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SYNOPSIS OF THE CHAPTER
i. There were some at Corinth who had abandoned themselves to impurity, others who were proud and contentious (xi. 20, 21), others given to other sins, and disposed to regard S. Paul's admonitions cheaply. He threatens such in this chapter, that he may provoke them to repentance.
ii. He bids them (ver. 3) keep in mind and reverence the effectual grace given him by Christ, and the wonderful works it had enabled him to perform.
iii. He beseeches them (ver. 7) to do no evil, lest he be forced to use against them his power to punish.
iv. He exhorts them (ver. 11) to perfection, to love one another, to live at peace, to greet one another, and sends them his own salutation. Ver. 1. This is the third time I am coming to you. Or the third that I have purposed to come; and when I come it will be to punish those who are convicted, on the testimony of two or three witnesses, of having sinned, and of not having done penance.
In the mouth of two or three witnesses. Every accusation, every cause shall be settled on the deposition of two or three witnesses, so that the guilt that I shall punish may be sufficiently established. Others explain this to mean that the two or three witnesses are his three visits to Corinth, and they point to the reference to his three visits which immediately precedes this clause. I am one, he would then say; but coming to you a third time (xii. 14, note), I shall have the authority of two or three witnesses (Maldonatus, Notæ, mss .). But this interpretation is too jejune. The lofty mind of the Apostle has in view something wider and higher than this; moreover, it seems foreign to his drift. He is quoting Deut. xix. 15, the plain meaning of which, as applied here, is that when he comes to judge, each accused person shall he condemned or acquitted on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
Although this law, in so far as it is part of the judicial law of the Old Testament, has been abrogated by Christ, yet in so far as it is part of the law of nature, it is still in force, and has been admitted by both Civil and Canon Law; for common-sense has taught all nations that it is only fair and fitting that no one should be condemned but on the testimony of two or three witnesses at least. One witness may easily be suborned or be deceived, but not so well two. S. Paul then accepts and follows this law in its literal meaning, as does Christ in S. Matthew 18:16 .
Ver. 2. I to1d you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, . . . and being absent. As I declared when I was present with you, so do I still say when absent. The Greek copies add after present, the second time , but the meaning, is unaltered. His writing from a distance is, as it were, a second personal address. Ver. 3. Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me. Do you mean to disregard my injunctions, in order to see whether I dare and have power to punish the disobedient by the power given me by Christ? So may a teacher say to his rebellious pupil, "Do you wish to feel the weight of my arm, and to try the birch?"
Which to you-ward is not weak. Christ has already shown Himself not weak but powerful, by powerfully working through me so many wonderful miracles, and by so recently punishing the fornicator by my excommunication, and handing him over to Satan as his tormentor. He refers principally to this power of punishing possessed by him. Ver. 4. For though He was crucified. Through the weakness of His humanity, yet by the power of His Godhead He rose and lives.
For we also are weak in Him. With Him and for Him we are weak, we suffer, and are afflicted. According to this the for denotes not cause but likeness, and is put for so , by a usual Hebrew usage, which expresses similitude by doubling the conjunction.
We shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. Through Him and with Him we will show the power of Christ, i.e ., the spiritual vigour of the Gospel, and in particular the power of punishing the contumacious amongst you (Theophylact). Anselm and Theodoret explain it: We with you shall rise by the power of God to eternal bliss. But the first sense is more in harmony with the context. This is supported by the phrase toward you (not merely in you ), as well as by the fact that he is concerned with showing the power of Christ lodged in himself, to punish the contumacious. His argument is: As Christ, though weak in Himself, yet rose with power to a life of unending bliss, so equally does He work in us Apostles, and by us, weak though we be, and will continue to work powerfully in producing unearthly virtues, conversions, miracles, and punishments. Ver. 5. Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith. A stern rebuke. See, 0 Corinthians, that ye do not foolishly put faith in the false apostles, and so be out of the faith. Try yourselves, and see whether you believe or not. If you hold fast the faith, and continue in it, you will believe, nay, you will see Christ to be powerful in you, and also in me, by the mighty works He does through me, and thus you will be led to acknowledge my apostleship and evangelical truth.
