be found in the lives of the Fathers, and especially in the life of S. Ambrose by Paulinus. When Ambrose had delivered a certain man to Satan, devil at that very moment seized him and began to tear him. For this reason Christ, in S. Matt. x., gave, S. Thomas says, to the Apostles power over unclean spirits, both to expel them from and to admit them into men's bodies to vex them. For other examples, cf. Delrio de Magia ( lib. iii. p. 1, qu. 7), Petr. Phyræus ( De Dæmon. p. ii. c. 30), Lerarius ( in Tob . c. 6, qu. 20).

That the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. That the soul and mind, gaining from this punishment wisdom and renewal, may be saved in the day of judgment. Hence it appears that the end of excommunication should be borne in mind, which is to cause the excommunicate shame and distress, that he may be humiliated, and ask to be received back, and seek for pardon from God and the Church. The faithful, therefore, should pray secretly for him, and endeavour to win him back to unity. Ver. 6. Your glorying is not good. Your boasting yourselves in your worldly wisdom, which makes you say, "I am of Paul," "I of Apollos," is evil and out of place. It were better for you to cast down the eyes of your mind, since you allow so great a wickedness to exist among you. So Anselm; Theophylact adds from Chrysostom: " He implies obscurely and in a homely way that the Corinthians themselves prevented this fornicator from coming to a better mind, by glorying in his name; for he was one of their wise teachers ."

A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. As yeast penetrates every part of a mass of dough with its taste and sharpness, so does this one taint of the fornicator penetrate and stain all of you: firstly, because for the sake of one man the wrath of God may be kindled against you all, and against the whole Church which suffers him, as Ambrose and Anselm say; and secondly, if this man go unpunished, others may follow his example, and this one may cause many to stumble. So S. Chrysostom. In other words, remove this scandal, and separate the man from the Church by excommunicating him. Ver. 7. Purge out, therefore, the old leaven. Eject this fornicator from your society, lest like leaven he infect the whole. It follows that not the predestinate alone, or hidden sinners, but that public sinners, like this fornicator, are in the Church till they are excommunicated. So Chrysostom. Although the Apostle refers primarily to the incest of the fornicator, yet Chrysostom and Anselm understand leaven more generally to be fornication, and its concealment, and any kind of wickedness and vice, which by parity of reasoning the Apostle orders to be removed from the soul of every individual and from the whole Church.

That ye may be a new lump. That your Church may be once more pure.

As ye are unleavened. As Chrysostom and Anselm say, as by baptism you were made unleavened, i.e ., pure from the leaven of sin, so consequently you are, or ought to be, from thenceforth unleavened, or pure and holy, by calling and profession. It is a Hebraism to say that what ought to be is; and Christians accordingly are frequently called Saints, because they ought to be. Others take ye are strictly to mean that, excepting the one incestuous person, they were all unleavened or pure.

This unleavenedness of heart and life is put before each one at baptism, both in words and ceremonies, by the Church, when, after signing the head with the sacred Chrism, she clothes the newly baptized person with a white robe, and, holding out a lighted candle, says to him: "Receive this holy and spotless white robe, and may you keep it without spot till you take it before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may you gain eternal life and live for ever and ever. Amen." Or as S. Jerome has it in his letter to Damasus: "Receive this burning and blameless light, guard well thy baptism, keep God's commandments, that when the Lord cometh to the wedding thou mayest meet Him, together with all His Saints, in the court of heaven; and mayest thou gain eternal life and live for ever and ever. Amen." By the white robe and the lighted candle are signified (1.) a pure and exemplary life and conversation; (2.) freedom from the power of sin and the devil; (3.) victory and triumph ever them; for the Romans used to give their servants a white robe when they set them free, white being the colour of triumph. Of this garment S. Ambrose ( Lib. de Iis qui Initiat. c. 7), addressing the newly baptized, says? "You have received white garments for a testimony that you have cast away the slough of sins, and put on the holy garb of innocence." Paulinus thus sings of the same thing; "Thence from the sacred font the priest their father brings

The infants, snowy-white in body, heart, and dress."

Cf. also S. Augustine, Lactantius, and Victor of Utica, whose words I quoted in Rom. vi. 4.

Hence the Saturday and Sunday immediately after Easter Day are called Sabbatum in albis and Dominica in albis , because the neophytes then used to lay aside their white garments. Yet, as Baronius has rightly pointed out (A.D. 58, p. 606), they received a white Agnus Dei as it was called, made of paschal wax, and blessed by the Bishop, and wore it hung from their neck, that they might be ever reminded of purity and innocence, and might learn from Christ, the Paschal Lamb, to be thenceforth in every work unleavened, pure, meek, and lowly of heart.

