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2 Corinthians 7

Lapide's Great Biblical CommentaryLapide's Commentary

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Verses 1-16



i. He declares his love, sincerity, and his confidence in the Corinthians.

ii. He declares (ver. 6) his joy at their repentance and amendment.

iii. He states (ver. 10) the signs and acts of true repentance.

iv. He names (ver. 13) Titus as his witness for the repentance, love, and obedience of the Corinthians. Ver. 1. Having therefore these promises. The promises that, Christians should be the temples of God, should be His sons and daughters, and should have God dwelling in them and walking in them.

Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. From this passage theologians draw the division of sin into that which is fleshly and that which is spiritual. The first has to do with a carnal object, and makes man like a beast, as, e.g ., gluttony, lust, and drunkenness. The second has to do with a spiritual object, and makes man like a devil, as e.g ., anger, pride, envy.

S. Basil ( Reg. 53) says appropriately that "filthiness of the flesh denotes carnal actions, and filthiness of the spirit is having intercourse with them that do such things, as, e.g ., the Corinthians had with the fornicator whom the Apostle bade them wholly to avoid."

Perfecting holiness. So that the mind, purged from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, may be perfectly holy and pure, given in the fear of God to good works. The fear of God is both the beginning and perfecting of true wisdom and holiness (Ecclus 1:16-19, and Ecclus 5:18). The more the fear of God increases, the more does holiness increase, and so the perfect fear of God is perfect holiness. S. Basil ( Reg. 53) says beautifully: " Holiness consists in being dedicated to God, and thenceforward wholly clinging to Him, in eagerly seeking after and earnestly maintaining such things as are pleasing to Him. Even in things offered to God as gifts those are rejected as unpleasing to Him which are maimed or defective; and to resume for human uses what has been once dedicated as a gift to God is infamous and accursed ."

Ver. 2. Receive us. Embrace us with the arms of love, as with all our heart we do you (Theophylact). Cf. vi. 11-13. Strictly, the Greek denotes "make a place for us" a large place in your hearts. Maldonatus ( Not. Manusc .) renders the words. "Bear with me if I have praised myself over-much."

We have defrauded no man. We have obtained no man's goods, either by violence or fraud. Cf. ii. 11. Ver.3. I speak not this to condemn you. I do not mean to accuse you of suspecting me of such things.

Ye are in our hearts to die and live with you. So great is my love for you that with you and for you I am ready both to die and to live. How this harmonises with the preceding will be seen in ver. 4. S. Paul alludes to lovers, whose love is commonly so ardent as to make them of one life, to hold all things in common, and to involve one in the death of the other. Cf. Nilus and Euryalus in Virgil, Æn. ix. 427-445; the Soldurii, mentioned by Caesar in lib. iii. de Bello Gallico, and the sacred cohort of the Thebans, described by Plutarch. Erasmus and others add that the Apostle is referring to that ancient kind of friendship in which on the death of one friend the other also killed himself, as Caesar records that the Soldurii were in the habit of doing. Such was the friendship Horace says that he had with Mæcenas. In Peru and Mexico wives and the better-loved servants, when the husband or master dies, throw themselves upon the funeral pyre, or are buried alive with the dead body. In Japan, too, when noblemen are condemned to death, they in company with their nearest friends inflict death on themselves by ripping themselves up. Such suicide the Apostle condemns, but praises and embraces the friendship. He seems to say: "As they love each other even to death, so do I, 0 Corinthians, love you, and long to live with you and die with you; but I do not, as they, long to inflict on myself death." But there is no need to suppose that the Apostle finds a model for his love in illicit and parricidal friendships. They chiefly manifested themselves in simultaneous death and self-murder, and were, therefore, wickednesses, and deserving blame rather than praise Ver. 4. Great is my boldness of speech toward you. My boldness is great because my love is so great. Hence comes my "glorying of you" (Theophylact and Ambrose). Paul says all this to banish all suspicion of his good faith, and to gain credence to his declaration, "We have wronged no man," &c. "I have not said this," he seems to sail, "out of any distrust of your good opinion of me, but out of the boldness engendered by my great love for you; hence it is that I am wont to glory of you." Let superiors learn of S. Paul, to beware lest those under them distrust them, from a belief that their superiors do not believe them, do not trust in them, and do not therefore confidently entrust themselves and their goods to their superior; let them rather endeavour to deal openly with them, and let them know that they are loved; let them show that they have a good opinion of their inferiors, and by so doing they will bind their hearts to themselves, and turn them wherever they please.