Theophylact and Gagneius take it otherwise: Make trial of yourselves, and see if you are powerful through Christ indwelling within you, so that through Him you work miracles. In the primitive Church the faithful laity even had the power of working miracles. These two writers, therefore, understand S. Paul here to refer to that faith which works miracles united to the gift of prophecy and of tongues, which faith is a sign of the indwelling of Christ in that congregation in which it flourishes.
Others, thirdly, explain it thus. Try yourselves, and see if you have faith which worketh by love, whether you have the love of Christ abiding in you. But the first meaning is the true one, and the one that suits best the context.
Observe here that this precept shows that the faithful do not know for certain, and therefore should not, and cannot, believe that they have faith, and consequently cannot be assured of their righteousness.
It may be retorted that S. Paul adds: "Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you?" I answer that he does not mean that Christ was in their hearts, or in their faith which justified them, or in them individually, but in them collectively as a church. The proof of this was that they saw so many miracles, so many gifts and graces conferred upon their church, that they had no doubt about the presence and working of Christ among them. His conclusion is that the Corinthians ought to hold fast to this Church and to Christ by faith, and therefore to Paul as His vicar (Theophylact).
This appears, secondly, from the fact that the object of faith is not "that I am just," but that "Christ Jesus is among us," i.e ., in our Church, and working powerfully in it through the Apostles; consequently we are the true Church of Christ, and the Apostles and their descendants are true teachers.
It may be urged here that S. Augustine ( de Trin. lib. iii. c. 1) and S. Thomas here say that we may have certain knowledge that we possess faith. I answer: We know certainly that we believe and cling to Christ, but whether we do this by Divine or human faith, whether so earnestly, firmly, divinely as our righteousness and salvation require, we know not, but can only conjecture.
Except ye be reprobates. " A reprobate ," says Anselm, " is one who either knows not, or has deserted the upright faith: and honest heart that he received in his baptism ." Theophylact hence says that S. Paul hints that the Corinthians were corrupt in life and character. You do not, he seems to say, recognise that Christ is in you, because you are wicked and of evil life. Evil living is the beginning and the cause of apostasy and heresy. It was lust and pride that caused Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Ochino, and all the Protestant leaders, whether priests or monks, to throw off the habit of the Catholic faith and the Roman Church, and to throw themselves into forbidden nuptials, apostasies, and heresies.
Secondly, it is better to take reprobates, as in ver. 7, in the sense of despicable. From the signs of grace and of the miracles wrought among you by Christ, you know that Christ is in you, unless perchance you have been rejected by Christ, and deprived of the light He gives, and so reduced to your former darkness and abject state. Hence I said. "Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith;" see if your faith is honest: if it is, you know that Christ is in you; if you do not know, it is a sign that your faith is useless, that you have been rejected by Christ, and are no longer believers. Ver. 6. But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates. Not rejected by Christ, and deprived of His grace, and so mean and inglorious. You see indeed the opposite: you see Christ working powerfully in me, converting the Gentiles, punishing the rebellious, approving all that I do, cooperating with me, and giving me a successful issue in all things, so making me well known through all Achaia, nay through all the world. Ver. 7. Now I pray to God that ye do no evil. S. Augustine from this lays down, in opposition to the Pelagians, that grace is required not only to do good works, but to abstain from evil, to resist temptations, to keep ourselves unspotted from the world and the flesh. To overcome the more grievous temptations is impossible for nature unassisted by the grace of God.
Not that we should appear approved. I am not labouring to have my fame and power approved by you, and to manifest to you the power I have to effectually punish those among you who do wrong: for all this I care little. One thing I do care for, and that is, that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates. Reprobates may mean, as Gagneius thinks, "esteemed wicked." Or better still, it means regarded as rejected, as abjects deprived of power, inglorious, without authority to punish. If they were obedient, this authority would not be exercised, and so might, by those so disposed, be denied. It is clear, therefore, that reprobate is not here used as the opposite of predestinated, or of devout or holy, but of approved and highly thought of (Theophylact and Anselm). Cf. 1 Samuel 15:9 ; Psalms 118:22 . Ver. 8. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. Truth, not mental or verbal, but that truth of life which is righteousness and equity. We cannot, he says, do anything against those who live as Christians righteously, against those who do what is good; we cannot show against them our power to punish. But, on behalf of truth or righteousness, we can both punish those who violate it, and praise and reward those who follow after it.
