Father Callan’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

This post includes Fr, Callan’s brief summary of 2 Cor 5:14-21, followed by his notes on those verse.


A Summary of 2 Corinthians 5:14-21~After saying that the Apostles direct all their actions to the glory of God and the good of souls, St. Paul indicates more specifically the moving power of the Apostolic life, namely, the love of Christ, who, by His example in dying for all men, invites all to embrace a new life, in which they shall live for Him alone who alone died for them. The Apostles are living this new life, and hence they now judge all things by the standard of faith. This grace they have received from the Father, who has not only reconciled them to Himself, but has also called them to the Apostolic ministry; they are ministers of Christ for the purpose of leading all men to Christ, who was made sin that we might be made just.

2 Cor 5:14. For the charity of Christ presseth us: judging this, that if one died for all, then all were dead.

The charity of Christ, i.e., the love Christ has towards us (Rom 5:5, 8).

Presseth (συνεχει), i.e., restricts us from turning to objects other than the service of God and of our neighbor. And the reason for this is that since Christ died for all men, for the salvation of all, therefore all have died in Him, i.e., have participated in His death, sharing in its merits, so far as Christ is concerned. The death of Christ is considered equivalent to the death of all men, as a substitute for that of all.

That if one died for all. Better, “That one died for all.”

Then all were dead. Better, “Then all died” (απεθανον), i.e., all participated in Christ’s death, Christ having died vicariously for all. This is by far the most probable interpretation of this passage. See on Rom 6:2 ff. See Fr. Callan’s Commentary on Romans 6 here.

In the Vulgate quoniam si should be simply quod.

2 Cor 5:15. And Christ died for all ; that they also, who live, may not now live to themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again.

Christ should be omitted. The verse is closely connected with the preceding. Christ died for all, that all, having shared in His death, should now die to themselves, and live to Him in the new life of grace begun at Baptism.

They also, who live. This more probably refers to those who live the life of grace ; not to all men on earth.

And rose again. See on Rom 4:25; Rom 5:9-10. Rom 4:25 reads: Who was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification. Here is what Fr. Callan wrote concerning that verse: “Christ was delivered up to death and died to make atonement and to offer satisfaction to divine justice for our sins (2 Cor 5:20; 1 Pet 2:22, 24). The first use of for (δια) in this verse expresses the motive, the reason on account of which Christ died, namely, for our sins (Isa 53:4) ; the second for (δια) expresses purpose, the final cause, for which Christ rose from the dead, namely, for our justification. It is true that by His death our Lord merited for us remission of sins, justification, and glory. But in order that we might profit by these merits, it was necessary that He should rise again; because, according to the plan of divine Providence, it was only after the Resurrection that the Apostles were to go forth into the world and preach the faith through which alone we can be justified. Hence it is said that without faith in the Resurrection of Christ all “our faith is vain” (1 Cor 15:14). Our Lord therefore rose again, or was raised up (ηγερθη), for our justification. After His death Christ was no longer a viator, and so could not merit, properly speaking, by His Resurrection, and yet His Resurrection is truly the exemplary cause or type of the newness of life of the justified Christian.” For his comments on Romans 5:9-10 see here.

In the Vulgate Christus should be omitted.

2 Cor 5:16. Wherefore henceforth, we know no man according to the flesh. And if we have known Christ according to the flesh; but now we know him so no

The connection between this verse and what precedes is very close and intelligible, although some have thought that it breaks the argument, and must therefore be a subsequent insertion. There is no doubt about its authenticity. Since Christians should live now only for Christ and for others in Him, it follows that the Apostles henceforth, i.e., from their conversion, when they began to live the new, spiritual life, looked upon and judged men, not according to human standards and natural considerations, but according to the standards of faith and the life of grace.

And if we have known Christ, etc. Better, “Even if (ει και with B D) we have known Christ,” i.e., if before our conversion we considered Christ as a mere man, even as an impostor, it is not so any longer: now we recognize Him as the true Son of God, as the Lord and Saviour of all. There is no question in this verse of a personal acquaintance between St. Paul and Christ while our Lord was on earth.

2 Cor 5:17. If then any be in Christ a new creature, the old things are passed away, behold all things are made new.

The change in the Apostles, which the preceding verse describes, is now extended to all Christians. If any man be in Christ, through Baptism, he has become a new creature, morally and spiritually (Rom 6:6; Eph 2:10, Eph 2:15; Col 3:9-10).

The old things, etc., i.e., unregenerate man with his perverse inclinations and sins, are passed away, i.e., no longer exist.

They are made new, i.e., the whole man belongs to a new order.

All things (Vulg., omnia) should be omitted, according to the best Greek.

2 Cor 5:18. But all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Christ; and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.

This great change and complete renovation is from God, the Father, who sent His Son into the world to redeem us Christians and reconcile us to Himself by means of the sacrifice of the cross, and who has given to us, i.e., to us Apostles, the appointment of continuing the work of Christ. That the first us of this verse refers to all men is clear from the world of verse 19; and that the second us means the Apostles is also clear from in us of verse 19.

2 Cor 5:19. For God indeed was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing to them their sins; and he hath placed in us the word of reconciliation.

The thought of the preceding verse is amplified and explained.

For God indeed. Better, “God, as it were” (ως οτι θεος). God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, i.e., through Christ, in virtue of Christ’s merits, (a) by wiping out men’s sins, for which Christ atoned (1 Cor 6:11; Col 1:14, Col 1:22), and (b) by confiding to the Apostles the office of preaching the Gospel, of administering the Sacraments, etc.

In the Vulgate quoniam quidem would better be ut quod (Estius).

2 Cor 5:20. For Christ therefore we are ambassadors, God as it were exhorting by us. For Christ, we beseech you, be reconciled to God.

In consequence of the ministry confided to the Apostles they were ambassadors of Christ, announcing in the name of Christ the message of the Father to the world.

We beseech you, etc., to be converted to God, implying that some of his readers were in need of reconciliation with God.

2 Cor 5:21. Him, who knew no sin, he hath made sin for us, that we might be made the justice of God in him.

To move those who were in need of repentance the Apostle recalls how much God has done for men. In order that we might be redeemed from our sins and justified, God hath made, etc., i.e., has treated His only Son, who was sinless, as if He were sin itself (Rom 8:3); “He suffered Him to be condemned as a sinner, and to die as one accursed” (St. Chrysostom). It is improbable that the meaning here is that Christ was made a victim for sin, as is clear from the antithesis between sin and justice; Christ was made a sinner as far as this was consistent with His entire sanctity, i.e., He took upon Himself our sins (Isa 53:6) and suffered for them (MacR.).

Be made the justice, i.e., be justified, in him, i.e., by reason of our union with Him, who is our head. Our sins were external to Christ, who nevertheless suffered for them; but the justice of God, i.e., real internal sanctity, is communicated to us through the merits of Christ (1 Cor 6:11; Col 1:14, Col 1:22).

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5 Responses to Father Callan’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

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