I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. Viz., because you have corrected what in my First Epistle I condemned. You have so comforted me that I not only am filled with comfort, but more than filled. This exuberance of joy drowns all feeling of my afflictions, even as floods of water put out a small fire.

Observe here that friendship produces four affections in the souls of friends. The first affection is one of trust, of which Paul says: "Great is my confidence in you;" the second is one of glorying, of which he says: "Great is my glorying of you;" the third is one of comfort, of which he says: "I am filled with comfort;" the fourth is one of superabundant joy, of which he says. "I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulations." Ver. 5. Without were fightings. Unbelievers were openly hostile.

Within were fears. I was inwardly anxious, both because of false brethren and of weak Christians, lest they should be led to fall away through our persecutions (Anselm and Ambrose). Ver. 7. When he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more . I was before saddened through your divisions and other sins, but when I saw and heard of your desire to amend, your penitence for your sins, and your zeal to protect me against all detractors, I rejoiced. Ver. 8. For though I made you sorry with a better. Although in my First Epistle I made you sorry by rebuking your vices, nevertheless it was good for us, and it stirred you to repentance, which brought you at once peace and joy.

Though it were but for a season. My Epistle saddened you but for a short time, and it led you to repentance; therefore I rejoice both over my letter and your repentance. Ver. 9 . Ye sorrowed to repentance. This sorrow led you to repentance, to mourning (ver. 7), to indignation and revenge (ver. 11). Repentance, therefore, is not merely a coming to one's self again, as I will show directly by several proofs. Ver. 10. For gladly sorrow worketh repentance. Observe 1. that the Apostle here distinguishes two kinds of sorrow, one according to God, and one of the world. The sorrow of the world, or carnal sorrow, is that which springs from loss of excessively loved worldly goods as when wealth or pleasures are lost, when friends or great men are offended. This sorrow often works death to the soul, by bidding us recover our goods and offend God. Not unseldom it even works diseases and death to the body, for many pine away and die through excessive grief. "Sorrow slays many," says Ecclus. 30:25, "and there is no use in it." But godly or Divine sorrow is that which follows on the thought of having offended God, and is called contrition; it produces penance, or self-punishment; so leading to salvation, it is firm, sure, and not to be repented of. Hence Chrysostom and Erasmus refer not to be repented of to penance, not to salvation.

2. The Apostle distinguishes this sorrow from penance as the cause from the effect; for sorrow, that is contrition, works penance, that is self-punishment. Hence it is evident that this sorrow and this penance are not merely a return to one's sense and a new life, as heretics think; nor mere leaving off one's past sins, as Erasmus says, but are contrition and self-discipline. It is evident in the second place that sinners are justified and attain salvation, not by faith alone, but also by penance; and thirdly, that repentance includes this contrition, confession, and satisfaction, and that these are the three parts of repentance. So in ver. 11 the Apostle, explaining repentance, says that it works carefulness, i.e ., to appease and satisfy God, revenge, &c.

Here we should take note of the golden saying of S. Chrysostom ( Hom. 5 ad Pop .), on the use, end, and fruit of sorrow. He says: " Sorrow was given us, not that we should mourn over death or other ills, but to blot out sin and to be a remedy against it. Just as the remedy for blear eyes takes away that particular disease and no others, so does sorrow banish sin, but not other ailments. For example, a man loses his money he grieves, but does not mend his case; one loses his son he grieves, but does not thereby raise the dead. He meets with scorn and contempt he grieves, but the insult remains; he falls sick he grieves, but does not thereby banish his sickness, nay, he makes it worse. But when a man sins and grieves for it, he blots out his sin, for godly sorrow works repentance powerful for salvation. Sorrow, therefore, was made because of sin alone, and from it takes its birth, and, like a moth, eats it up and destroys it ."