For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. The word for denotes: I rightly adjure you to be unleavened and pure, because you are keeping the Passover, in which the Jews had no leavened thing. As the Passover was a type of Christ, so were the unleavened loaves a type of the baptismal innocence and pure life of Christians. The Apostle's argument is based on the allegorical meaning of the Passover and the unleavened bread.

The word Passover has its rise from the passing over of the angel of the houses of the Israelites when he saw the blood of the lamb that had been sacrificed for the purpose smeared on the doorposts. Then by a happy metonymy the lamb sacrificed is called the Passover, or the Passover victim, i.e ., the victim slain for the passing over of the angel. Then, too, the day itself, and the feast at which this happened, and its annual memorial are called the Passover.

Allegorically this lamb signified Christ. Our Passover, i.e ., our Pascal Lamb, Christ, was sacrificed for us, that as many as are washed with the Blood of His Passion in baptism and the other Sacraments may be defended in safety from the destroying angel, who passes over them, and lights the unbelieving and the wicked, who have not been washed with the blood of Christ, to kill them with eternal death. For Christ has rescued hose that have been so washed from Pharaoh's yoke, that is, from the yoke of the devil and of sin, and having set them perfectly free He has loaded them with all gifts and graces, and daily is adding more.

S. Bernard ( Serm. 1 in die Pasch, ) thus moralises on this passage: " Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed. Let us embrace those virtues commended to us by His Cross humility, patience, obedience, and charity. On this great festival let us carefully consider what it is that is commended to us. It is a resurrection, a passover, a transmigration. For Christ, my brethren, did not to-day fall again but rose again: He did not return, He passed over: He transmigrated did not go back. The very feast that we are celebrating is called the Passover, not "the returning;" and Galilee, where He who rose promises to show Himself to us, does not speak of going back but of transmigration . . . We have lately given up ourselves to mourning, to penitence, and prayer to heaviness and fasting. If we have bewailed our negligences, why should we now return to them? Shall we as before be again found inquisitive, as fond of talking as before, slothful and negligent as before, vain, suspicious, backbiters, wrathful, and again involved in all the other vices which we but lately were grieving over? I have washed my feet: how shall I again defile them? Alas! the resurrection of the Saviour is made the time for sinning, the place in which to fall. Revellings and drunkenness return, chambering and wantonness are sought after, as though it was for this that Christ rose, and not for our justification. This is not a passing over, but a going back. For this cause, as the Apostle says, many are weak and sickly and many sleep. Therefore is it that in different places are there so many deaths, specially now. " S. Anselm, on 1 Cor. xi. 30, makes the same observation, viz., that at Easter diseases walk abroad and many die, because of so many making an unworthy communion, and either not making proper atonement for their sins, or else going back on them. Ver. 8. Therefore let us keep the feast. The Latin has, "Let us banquet," because feasts were wont to be celebrated with solemn banquets in token of rejoicing.

The feast here is either the feast of the Passover or of unleavened bread. And notice that, according to Exod.xii., the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, or of the Passover, was not, strictly speaking, the feast, but the following morning was, which was called the feast of the first day of unleavened bread, and lasted for seven days, during which nothing but unleavened bread was allowed to be eaten; and before those days, viz., in the fourteenth day of the first month Nisan, instead of the Paschal lamb that had been killed, they killed other Paschal victims, viz., burnt offerings and peace-offerings. Cf. Numbers 28:19 . The meaning, therefore, is this: Christ, having been sacrificed for us as our Passover, has redeemed us, and has begun for us the feast of unleavened bread. Therefore, after this Passover, after the death and redemption of Christ, let us keep this spiritual feast of unleavened bread, that we may be unleavened and pure, and may consequently feed on unleavened things, i.e ., may enjoy purity of life for the seven says of our life. As all our time is measured by seven revolving days, seven is a symbol of completeness, and therefore the seven days mentioned here denote the whole of life here below. Through that life we are to keep up the memorial of Christ's redemption, of our Paschal Lamb, by purity of life that befits Christians, and by sacrifices and praises.

