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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 2

Lapide's Great Biblical CommentaryLapide's Commentary

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Verses 1-17



i. He declares that he had not come to them through fear of causing sadness to himself and to them.

ii. He exhorts them (ver. 6) to re-admit the fornicator, on his repentance, who had been excommunicated by him (1 Cor. v.), and (ver. 10) he absolves him from the sentence of excommunication and from his penance.

iii. He tells them (ver. 14) that he sheds everywhere a good odour of Christ, which is life to the good and faithful, and death to the evil and unbelieving. Ver. 1 . But I determined this with myself. I determined not to come to you from a desire to spare you. Cf. chap. 1. 23. Ver. 2. For if I make you sorry. Although I made you sorry by rebuking you in my First Epistle, yet I am now made glad with you in seeing the repentance and sorrow, both of yourselves and the fornicator. The "for if" is not causal but explanatory.

Who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me ? He who is grieved and made penitent by my reproof is the one who most makes me glad, i.e ., the incestuous person whom I excommunicated ( 1Co 1:5 ). Ver. 3. Lest when I came I should have sorrow. I wished by sending you a letter first to rebuke and correct your evil ways, lest I should be forced to do so in person, which would be very painful to me.

Having confidence in you all. I had complete confidence that you would at once take away whatever might displease me, because you regard my joy as yours, and my grief therefore as yours also. I knew, therefore, that what displeased me would displease you. S. Paul says ail this to prepare the Corinthians for his arrival, and to induce them to amend themselves, lest he should be deeply grieved at seeing them not yet amended. Ver. 5. He hath not grieved me. The fornicator did not grieve me only.

But in part. He grieved, says Anselm, many other good men as well as me; those, viz., who banished from their society with ignominy the man that I had already excommunicated.

That I may not overcharge you all. Overcharge you by putting on you the suspicion that there are not many who are grieved on account of the incestuous person. In the First Epistle (v. 2) he seems to have charged them all with consenting to, or with treating lightly, the sin of incest. Ver. 6. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment. The public separation and shame of excommunication. Hence it follows that the man repented after his excommunication, and is here absolved by the Apostle. Ver. 7. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him . Forgive him the rest of his term of penance by admitting him to your fellowship again. Cf. ver. 10.

Ver.8. That ye would confirm your love toward him. By declaring in public assembly of the Church that you once more embrace him as a brother. There is an allusion in the Greek verb to the fixed days of assembly for legal trials or elections, and the Apostle therefore alludes to the fixed days of assembly in the Church, and bids the Corinthians confirm their love then toward the incestuous person by re-admitting him. Ver. 9. For to this end also did I write. Viz., this Epistle, to the end that I might induce you to confirm your love toward him.

That I might know the proof of you. A proof of your obedience. Ver. 10. To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also. You have asked through Titus that he may be forgiven, and I make the same request of you. So Theodoret explains these words. Cf. also chap. vii. 7. It is clear from ver. 7 that this forgiveness had not yet taken place, and the meaning therefore is: As, when you were gathered together and my spirit I excommunicated him (1 Corinthians 5:0 ), so now do I join with you in forgiving him, as you will forgive him at my exhortation.

Observe against Luther that this Epistle was written to the rulers of the Church, or rather to the Church itself, that it might exercise this power of absolving, not corporately, but by the prelates. Yet out of courtesy he wishes even the laity to co-operate in the absolution, and by their consent, prayers, desire, and compassion to forgive this scandal which had been given to them and the Church, and to remit the due canonical penance or punishment. Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:4 . Hence he goes on to say, "For your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ." S. Paul here asserts that he forgave in the exercise of his power and jurisdiction as the vicar of Christ; and he orders his sentence to be publicly proclaimed in the Corinthian Church, by the bishop or some other officer, and implies that the Corinthians forgave merely through their prayers, consent, and execution of the sentence of absolution. S. Chrysostom lays this down clearly when he says: " As when he ordered the man to be cut off he did not allow that with them was any authority to forgive, since he said, 'I have judged to deliver such an one to Satan,' so again did he admit them into partnership with him when he said, 'When ye are gathered together to deliver him.' He was aiming at two ends, one that the sentence might be passed, and the other that it should not be carried out without them, lest he should seem to do them an injury by so acting. Neither does he pass sentence alone, lest the Apostle should seem to be isolated and to despise them ."