Cassian, following his master S. Chrysostom, thus describes ( lib. ix. c. 10) godly sorrow: " Sorrow ran be said to be useful to us only when it is enkindled within us by repentance for our sins, or by a longing after perfection, springing from the contemplation of our future bliss . . . . This sorrow, which worketh repentance powerful to salvation, is obedient, affable, humble, meek, tender, and long-suferring, as descending from the love of God, and unweariedly extending itself through its longing after perfection to all bodily mortification, and to complete spiritual contrition. It is at times joyful, and feeds itself on hope of progress; it retains all the pleasantness of affability and long-suffering, having in it all the fruits of the holy Spirit love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance ." He proceeds to give the marks of worldly sorrow: " It is harsh, impatient, hard, full of bitterness and unfruitful grief, and guilty despair. It breaks of from diligence and saving grief any one that it may have laid hold of; it is void of reason, and not only hinders prayer from being efficacious, but destroys all the aforesaid fruits of the Spirit conferred by godly sorrow ." Ver. 11. For behold this selfsame thing, &c. The Apostle here, as Calvin admits, names seven effects of godly sorrow and true repentance. (1.) Carefulness to expiate the offence against God and to regain His favour. (2.) Defence (rendered by Ambrose, "excusing;" by Erasmus, "satisfaction;" by Maldonatus, "clearing of the accusation"), not by words but by deeds by a good life. Here the defence may be the defence of S. Paul against his detractors and the false apostles. (3.) Indignation that now, recognising your divisions your passing over the act of incest and the other sins rebuked in my First Epistle, you were grieved and penitent, you were indignant with yourselves. (4.) Fear, not only of man, but fear of offending God. (5.) Desire to correct self, and to satisfy man and still more God. (6.) Zeal to honour God and to cast the notorious sinner out of the Church (Anselm and Chrysostom). (7.) Revenge, or purpose to punish sin by grief and tears, by bodily and spiritual mortification (Theodoret, Theophylact, Ambrose, S. Thomas). Calvin himself says (Inst. lib. iii. c. 13, § 16): " Last of all is revenge. The more severe we are against ourselves, the keener our condemnation of our sins, the more hope ought we to have that God will be propitious and merciful to us. And surely the soul that is smitten with fear of God's judgment cannot but anticipate part of His punishment by inflicting punishment on itself ."

In these seven effects and fruits of repentance there is a gradation; for the Apostle rises by steps from the less to the greater, as is expressed by the repeated, "yea, what." This sorrow for having offended God has not only brought on carefulness to be reconciled to Him, but also defence of me, Paul; not only that, but indignation against sin, holy fear of guarding against sin for the future, desire of making satisfaction, zeal against sinners, and, lastly, revenge on sin, which is the last step and fruit of repentance.

This passage plainly shows us, therefore, that repentance is not merely a change of life and a purpose of better living, but is also detestation of the old life, mortification, and satisfaction. Hence the Council of Trent (sess. xiv. c. 8), following the ancient usage of the Church, bids confessors, in enjoining satisfaction, to regard not only the needs of the new life, but also the revenge due to the sin committed, although its guilt by absolution is remitted.

Tertullian, one of the earliest of the Fathers, says the same ( de Penit . c. ix.). His words are: " Public confession is a discipline which lays low and humiliates man, and acts as an allurement to mercy. As to dress and food, it bids us lie in sackcloth and ashes, defile the body with sordid clothing, tame the mind with sorrow, with stern treatment change what is sinful, to use food and drink for the sake of the life only, not for the pleasure of the belly, to cherish prayer by fastings, to weep and cry to God day and night, to attend Church services, and to kneel with those that are pleasing to God, to add supplications to those of all the brethren ."