Secondly, Theophylact explains it to mean: We cannot pass any sentence against the truth, so as to punish a man who does not merit punishment; but we can, and ought to pass sentence for the truth, and punish the guilty. This meaning follows from the first, and is plainer and easier.
Others take the passage thus: As we cannot pass it over if you do anything against the truth, i.e ., against righteousness and your Christian calling; so, if you act according to righteousness, we cannot punish you, because we can do nothing against the truth. All our power is to be jealously guarded, and used on behalf of truth and righteousness. Ver. 9. For we are glad when we are weak. I rejoice to be looked upon as weak, owing to my not being called upon to display my power to punish you, through your abounding grace and virtues, and freedom from guilt (Theodoret, Theophylact, Anselm).
The innocent are called, and are, strong, as here, because they have no reason to fear Apostle, or devil, or angel, or death, or hell, or anything in the word. The Latin Version reads "because" for when we are glad because we are weak. The meaning is the same. S. Paul is speaking conditionally: he does not say that he actually is weak and they strong, but that if it is so, if at any time it so happen, then he is glad. Ver. 11 . Be perfect. The Greek word used here denotes to mend a torn garment. S. Paul is alluding to the vices, evil habits, and especially the lukewarmness of the Corinthians. He says in effect: Make yourselves whole again, correct your old faults, curb the license of your lives, re-knit your severed friendship, union, and concord, so that you may have nothing to correct, nothing calling for punishment at my hands. Or, again, the word used is one bidding them agree amongst themselves and with their head, even as members in a body agree with each other under a common head. Cf. 1 Cor. xii. 16, note.
Be of good comfort. Exhort one another to better things (Latin version). Have consolation in mutual agreement (Vatablus).
Be of one mind. Have the same convictions, the same will: be of one mind and one soul.
Live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you. God is the author and giver of peace, and is well pleased with peace: as its guardian, He will be with you (Anselm). Ediner, in his Life of Anselm, relates that he was wont to say that those who in this life conform their wills to the will of others, so far as righteousness allows, merit at God's hands to have Him conform Himself after this life to their will, and live at peace with them. On the other, those who quarrel here with the wills of others will hereafter find no one to conform his will to theirs. It is the just rule of God's justice, that with whatever measure we mete it shall be measured to us again. God acts in the same way in rewarding other virtues and punishing other sins. Ver. 12. Greet one another with an holy kiss. What was this kiss? Xenophon (Cyropœdia, lib. i.) and Herodotus (Clio) testify that it was a heathen custom to salute one another with a kiss at meeting, in token of friendship. Suetonius says that Tiberius tried in vain to put an end to the practice. The Jews had the same custom. Cf. 2 Samuel 20:9 . Judas, too, was but conforming to what was usual when he betrayed Christ with a kiss. It was a still more solemn and common custom with the early Christians, both on other occasions, and especially when they met for Holy Communion, to salute one another with a kiss, or other familiar salutation, saying, "Peace be with you." This was a symbol of goodwill towards those about to communicate, of the forgiveness of all injury, and of pure charity. Cf. Cyril ( Cat. Myst. 5). Tertullian ( de Orat. ) calls this kiss "the symbol of prayer."
S. Chrysostom gives the mystical meaning to be, that through our mouth enters the body of Christ. We, therefore, kiss it, just as the early Christians, out of reverence for the sacred building, used to kiss the doors of the church. He gives directions how to guard this mouth against all that defiles, and to consecrate it to the praises of God. In some churches, even now, it is the custom for the canons to give this kiss before the Holy Communion. When some men, though the sexes sat apart, secretly crept in among the women and kissed them, the kissing the tablet of peace, as it is called, took the place of the kiss of peace.
A holy kiss, therefore, is not one that is heathen, carnal, fraudulent, but one that is devout, pure, and sincere, as a Christian's should be (Chrysostom). Cf. S. Augustine ( Serm . 83 de Diversis ) and Baronius ( Annals , A.D. 45). The author of the work "on Friendship," included among the writings of S. Augustine, gives four reasons why this holy kiss is given: (1.) as a sign of reconciliation between those who have been enemies; (2.) in sign of peace, as in the sacrifice of the Mass; (3.) in sign of joy and of renewed love, as when a friend returns after a long absence; (4.) in sign of Catholic communion, as when a guest is welcomed with a kiss. But in all such matters the custom of the place is to be followed, and care must be taken that this kiss do not degenerate into a merely sensual delight.