If I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ. I forgave it, i.e ., I determined to forgive it (ver. 7), and now by this letter and by the bearer, whether Titus or some other, I forgive it. This is a Hebraism, by which the past is put for the present.

It may be asked, What was it that the Apostle forgave? I reply 1. that this forgiveness consisted in giving absolution from excommunication, and at the same time, or rather still more, in giving full indulgence for the incest, i.e ., remission of all the penalty due because of it. It is evident from 1 Cor. v. that the punishment inflicted was excommunication, and with it the penalty of ignominious exclusion from the Church, and the handing over of his body to be afflicted by Satan. Here, however, he absolves him from every chain by which he had been bound.

2. To forgive, properly speaking, refers to guilt or punishment. Of excommunication alone is it strictly said, "I absolve."

3. He re-admits him to grace, both on account of the zeal of the Corinthians and the contrition of the incestuous person, and relaxes his punishment and shame and rebuke, lest from too much sorrow he should despair. This indulgence is referred to by the word anything. Whatever part of the punishment you have asked may be forgiven him, I forgive him.

4. He remits the punishment not merely, as Calvin thinks, before the Church, but in God's judgment: this is expressed by the phrase in the person of Christ , otherwise there would not have been any indulgence or mercy shown here to the fornicator. It is better to be visited on earth with infamy and corporal punishment than before he tribunal of God to be handed over to the fire, either of purgatory of hell.

Hence S. Thomas and others rightly lay down that the Apostle and the Church give indulgences. So, in olden times, martyrs, when in prison, sent to the Bishops men who had lapsed, praying them to relax their punishment, as appears from Tertullian ( ad Martyr . c. 1), Cyprian ( Epp. 11, 21, 22); and the Council of Nice (c. xi. and xii.) grants to those that have lapsed that, according to the willingness with which they bore the punishment inflicted on them, might the Bishop give indulgence. Cf. Baronius, vol. i. p. 592. Observe that the reason for giving indulgence was the fear that the penitent might despair. Hence, formerly, indulgence was not given unless a good part of the penalty had been paid, and that lest the vigour of discipline and of satisfaction, which is the third part of repentance, should be relaxed. Cf. S. Cyprian ( ad Martyr. lib. iii. Epp. 6). The Council Trent (sess. xxv.), in its decree on indulgences, orders that moderation should be shown in giving indulgences, according to the ancient practice of the Church, lest ecclesiastical discipline should, by excessive leniency, be rendered lax.

If I forgave anything. He speaks modestly of his generosity. Hence he adds that he did it in the Person of Christ.

In the person of Christ. This may be understood (1.) in the presence of Christ. So Theodoret and Vatablus. This rendering is eagerly adopted by Calvin and Beza, and read as if it meant, I forgive him ex animo , really and not feignedly. (2.) Properly it means, "I forgive him by the authority of Christ entrusted to me, who said, 'Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'" So Theophylact renders it: "I forgive him just as if Christ had forgiven him: just as a regent acts with the authority of a king, and orders, passes laws, and pardons in his stead." As S. Paul, in 1 Cor. v., had excommunicated the fornicator in the name of Christ, so here, by the same authority, he sets him free, just as any one who might have been condemned by the regent could not be pardoned but by the regent himself. Ver. 11 . Lest Satan should get an advantage over us. Lest we be deceived, and lest that fornicator be, by excessive severity, driven by Satan to despair. The Greek verb means, lest we be seized unjustly, and taken possession of by Satan, just as misers, usurers, and tyrants defraud, and rob, and oppress. Hence Ambrose renders it, "Lest we be possessed by Satan." For, as Theophylact says, when Satan catches and deceives souls, he does not seize what is his own but what is ours and Christ's. Hence Tertullian ( de Pudicit. c. xiii.) reads for the following clause: "We are not ignorant of his devices," "We are not ignorant of his robberies."