Climacus, too ( de Penit. Gradu. 5), says: " Repentance is thought condemning itself, a perpetual repudiation of bodily delight, a voluntary endurance of all afflictions, a constant deviser of sufferings for itself, a severe mortifier of the pleasures of appetite, a condemner of the physical life also in its keenest sensual delight, an abyss of humility ."

How different is all this from the easy system of Luther and Calvin, who enjoin no other penance than faith for every sin, no matter how frequent or how heinous. I believe, say they, that God has pardoned thee thy sins through the merits of Christ, and therefore He will pardon thee all thy punishment and guilt. In other words, believe yourself to be in the Elysian Fields, believe yourself a king, and straightway you are such; at all events, if not really, certainly in imagination. Surely all this is but like the fond dreams of lovers. Let him believe this who lacks, not so much faith, as brains and sound sense, and who, at his own risk, desires and intends to enter on the broad way of the many, which leads to perdition, and not the narrow way of the few, which leads to life. As the Sibyl said to Æneas. "Easy is the descent to Avernus, but to retrace one's steps, and to emerge into the upper air this is labour, this is toil; the few God-born ones, beloved by Jupiter, or raised by their virtues to the heavens, have alone availed to do it."

Let the Protestants listen to S. Jerome, or the author of the Epistle to Susanna after lapsing, (whoever he may be, he is certainly of weight and of early times, nay, Erasmus and Marianus think from the style that he is S. Augustine himself). Prescribing to her or any other penitent the form of lamentation and repentance, he says; " Who shall comfort thee, 0 virgin-daughter of Zion, for thy contrition is made vast as the sea? Pour out thy heart as water before the face of the Lord, raise to Him thy hands as a remedy against thy sins. Take thy lamentation, and chiefly on no day omit to say the 51st Psalm, which is always used for this purpose, and with groaning and tears go through each verse, as far as that one, 'A broken and contrite heart, 0 God, shalt Thou not despise.' Moreover, pour out this lament, not without compunction of heart, in the sight of God, thy Judge. Who will give water to my head and a fount of tears to my eyes, that I may bewail the wounds of my soul? Woe is me! for I am become as Sodom, and am burnt even as Gomorrha. Who will have pity on my ashes? I have sinned worse than Sodom, for she sinned in ignorance of the law, but I have received grace and sinned. If a man sin against a man there will be one to plead for him, but I have sinned against the Lord, and whom shall I find to atone for me? How bitter is the fruit of concupiscence more bitter than gall, more cruel than the sword! How am I become desolate! Suddenly have I fallen away and perished through my iniquity, like as a dream when one awaketh. Therefore has my image become vile in the city of the Lord, my name has been blotted out. Cursed be the day when the womb bore me, and the cruel light saw me. Better for me if I had not been born than become thus a proverb amongst the Gentiles. Through me confusion and reproach have come on the servants of the Lord, and on them that worthily worship Him. Mourn for me, ye mountains and rivers, for I am the daughter of weeping. My sin and my iniquity are not like to the offences of men. This wickedness is horrible, to pollute with flesh a virgin who has professed chastity. I have lied against the Lord Most High, but still I will call to the Lord: 'Lord, rebuke me not in Thy anger, neither chasten me in Thy heavy displeasure. '" S. Ambrose gives the same directions to a lapsed virgin. Cf. Cyprian ( Serm. de Lapsis ), Chrysostom ( Hom. 41 ad Prop .).

