Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Note: I’ve included in this post Lapide’s Synopsis of the whole chapter.


In this and the two following chapters S. Paul discusses Christian gifts and graces. In this chapter he points out—

1. That gifts are variously distributed by the Holy Spirit.

2. To show this he draws an illustration from the human body, which, though it is one, yet has many different members, and he concludes that each one in the Church should be content with the grace given him, and the position in which he is placed, and use his gifts for the common good, so that all, as members of the same body, may help and care for each other (ver. 12).

3. Next he declares that God has provided His Church with different classes of men, so that some are apostles, some prophets, some teachers, &c. (Ver. 28).

In this chapter S. Paul deals with such gifts as prophecy, tongues, and powers of healing, &c. In the beginning of the Church these gifts were abundantly bestowed upon the faithful by the Holy Spirit, even as they were upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. The occasion for his dealing with these was the way in which the Corinthians prided themselves upon these gifts: one put an extravagant value on one gift, another on another, and some were mortified at not receiving some gifts which they saw others have. The Apostle, therefore, lays down what these gifts are—their nature and import, and the manner of their use.

Ver. 1.—I would not have you ignorant. And therefore he proceeds to give them teaching about them.

Ver. 2.—You know that when you were heathens &c. You were led like slaves, by custom, by the institutions of your ancestors, by religious tradition, and by diabolic agency to these dumb idols. For the Hebraism in the employment of the participle instead of the finite verb, cf. Rom. xi1 11. Remember, he says, 0 Corinthians, that when you were Gentiles you used to worship idols, as sticks and stones which have neither breath, feeling, power of speech, nor strength of any kind, and much less can give such things to their worshippers. But now that you have become Christians you can worship God, who is pure spirit, full of all grace and wisdom, and sheds these same spiritual gifts abundantly upon you, as you daily experience. Recognise, therefore, the grace bestowed upon you by Christ, the chance wrought in you, and worship Christ, the author of all this, together with the Holy Spirit.

Ver. 3.—Wherefore . . . no man . . . saith anathema to Jesus. The “wherefore” shows this verse to be a conclusion from the preceding, and explains it. I have reminded you, he says, of your previous condition as Gentiles, and of your dumb idols, in order that you may appreciate duly the greatness of your calling, and the grace of the Holy Spirit given you in your baptism, by which you no longer call on dumb idols but on Christ and the Holy Spirit, and receive from them gifts of tongues, &c., that you may know how full of eloquence and energy compared with your dumb idols is the Holy Spirit who makes you eloquent in divine wisdom. Acknowledge, then, the Holy Spirit’s power, and contend no more about His gifts, since you have them from the Holy Spirit, who distributes His gifts as He wills. Let not him who has received less grieve thereat, nor him who has received more be high-minded. So Chrysostom.

No man, speaking by the Spirit of God, saith Anathema to Jesus. No one execrates or blasphemes Jesus if he has the Spirit of God. He rather acknowledges Him and calls upon Him, as the author of the grace he has received, of his salvation, and of all spiritual gifts. S. Paul uses the figure meiosis, and leaves the rest to be understood.

Observe that S. Paul says this to the Corinthians, partly because of the Jews, who to this day are declared to say in their synagogues, Cajetan says, “May Jesus and the Christians be accursed;” partly, also, and even more, because of the Gentiles, among whom the Corinthians were living. They and their poets, and their priests especially, were in the habit of execrating Jesus. Moreover, by this Gentile rulers tested whether any one were a Christian or not. They would order them to curse Christ, as Pliny says, that he had ordered (Ep. ad Traj): “There was brought before me a schedule containing the names of many who were accused of being Christians. They deny that they are or ever were Christians. In my presence they called upon the gods, and burnt incense, and poured a libation of wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought in amongst the statues of the gods. Moreover, they cursed Christ; and it is said that those who are bare Christians cannot be in any way forced to do any of these things. I thought, therefore, that they ought to be dismissed. Others said that they had been Christians, but had now ceased to be; they all paid honour to your image and the images of the gods, and cursed Christ.”

And no man can say The Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost. The Apostle draws a contrast between calling Jesus accursed and calling Him Lord. No one can recognise, believe, invoke, and preach Jesus as Lord, and profess faith in Him as he ought, and as is necessary to salvation, except in the Holy Spirit, i.e., through the Holy Spirit. For faith, hope, and prayer are His gifts.