For we are not ignorant of his devices. Plutarch relates an excellent saying of Chabrias, that "he is the best commander who knows intimately the plans of the enemy." In like manner he is the best Christian soldier and captain who knows thoroughly the devices and machinations of Satan. He transforms himself into an angel of light, that that which is a suggestion of our enemy the devil may seem to be the counsel of a friendly angel. We often experience suggestions of evil surmisings, bitterness of soul, anger, moroseness, cowardice, and we think that we are moved by some good cause and by reason, and that these things come forth from our own minds, when all the time they proceed from the devil, who suggests them to our ruin. The Christian, therefore, should, in such cases, reflect whether these suggestions are in accordance with charity, humility, patience, grace, and the law of Christ, and if he finds them to be opposed, let him be sure that they are of the devil: if he is in doubt, let him take counsel with his confessor, his superior, or some prudent man. S. Anthony, by long experience, learnt this and taught it: he was in the habit of constantly laying bare and explaining to his disciples, the arts and devices of the devil, and of pointing out the way to defeat them, as we read in the life of him by Athanasius. S. Francis, too, frequently did the same thing, and so freed many of his followers from the devil's temptations, as S. Bonaventura relates ( Visa , lib. i. c. 11).

In this way, then, Satan was instigating the leaders of the Corinthian Church to show anger and indignation against this fornicator for having so foully stained the first purity of his Church, to the end that, being deprived of all comfort and hope, he might lose all heart and become desperate. Paul saw through this intent of Satan, and here exposes it, and bids them receive the fornicator once more into grace, and give him, on his penitence, pardon and remission. Vers. 12, 13. Furthermore, when I came to Troas . . . I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother. S. Jerome (ad Hedibiam ) says that Titus was S. Paul's interpreter, and explained the sublime truths taught by him in Greek worthy of the subject. There was, too, another reason why Paul went to Troas to meet Titus, viz., that he was anxious to hear from Titus, whom he had sent to Corinth, the state of the Church there, before he himself fulfilled his promise of returning thither. Hence, in chap. vii. 6, he says that he had been comforted in Macedonia by the arrival of Titus, who brought him word of the sorrow of the Corinthians and of their desire to see him. Titus, however, seems to have reported to Paul that the time was not yet ripe for his return to Corinth. Paul, therefore, postponed his visit to Corinth, and sent on this letter to pave the way for him, to and correct the failings of the Corinthians. Ver. 14. Now thanks be unto God which always causeth us to triumph in Christ. The Syriac and Theophylact render this "triumphs in us," i.e ., makes us conspicuous to all. A triumph is the procession of a victorious commander through the midst of the city with his trophies and other signs of victory. But those things which seem to us to be suffering and shame are our glory and triumph, says Theophylact. Secondly, Anselm understands it of God triumphing over the devil in us or through us. Cf. Colossians 2:15 .

The Apostle seems to have had to bear sharp persecution in Macedonia, and, indeed, in vii. 5 he says that he had suffered there every kind of tribulation: without were fightings, within were fears; but God's grace gloriously and triumphantly overcame them all. S. Jerome ( Ep. 150 ad Hedibiam, qu. xi.) says beautifully that the Apostle here gives thanks to God for counting him worthy to be the subject of the triumph of His Son over so many persecutions and evils, which he underwent in his task of converting the Gentiles to Christ. " For the triumph of God ," says S. Jerome, " is the suffering of the martyrs for the name of Christ, the shedding of their blood, and their joy in the midst of torture. For when anyone saw the martyrs stand firm, and so perseveringly endure tortures, and glory in their sufferings, the odour of the Knowledge of Christ was shed abroad among the Gentiles, and the half unconscious thought would arise that if the Gospel were not true it would never be proof against death ." The preaching of the Gospel therefore triumphs in the Apostles, inasmuch as in it faith overcomes unbelief, truth falsehood, the love of Christ the hatred of the scornful, patience every kind of suffering and persecution, and even death itself. Ver.15 . We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ. Or, according to the Latin, a sweet odour. We scatter by word and example a good report of Christ to the honour of God. A good odour is exhaled from special kinds of herbs and such things as sweet spices. Such was the fame of the Apostles and of their preaching, such was the glory and honour that sprang from their virtues and was due to their merits. Hence the bride, i.e ., the Church, in Song vii. 1, compares herself to a garden of sweet spices in which there is to be seen the beauty, pleasantness, and fair order of the growing herbs and sweetly scented flowers which exhale their delicious fragrance. This is what Christ orders in S. Matt. v. i6, where by another metaphor glory and good name are called the splendour that flows forth from the light of good works.

