Father Callan’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Text in red, if any, represent my additions.

THE NATURE, ORIGIN AND PURPOSE OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS, A Summary of 1 Cor 12:1-11

Before their conversion the faithful were blind, without understanding; and they were led away to dumb idols who could give them no instruction in religious matters. But now they have criterions by which to test these things, and they can tell whether those appearing to be endowed with extraordinary gifts have received real powers from God or not. And if one really possesses
any of these freely given graces, St. Paul would have the faithful understand that such gifts are to be used for the spiritual benefit of those in the Church who have not been favored with them.

1. Now concerning spiritual things, my brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

Now (δε). This adversative connective shows, in opposition to the last clause of the preceding chapter, that St. Paul considered the necessity of instruction on spiritual gifts too imperative to be left until he would visit the Corinthians and impart to them oral directions and enlightenment.

The Corinthians had written to St Paul in regard to several matters which he begins to deal with in 1 Cor 7:1. His final words in chapter 11 were: And the rest I will set in order, when I come. “The rest” apparently referring to certain things the Corinthians had written to him for advice about.  Father Callan assumes that the issue Paul is now taking up was also one of the items mentioned in the letter, however, this need not necessarily be the case. St Paul had been informed of certain problems at Corinth by word of mouth (1 Cor 1:11; also, probably 1 Cor 11:18).

Spiritual things (πνευματικων) , i.e., spiritual gifts, which are called by theologians, gratiae gratis datae (graces gratuitously given), as opposed to gratia sanctificans (sanctifying grace) or gratum faciens (grace that makes one pleasing, i.e., to God. These last two terms designate the same thing). The latter, like the gifts of the Holy Ghost, is for the spiritual benefit of those who possess it; while the former are bestowed on certain individuals, not for their own sanctification, but for the spiritual advantage of others in the Church (Rom 12:6). These transient spiritual gifts are bestowed quite independently of the merit or personal sanctity of those who receive them. This the Corinthians did not understand.

The Catholic Encyclopedia: The gift of miracles is one of those mentioned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:9, 10, among the extraordinary graces of the Holy Ghost. These have to be distinguished from the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost enumerated by the Prophet Isaiah 11:2 ff. and from the fruits of the Spirit given by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians 5:22. The seven gifts and the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost are always infused with sanctifying grace into the souls of the just. They belong to ordinary sanctity and are within the reach of every Christian. The gifts mentioned in the Epistle to the Corinthians are not necessarily connected with sanctity of life. They are special and extraordinary powers vouchsafed by God only to a few, and primarily for the spiritual good of others rather than of the recipient. In Greek they are called charismata, which name has been adopted by Latin authors- they are also designated in theological technical language as gratiae gratis datae (graces gratuitously given) to distinguish them from gratiae gratum facientes, which means sanctifying grace or any actual grace granted for the salvation of the recipient.

2. You know that when you were heathens, you went to dumb idols, according as you were led.

You know, etc. The majority of the faithful of Corinth were of Gentile origin, as this verse proves, and St. Paul reminds them of their ignorant condition as pagans. They went to dumb idols, who were unable to instruct them in spiritual matters, as they were led by the devil (1 Cor 10:19 ff.; Eph 2:2), or by evil custom. See also 1 Thess 1:9; Acts 14:14-18.

3. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man, speaking by the Spirit of God, saith Anathema to Jesus. And no man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost.

Wherefore. This most probably goes back to the ignorance mentioned in verse 1. Verse 2, then, is parenthetical.

I give you to understand, i.e., he lays down a general rule by which the Corinthians may judge whether a fact which seems extraordinary really comes from God. No one who curses Jesus is speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost, while he who confesses that Christ is God does so, as a rule, because he is moved by God’s Holy Spirit.

That no man, speaking, etc., i.e., no one speaking with tongues, by the Spirit of God, i.e., under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, saith Anathema, etc., i.e., curses Jesus, or declares that Jesus is accursed of God. Anyone who denies or doubts the Divinity, humanity, mission, doctrine or the like, of Christ, cannot be moved by God’s Spirit; and consequently all extraordinary phenomena that may proceed from such a one must be ascribed to diabolical influences.

On the other hand, no one can say the Lord Jesus, i.e., can confess that Christ is the Lord of all things, and therefore God, but by the Holy Ghost, i.e., except he be influenced by divine inspiration (Matt 16:17). The faithful, then, are to be guided in their interpretation of extraordinary phenomena on the part of individuals by this general rule: If any extraordinary effect is directed against the faith of Christ, and tries to do away with Christ’s doctrine, it is to be considered as coming from diabolical sources; but if, on the contrary, it promotes the faith and love of Christ, it is to he judged as proceeding from the Holy Ghost.

4. Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit;
5. And there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord;
6. And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all.

4-6. The pagans believed that various gifts were to be attributed to different gods; for example, wisdom to one, power to another, and so on. Lest the faithful should be guilty of a similar absurdity regarding the gifts bestowed on them St. Paul tells them, (a) that while there are diversities of graces, i.e., different gifts bestowed on different persons, they all proceed from the same Holy Spirit; (b) that while there are diversities of ministries, i.e., different ministers, such as Apostles, bishops, priests and the like, in the Church, they all depend on the same divine Lord and Mediator, Jesus Christ, who is head of the whole Church; (c) that while there are diversities of operations, i.e., various marvelous effects, such as cures, conversions and the like, produced by the different ecclesiastical ministers according to their varied gifts, all are due to the one God, the Father, who, as the first cause of all things, worketh all in all, i.e., moves all creatures to their actions, and cooperates with the operations of all (cf. St. Thomas, h. 1.).

In these three verses we have an explicit mention of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. They are introduced to emphasize the argument, beginning with the Holy Ghost, and leading us step by step to the one source of all (Estius).

The interpretation just given of these verses, which, in the main, is that of St. Thomas and Fr. Cornely, seems to us most correct; but there are other authorities who explain them somewhat differently. The graces, they say, mean the gifts possessed by different individuals ; the ministries, or ministrations (διακονιων) are the services rendered by those who possessed those gifts; and the operations refer to the effects, or results of the services
of those who possessed the gifts. Cf. MacR., h. 1.

7. And the manifestation of the spirit is given to every man unto profit.

And the manifestation, etc., i.e., the manifestation which the Spirit produces, the spiritual gifts just spoken of. These gifts not only proceed from the same Spirit, but are ordained to the same end, namely, to the advantage and utility of the Church.

Concerning verses 8-10 in general: The enumeration of the gifts of the Spirit in these verses was not intended to be complete, since in verse 28, Rom 12:6-8, and Eph 4:11 different accounts occur. There is much disagreement among interpreters as to the nature and classification of these various gifts of the Spirit. There then follows references to the writings of Cornely, Le Camus, Prat and Fouard.

8. To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom: and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit;

The word of wisdom means an understanding of the deeper mysteries and truths of faith, such as was possessed especially by the Apostles, together with the faculty of explaining them in a clear and convincing manner to others.

The word of knowledge is an understanding of the ordinary truths of religion, coupled with the ability to explain them by the use of rational arguments, illustrations and the like. Knowledge is the gift possessed in particular by Doctors of Theology. With the Corinthians these gifts were not the result of study, but of the extraordinary “manifestation of the spirit” (verse 7).

9. To another, faith in the same Spirit; to another, the grace of healing in one Spirit;

Faith does not mean the theological virtue which all must possess to be saved, but that special faith which can move mountains (Matt 21:21) and work other miracles. It was this faith that the Apostles asked for, saying: “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).

The grace of healing, such as was possessed by St. Peter, whose shadow delivered the sick from their infirmities (Acts 5:15), and by St. Paul, whose handkerchiefs and aprons dispelled diseases and evil spirits from the bodies of the infirm (Acts 19:12).

10. To another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits: to another, diverse kinds of tongues; to another, interpretation of speeches.

The working of miracles (ενεργηματα δυναμεων) , i.e., the power of producing more extraordinary effects, such as raising the dead cf. Matt 7:22; 11:20 where δύναμις (= dunamis, force, power, whence our word dynamite) is also used in the sense of miracle.

Prophecy, i.e., the gift, not only of foretelling the future, but of so speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost as to instruct, edify and move the faithful by exhortation (1 Cor 14:3).

The discerning of spirits, i.e., the faculty of distinguishing the works of the Holy Ghost from those that come from Satan or from mere human agencies (1 Cor 14:29).

Diverse kinds of tongues, i.e., the gift not only to preach, but especially to pray and speak in strange languages.

Interpretation of speeches, i.e., the power of interpreting those who praised God in strange tongues. The Apostle speaks at length in 1 Cor 14 about these last gifts.

11. But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he wilt.

All these gifts that have just been mentioned, so different from one another, are due, not to the merits or sanctity of those who possess them, but to the one Holy Spirit who freely distributes them to whom He wishes, according to the needs of the Church.

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One Response to Father Callan’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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