But since the evening of the Passover could also be joined with the following morning, as the Jews reckoned their feasts from evening to evening, hence this evening may also be called a feast, or at all events a festive sacrifice and banquet of a lamb. Hence the Latin version is, "Let us banquet." Hence a second meaning can be gathered, which is this: "Let us keep a perennial Passover: let the Paschal feast be to us a continuous feast throughout the day of life, by our daily feeding on Christ, our Paschal Lamb, and His good gifts; and let us festively banquet on him spiritually, by faith, hope, and charity, or even really in the Blessed Sacrament, and that with the unleavened bread if sincerity and truth," Cf. Chrysostom and Anselm. For though the Pascal lamb, as it was slain, was a figure of Christ slain on the Cross, yet as far as it was eaten with unleavened bread it was rather a figure of the Unbloody Sacrifice of the Eucharist. In the same way the Passover here is understood of Christ sacrificed and eaten in the Eucharist by S. Cyprian ( Serm. de Cæna Dom. ). by Nazianzen ( Orat. de Pascha ), by Chrysostom ( Serm. de Pron. Juda ), by Ambrose ( In Luc. i.). by Jerome and Origen (in S. Matthew 26:0 ). Hence S. Andrew the Apostle said to King Ægeas: "I daily sacrifice an immaculate Lamb, which remains whole and living, even when all the people have eaten of It," Hence, too, it is that the Church reads this passage of the Apostle's for the Epistle of Easter, when she bids all to communicate and to feed on this Paschal Lamb, although in the Primitive Church the faithful ate of it daily, as the Apostle here exhorts.

Chrysostom gives us a moral meaning here when he says that we should banquet, not because it is Easter of Pentecost, but because all time is given to the Christian for so banqueting, because of the excellency of the gifts conferred. He says: "What good thing is there that the Son of God has not given you by being born and slain for you? He has set you free and called you into His kingdom. Why then do you not banquet always?" Hence S. Sylvester said that all days were festal days, because the Christian ought to feast every day, and be at leisure for God, and keep the spiritual feast. So too S. Clement of Alexandria ( Strom. lib. 7) says: "The whole life of the righteous is one solemn and holy feast day."

Neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness . Vatablus translates wickedness, craftiness , and others render it depravity ; for he is wicked who does evil mediately, and with guile and fraud. The Latins of old by malice and wickedness signified all the vices and crimes of men. Hence the saying of Publius Africanus ( apud Gell. lib. vii. c. 11) that all the evil and disgraceful and heinous things that men do are briefly comprehended in two words, malice and wickedness.

But with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth . A Hebraism. Let us banquet, not on literal unleavened bread, but on spiritual, i.e ., on sincerity (or purity) and truth not merely truth of the mind or of the mouth, but the truth of life, the Christian righteousness; in other words, any duty of virtue that Christians are bound to, especially simplicity, faithfulness, and truth. Sincerity is here opposed to malice, and truth to wickedness. Ver. 9. I wrote unto you. In ver. 2 of this chapter. So Theodoret and Chrysostom. But S. Thomas, Lyranus, Cajetan think that S. Paul wrote this in another former epistle which has perished.

Not to company with fornicators . . . for then must ye needs go out of the world. When I bade you have no fellowship with fornicators I did not mean what you were to avoid fornicating pagans, for then you would have to go out of the world, for the whole world is full of pagans, who are either fornicators, or covetous, or idolaters; but if any one who is a brother, says S. Ambrose, if any one who is a Christian, is publicly spoken ill of as a fornicator, then avoid him. Ver. 11. If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator. This admits of being rendered, "If any man that is a brother be called a fornicator." Hence S. Augustine ( contra Parmen. lib. iii. c. 2) says: " Is called ," i.e ., is judged and declared guilty of fornication.

Or covetous . . . or an extortioner. The first word here denoted one who stealthily seizes others' goods by fraud, the second one who seizes them by open violence. But the miser who clings to his money too tenaciously will not be excluded from heaven, unless he refuse to give alms to the poor in their great necessity: much less is he to be excluded from the society of the faithful. But the Apostle orders this in this verse. Therefore "covetous," as I said, must mean a thief of robber. Cf. 2Co 7:2 and 2 Corinthians 12:18 . Ver. 12. For what have I to do to judge them that are without? To judge is here and elsewhere the same as to condemn and punish fornicators, e.g ., by excommunicating them, which is done in order to warn others who are pure and innocent not to mingle with them. When S. Paul says that they were not to mingle with fornicators, he at the same time judges indirectly the fornicators, by ordering them to be avoided and shunned as guilty and dangerous. He condemns not those outside the Church, because as pagans they were beyond his jurisdiction, but only the faithful, who were subject to his pastoral care.

It may be said that if we cannot judge them that are without, the Church cannot judge and punish heretics and schismatics, for they are without, i.e ., outside the Church. I answer that they are without the Church in the sense of being deprived of all her benefits, but within so far as jurisdiction is concerned. The very fact that they still retain the character of baptism makes them subject and bound to the Church. Hence they are bound to observe the fasts and feasts and other laws of the Church; and they are in the Church as slaves in a family, or as criminals imprisoned in a city.

Bibliographical Information
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/clc/1-corinthians-5.html. 1890.
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