S. Bernard ( Serm. xii . in Cantic .) says excellently: " Paul was a chosen vessel, truly a sweet-smelling vessel, filled with pleasant odours and with every fair colour for the painter, for he was a good odour of Christ in every place. Truly, far and wide was the fragrance of his abundant sweetness scattered from that breast which so anxiously and for all the Churches. For see what spices and aromas he had stored up within : ' I die daily ,' he says , ' for your glory ,' and, ' Who is weak and am I not weak? '"

Observe again that, as the more spices are crushed the greater is the fragrance they exhale, so is it with Christ, His Apostles and Martyrs, and all the Saints: the greater the persecutions and tribulations that pressed them and, as it were, crushed them, the sweeter was the odour that their virtue gave forth.

Cf. Ambrose and Anselm, and S. Bernard ( Serm. 71 in Cantic. ), who discourses of the spiritual colour and odour of virtues from the text, "I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the valley." He says: " The character has its colours and its odours; odour in the good report it bears, colour in the conscience within. The good intention of your heart gives its colour to your work; the example of your modesty and virtue gives it its odour. The righteous is in himself a fair lily, to his neighbour he is full of sweet odours. To our neighbour we owe it that we maintain a good reputation, to ourselves that we are careful to have a conscience void of offence ." S. Jerome also, alluding to the same passage, says: " The life and conversation of a Bishop, pastor, or teacher ought to be such that all his goings out and comings in, and all his works should be redolent of heavenly grace ."

Heathen writers also employ this image of odour in rebuking evil livers. Martial, e.g ., says that "he smells not sweet who always smells sweet," implying that that man's chastity was to be suspected who was always endeavouring to overwhelm the foulness of his own shameful disease by some artificial scent. Certainly we read of the virgin Catherine of Sienna, that she was wont to close her nostrils when she met any one that was impure, as though the smell of his wickedness was grievous to her, God giving this most chaste virgin perception of such things. S. Basil ( Ep. 175) relates that some bird-catchers were wont to dip the wings of tame doves in some sweet liquid which was pleasant to other doves, so as to allure them and catch them. So must the Christian do: by the sweet odour of his virtues he must allure the lost and bring them to Christ. So did the virgin Cecilia win to Christ her spouse Valerianus, by causing him, on the first night of their marriage life, to smell the most fragrant odour of her chastity, as though it were the scent of spring roses. Ver. 16. To the one we are the savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life ." " We are ," says Theophylact, " a royal censer, and wherever we go we carry with us the odour of the spiritual ointment, i.e ., in every place we scatter the good fumes of the knowledge of God ." Again says Œcumenius: " As the fragrance of ointment nourishes the dove and destroys the beetle, and as the light of the sun gladdens the eyes that are healthy and hurts those that are weak, as fire purifies gold and destroys straw, so is Christ ruin to the evil, resurrection to the good ." Observe the Hebraism, an odour of death unto death, i.e ., a deadly odour bringing death. The fragrance of the fame of the life, preaching, and conversion of the Apostles breathed life into the good, death into the evil; for the wicked, unable to bear the splendour of such holiness, hardened themselves the more in their wickedness, envy, or hatred. But Clement of Alexandria ( Pæd. lib. ii.) reads, "odour from death" and "odour from life," which means: The preaching of the Cross and death of Christ is an odour to the unbelievers arising from the death of Christ, and tends to the ruin of those who regard that death merely as a death, and find it accordingly foolishness or a stumbling-block: but to them that believe it is an odour from life, inasmuch as they embrace the life offered to them in this death. For the death of Christ was the cause of his resurrection to a glorious life, and in us it is the cause of our resurrection to the life of grace in this world, and the life of glory in the world to come.