S. Paul does not by this deny that unbelievers, under the ordinary influence only of God, can profess the name of Jesus, or have good thoughts about Him, but only that no one without the grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit can with true faith and pious affection invoke Jesus as Lord earnestly and heartily, and confess Him to be our Redeemer; or even say in his heart, or think of Him anything which in its rank and order confers and disposes to forgiveness of sins, grace, and eternal bliss. So say Ambrose and Anselm. This appears from the fact that he is addressing the Corinthian faithful, and rebuking the pride which they took in their gifts and graces, on the ground that they have their faith and all their gifts, not from themselves but from the Holy Spirit. These gifts, then, he means to say, are not your own, nor can you even call upon Jesus of yourselves; but to know Him and call upon Him are the gift of the Holy Spirit

Ver. 4.—Now there are diversities of graces. One grace is given to one, another to another, but they all proceed from the same Spirit.

Ver. 5.—.And there are diversities of ministries. There are different kinds of sacred ministries distributed by the same Lord, from whom as God and through whom as man we receive them, so that He is ministered to in different ways by different people. So Anselm.

Ver. 6.—And there are diversities of operations, &c. Observe 1. that the Apostle assigns gifts to the Holy Spirit, the fount of goodness; ministries to the Son, as Lord; operations to the Father, as the first beginning of all things. So Theophylact and Anselm.

2. The gifts here spoken of are what are sometimes called “graces gratuitously given;” the ministries are the various offices in the Church, such as the diaconate, the Episcopate, and the care of the poor; the operations are miraculous powers, such as the exorcism of demons, the healing the sick, the raising the dead. The word operations is explained in ver. 10 by being expanded into “working of miracles,” which is translated by Erasmus the “working of powers.” The Greek δύναμις is strictly power, might, ability, and ε̉νέργεια, working ε̉νέργημα, work.

But it will be more satisfactory to say that the Apostle calls all graces gratuitously given (1.) graces, because they are given gratuitously; (2.) ministries, because by them each one ministered to the Church; (3.) workings, because by them the faithful received from the Holy Spirit a marvellous power to say and do things surpassing the power of nature. These graces are the work of the Holy Spirit equally with the Father and the Son; for all external works, as theologians say, viz., all that go forth to created things, are common to the Three Persons; yet, as they are workings they are fitly assigned to the Father, as ministries to the Son, as graces to the Holy Spirit

Who worketh all in all. 1. God works everything in nature by working effectively with second causes, as theologians teach in opposition to Gabriel Biel. Thus God brings about all the blessings of nature and of good-fortune. That one is poor, another rich is to be attributed to the counsel and will of God. Cf. S. Chrysostom (Hom. 29 Moral).

2. God works all supernatural things, both the graces that make a man pleasing to God and the graces that the Apostle means here, viz., those gratuitously given, such as the working of miracles. Whatever the saints ask of God in prayer, or order to be done in His name, is done by God’s direct action, even in the realm of nature.

It does not follow from this that the co-operation of God goes before and determines beforehand the working of secondary causes, and of free-will in good works, and of grace that makes a man pleasing; for in all these God works all things through His prevenient grace, by which He stirs up the will, and through grace co-operating, which, together with free-will freely working, works simultaneously everything that is good. But the Apostle is not dealing primarily with the works of grace that make a man pleasing to God, but with the workings of graces gratuitously given, as will appear from what follows.

S. Hilarius (de Trin. lib. viii.) renders “works” “inworks,” and so follows the Greek more closely, which signifies the inward presence and effectual power with which God works all things inwardly, especially miracles and all the other gifts. The whole chapter deals with these.

Ver. 7.—And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit. The gift given by the Holy Spirit, and by which He is manifested, is given for the benefit of the Church, not of the individual

Ver. 8.—To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom. The power of explaining wisdom, viz., the deepest mysteries of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, of predestination, &c. Cf. chap. xiii.

To another the word of knowledge. The power of explaining the things pertaining to life and morals. S. Augustine distinguishes thus between wisdom and knowledge (de Trin. lib. xii. c. 14 and 15), and the Apostle so takes knowledge in chap. viii. Others understand by knowledge the power of explaining the things of faith by examples, comparisons, and human and philosophical reasonings.