Ver. 13 . The grace of the Lord , &c. Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Theodoret point out that this passage proves that the Holy Trinity is consubstantial, or of the same nature, power, and operation, especially in the work of our redemption, which is more particularly in the Apostle's mind. Ambrose says. " In the Trinity there is a unity of power, perfecting the whole of our salvation. For the love of God sent His Son to save us, by whose grace we are saved; and that we might possess this saving grace, He makes us sharers of His Holy Spirit. "
Observe 1. that by the phrase "the love of God," the name of God is appropriated to the Father. For the Father is the fount of Godhead, and the Origin of the other Persons of the Blessed Trinity.
2. Love is fitly attributed to the Father, grace to the Son, and fellowship to the Holy Spirit: for from the Father and His love our redemption took its rise. "The Father so loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son" to die for us. By the Son came grace, inasmuch as, when we merited nothing but evil, He redeemed us by His death, and merited all grace for us. By the Holy Spirit we are made partakers of grace and of the gifts of grace. Anselm explains "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" to mean that our sins are freely forgiven, and salvation given us; "the love of God" to be the love of the Father in freely giving His Son for us; "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" to be the co-operation of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son in the work of man's salvation.
3. Fellowship may be taken actively or passively. Passively , it is identical with participation, and the meaning would then be: May the Holy Spirit be given to you, that you may be partakers of His grace and its gifts, may be changed into the Holy Spirit not essentially but participatively (Theophylact). Actively , the meaning is: May the Holy Spirit, who has fellowship with the Father and the Son in essence, in love, in power, and working, also have fellowship with them in communicating to you His gracious love, and, the gifts attached to it. Especially may He cause you to lay aside all divisions, and be joined together in mutual love, inasmuch as He is the bond of union between the Father and the Son, and therefore between all the faithful, who partake of the same Spirit and are united in His love. S. Paul, therefore, wishes for them the gift of fellowship, to take away all divisions.
4. Grace, love, fellowship may be either created or uncreated. Grace and love uncreate are the loving-kindness of the Father and the Son towards us. Thus we are said to find grace, i.e ., goodwill, favour, in the eyes of God. E.g ., in Titus 2:11 , we read: "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared," viz., when out of His love for us He condescended to assume flesh for us. Similarly, the uncreated fellowship of the Holy Spirit is that communion or fellow-ship which He has with the Father and the Son, or that participation of Godhead, and of all the Divine attributes which the Father and the Son communicate to the Holy Spirit, and He in him to us. Created grace is that which is infused into us to make us pleasing to God; created charity is that by which we love God; created fellowship of the Holy Spirit is the participation of His gifts given to us.
If, then, firstly we take this verse of uncreated grace, love, and fellowship of the Holy Ghost, the sense is this: May the grace, or the loving-kindness of Christ, and the love that the Father has for us, and the fellowship, or that bond of love by which the Holy Spirit shares all the Divine attributes with the Father and the Son, and then communicates them to us, be and remain with you, to give you, and ever give you, fellowship in that love and all other good gifts of God.
If, secondly, we take it of created grace, love, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, all of which flow from their uncreated originals, then the sense will be: May the grace which Christ gives, and the love bestowed by the Father, and the gifts communicated by the Holy Spirit be and remain always with you; and especially that mutual and brotherly love, which of all things is the brightest, the most pleasing to God, and the most necessary to you, 0 Corinthians, viz., the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. Similarly, in Rom 5:5 love has both meanings.
Give us ever Thy grace, 0 Jesu Christ, our Redeemer; give us ever thy love, 0 Father, our Creator and Glorifier; give us ever fellowship with Thee, 0 Holy Ghost, our justifier; that, in time and eternity we may love Thee and glorify Thee, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, One God, Divine Trinity, Triune Eternity. What have I in heaven but Thee, and what is there that I can desire on earth in comparison of Thee? God is the Strength of my heart and my Portion for ever.
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Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26