Climacus, in the passage already cited, relating examples and describing, the disposition of penitents, has the following remarks, which may worthily act as goads of compunction to the sinner: " When I came to the monastery of penitents, nay, to the religion of them that flee from sin, I saw and heard things which may well take God by storm. I saw some of those guilty ones standing and watching through whole nights till daybreak, standing motionless, resisting sleep applying force to nature, giving themselves no rest, but chiding themselves. Others I saw in prayer, with their hands bound behind their backs after the fashion of criminals, turning their sorrowful faces to the earth, saying that they were unworthy to see the heavens, asking for nothing, but offering to God a mind silent and mute and filled with confusion. Some I saw sitting on the ground that was strewn with sackcloth and ashes, covering, their faces with their knees, and bruising their foreheads against the earth. Others were smiting their breasts, and with deep sighs recalling their past life; others were weeping, and others lamenting their inability to do the like. I saw some as though turned into stone by grief, and insensible to everything. Others, with looks fixed on the ground, were constantly moving their heads and roaring like lions . . . . I saw too some with their thirsty tongues protruding from their mouth as dogs. Some of these tortured themselves under the heat of a burning sun, others submitted to the most bitter cold; some drank a little water, that they might not be altogether parched with thirst, and so gained relief. Some would eat a little bread and then throw away the rest, as if they were unworthy of it. What place was there among them for laughter, for gossip, for anger, for enjoyment of wine or fruits? They all alike cried to God, and nought was heard save the voice of prayer ." If any one desire more he will find much of the same kind, and enough to make him dumb. He ends by saying: " I saw them, and I counted them who so mourn after falling happier than they who have never fallen, and do not so bewail themselves ."

Lastly, listen to the repentance and sorrow of S. Paula for some slight sins, as recorded by S. Jerome: " She had not, even when stricken with violent fever, any soft bed-clothing, but lay on sackcloth, spread on the bare hard ground, and so took her rest, if that is to be called rest which mingled night and day with never-ceasing prayers, according to the words of the Psalmist, 'Every night will I wash my bed, and water my couch with my tears.' You might suppose that in her were fountains of tears, so bitterly did she bewail the slightest sins; and you might have thought her guilty of the most heinous crimes. When she was bidden by us, as often was the ease, to spare her eyes, and save them for reading the Gospel, she would say, 'Defiled must that face be which, against the commandment of God, I have often painted with red dyes, and antimony, and different cosmetics. Afflicted must be the body which has been devoted to many delights. Long laughter must be atoned for by long mourning. Soft clothing and dainty silks must be exchanged for rough sackcloth. I, who once lived for my husband and the world, now desire to please Christ ."

In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. Free from the sin of the fornicator. Although at first you neglected to punish it, yet you have shown your detestation of it by punishing it, and by your repentance (Anselm and Theophylact). Ver. 12 . Though I wrote unto you, I did it not , &c. He who suffered wrong was the father whose wife the incestuous man had taken to himself. Hence it is evident that the father was alive. The Apostle says in effect: In the former Epistle I wrote somewhat sharply, but I did not mean to avenge the private injuries done by the incestuous person and suffered by the father; but I wished to show the care that I have for the common salvation of your Church, by expelling from it this public scandal. Ver. 13. Therefore we were comforted. By your repentance, zeal, &c., as was said (vers. 6, 7, 9, 11). The Latin version points this verse as follows: "Before God, therefore, we were comforted. But in our comfort we joyed the more," &c. If with some Greek copies we read "in your comfort," S. Paul refers to the good news that he had heard of their repentance. "The tears of penitents," says S. Bernard, "are the wine of angels," nay, they are the wine of penitents, for nothing so makes glad the heart as compunction. How sweet to the penitent is it with the Magdalene to weep at the feet of Jesus, to bathe them with tears, to wipe them, to kiss them, and then to hear: "Thy sins are forgiven thee." None but one who has tried it knows this sweetness. Ver. 14 . Even so our boasting which I made before Titus is found a truth. I am accustomed to boast to him of you as good disciples, and you have proved my boasting true. Ver. 16. I have confidence in you in all things. I dare to speak and act boldly with you, whether in the way of praise or blame. You are always obedient to me, and, therefore, I am bold, and am able to boast of you and think well of you (Chrysostom, Theophylact, Ambrose). Anselm remarks on the prudence of Paul, as of a physician, in curing with the pleasant medicines of consolation and praise the wounds now nearly healed, so that the burning inflicted by his former rebuke might be wholly healed.

Bibliographical Information
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. 1890.