Ver. 9.—To another, faith in the same spirit. 1. S. Paul does not mean here the theological faith which all Christians have, but that transcendent faith, including the theological, which is the mother of miracles. It consists above all things in a constant confidence in God for obtaining anything and for working miracles, e.g., as Christ says, for removing mountains. This appears from chap. xiii 2. Cf.  S. Chrysostom.

2. Ambrose understands faith here to be the gift of an intrepid confession and preaching of the faith.

3. But best of all faith here is a clear perception of the mysteries of the faith for the purposes of contemplation and explanation; for in Rom_12:6,  S. Paul says in the same way that prophets have the gift of prophecy, and ought to prophesy “according to the proportion of faith,” i.e., according to the measure of the understanding of the things of faith given them by God. Maldonatus (in Notis Manusc.) says that the Apostle here means that transcendent faith possessed by but few, and which enables its possessors to give a ready assent to Divine things; for the faith which works miracles seems to be included in the “working of powers” mentioned in the next verse, as Toletus, amongst others, rightly points out at Rom_12:6.

Ver. 10.—To another the working of miracles. Literally, the “working of powers,” viz., those greater miracles which concern the soul, not those which belong to the body or its diseases. Of this kind are the raising the dead, casting out devils, punishing the unbelievers and impious by a miracle, as S. Peter did Ananias and Sapphira. So say Chrysostom and Anselm. Thus the “working of powers ” is distinguished from the “gift of healing.”

To another discerning of spirits. That is of the thoughts and intents of the heart, and consequently of words and actions, whether they proceed from nature, or from the inspiration of God, or an angel or the devil. So Chrysostom, Ambrose, Anselm. S. Jerome, in his life of S. Hilarion, says that he had this gift, and S. Augustine says (conf. lib. iii. c. 2) that his mother Monica had; so too had S. Vincent of Ferrara, and so have some now-a-days, especially those who have the direction of souls. It is a gift most useful to confessors, one to be sought for from God, in so far as a perfect knowledge and care of consciences require it.
To another the interpretation of tongues. Of obscure passages, especially of Holy Scripture. Hence there were formerly in the Church interpreters, whose duty was fourfold: (1.) there were those who, by the gift of tongues, prophesied or sung hymns in a foreign language; (2.) those who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, spoke of obscure and deep mysteries; (3.) those who publicly expounded the letters of S. Paul and of others sent to their people; (4.), those who turned them into another Language. In this way many think that S. Clement turned the letter to the Hebrews from Hebrew into Greek. It appears from this that Holy Scripture is not plain to every one; nor is it, as the heretics think, to be interpreted by the private ideas of any one, seeing that God has placed interpreters in His Church. But it should be noted that these interpreters have now been succeeded by professors of Hebrew, Greek, and Divinity.

1. From this chapter and the following, theologians have drawn the distinction between grace which perfects its subject and makes him pleasing to God, such as charity, chastity, piety, and other virtues, and grace gratuitously given, which is ordained for the perfecting of others. Although the Apostle names here nine only of the “graces gratuitously given,” yet there may be more.

2. It is very likely that of these nine five are permanent habits, viz., wisdom, knowledge, faith, different kinds of tongues and their interpretation, to which must sometimes be added the discerning of spirits. The remaining four are not habits but transient actions, viz., the gift of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, and the discerning of spirits. Cf. Bellarmine (de Gratiâ, lib. i.,c. 10).

Ver. 11.—Dividing to every one according as he will. Dividing to each one individually his own gifts and graces. Cf. S. Jerome (contra Pelag. dial. 1). Origen understood “as He will” to refer to each several man. It refers, of course, to the Holy Spirit. 1. Hence, as Theophylact says, the Holy Spirit is Lord and God. He, is not produced as an effect, but He effects all things equally with the Father, who worketh all in all (ver. 6). The working all in all assigned to the Father in ver. 6 is here assigned to the Spirit.

2. It follows that the Holy Spirit, being God, has free-will and works freely.

3. Abélard, Wyclif, and Calvin may be refuted by this verse, in their teaching that God cannot do anything but what He actually does do. This is to rob God of His omnipotence, and to subject Him, like man, to fate, and therefore to transfer His Divinity to fate. For, if this were so, God would not work as He chose, but as fate willed, under whom He and all things would be placed.

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One Response to Father Cornelius a Lapide’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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