And who is sufficient for these things ? The ministers, says Ambrose, who are in every place a good odour of Christ are as few as they are insufficient. Ver. 17 . For we are not as many which corrupt the word of God. The particle for denotes that Paul, with the few other Apostles, was by God's grace a fitting minister of Christ, and scattered wherever he went the good odour of the Gospel, while many others were unfitting preachers of the Gospel, of evil odour and of bad report

The Latin for corrupt is "adulterate," which, Salmeron says, denotes the act of one who has connection with a woman that is not his wife; so does he who mingles truth and falsehood adulterate the word of God. S. Gregory ( Morals, lib. xxii. c. 12) says: ' To adulterate the word of God is either to think of it otherwise than it is, or to seek from it, not spiritual fruit but the corrupt offspring of human praise. To speak in sincerity is to say nothing but what one ought, i.e., to seek always the glory of the Creator. " Again ( Morals, lib. xvi. c. 2 5) he says: " An adulterer seeks not offspring but carnal delight; and whoever perversely serves vain-glory is rightly said to adulterate the word of God, because it is not his aim to beget children to God by sacred eloquence but to display his own knowledge. Whosoever therefore is drawn to speak by the desire of vain-glory spends his labour rather on pleasure than generation ."

But the Greek word used here is not the word for committing adultery, but one that denotes to traffic as an inn-keeper, and S. Paul contrasts with this sincere dealing. They make the word of God a matter of traffic, who, like inn-keepers, preach the Gospel for gain, and look at it entirely from the point of view of their own profit. Still the Latin accurately translates the passage, because, as inn-keepers often adulterate the wine that they sell to increase their profits, so do greedy and false preachers of the Gospel mingle with it their own gain, and so adulterate that Gospel which should be pure, and be purely referred to God's glory. "War is not a matter of traffic," said King Pyrrhus, "but of fighting." Cowardly captains, from dread of battle, stave it off by payment of money; others sell the loyalty they owe to their leader, and, like inn-keepers, arrange with the enemy the price of the cities and fortresses entrusted to their charge.

Again, these same false preachers, in order to add to their gain and to win the applause of men, often teach and preach what they see is pleasing to great men or to the people, and tickle their ears, and so corrupt the Gospel with false and empty doctrines. The Apostle seems to be here censuring incidentally his enemies the false Apostles, who were adulterating Christianity with Judaism, and who are severely reproved by him in chaps. x. and xi. Hence, in chap. iv. 2, he explains "corrupt" to mean "handle the word of God deceitfully," and he contrasts himself and other sincere teachers of the Gospel with these deceitful dealers in chap. iii.

But as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ. I am not an inn-keeper, as are the false apostles, but a sincere preacher of the word of God, preaching nothing but what I have learned from God and have received at His mouth as His ambassador. I know too, and constantly keep in mind and reflect that I stand and preach in the presence of God, and that all that I do or say is noted by Him and will have to be accounted for by me in the hour of death.

In Christ , says S. Jerome ( ad Hedibiam ), is the same as for Christ ; or it may mean "of Christ and His religion." The sense then is: I preach the doctrine of Christ alone, I spread the honour and glory of Christ alone. Or in Christ may again be taken to mean that he speaks and preaches in the truth, faithfulness, and sincerity of Christ. S. Chrysostom once more takes it to mean through Christ and His grace.

Bibliographical Information
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/clc/2-corinthians-2.html. 1890.
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