Father de Piconio’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12

Text in red are my additions.

In this chapter, and the two that follow, the Apostle refers to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, at that time frequent among the Corinthian Christians, and gives directions for their use. And in the present chapter he urges that as these gifts all proceed from the same Spirit, and were all intended for the advantage of the whole Church, which is the mystical body of Christ, and intimately united in every part, the distribution of such spiritual and supernatural powers, according to the wisdom and appointment of God, ought not to give rise to dissension, jealousy, or ill will.

1. But about spiritual things, I would not have you ignorant, brethren.

About spiritual things. Supernatural manifestations of spiritual power, or such as claim to be so. These words recall what Paul had to say in 2:6-3:4 (note especially 2:12-13).

2. You know that when you were Gentiles, going to dumb idols, as you were led.
3. Therefore I make it known to you, that no one speaking in the spirit of God says anathema to Jesus. And no one can say, the Lord Jesus, except in the Holy Ghost.

Going to dumb idols. The connection of these two verses with the subject in hand is not clear at first sight. The most probable explanation is the following, which is adopted by Saint Chrysostom. There were at Corinth, as there are in all places where paganism has long reigned supreme, a large number of professors of the magic art, who traded on the credulity of the people, and pretended to powers of prophecy, revealing secrets, healing diseases or inflicting them; and carried on their trade in the temples of the dumb idols, and were called, or the spirits supposed to inspire them, Pythons and Pythonesses (see Acts 16:16 where a girl is said to be possessed by a python spirit; see also the footnote to this verse in the NAB). Many of the converts had in former times listened eagerly to these impostors, led, by idle curiosity, or the example of others, or the direct suggestion of the  devil. Some of these had not improbably intruded themselves into the assemblies of the Christians, seeking to rival the supernatural gifts conferred upon Christians by the Holy Spirit. Under those circumstances, the Apostle says (in verse 3), I will give you a rule by which you may infallibly detect the pretended possessor of supernatural powers, and distinguish him from the true. Ask what he thinks of Jesus. If inspired by the devil, or acting professionally in accordance with the malice of the devil, he will blaspheme Jesus, and call him Anathema, that is, execrated and accursed. But if he readily and constantly declares that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, and Lord of all things, and that to him worship and obedience are due, you are safe in recognising in that case the reality of the supernatural powers he exercises, as inspired by the Holy Ghost. Almost exactly the same rule was given many years afterwards by the Apostle St. John in 1 John 4:2-3. By this you may distinguish the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ come in the flesh, is of God. And every spirit that confesses not Jesus Christ come in the flesh, is not of God. This is the spirit of anti- Christ, already in the world.

The verb is wanting in the concluding clause of verse 2, in the Vulgate. Supply cratis; you were in the habit of going. The Greek has: You know that you were Gentiles, going astray after the dumb, or voiceless, idols, wherever you were led.

4. Now there are divisions of graces,  but the same Spirit:
5. And there are divisions of ministrations, but the same Lord.
6. And there are divisions of operations; but the same God, who works all in all.

The gifts of the Spirit had occasioned strife; pride in those who possessed them, envy in those who did not. The whole argument of this chapter is directed against this evil. The gifts of the Spirit are various, but the Spirit is the same. They are besides graces, or free gifts, which no one can claim of right. There is therefore no just ground of jealousy. Grace is to be had by all: why then grieve? says Saint Chrysostom. Different ministrations, or offices in the Church, as the Apostolate, the Episcopate, Presbyterate, Diaconate; but only one Lord, the Prince and Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Ministration involves hard labour and great responsibility; why grieve because another is assigned this burden, and thou spared? Saint Chrysostom. And there is endless variety in operations, or power of working miracles; but all proceed from God the Father, the Ruler of nature, and Author of all power. All the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are here named in succession, as authors of these gifts; the Holy Spirit as the fountain of grace; the Son as the Lord and Prince of the Church; the Father, as the Maker and Governor of the universe. But the sacred name of God is used in verse 6 as including, not the Father only, but the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are equal partners with him in the creation and government of the world.

7. But to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for use.

The manifestation of the Spirit is given for use. This is another reason why it should not be an occasion of jealousy or strife. These gifts are not conferred for the glory of the individual, but for the benefit of the whole Church, and all share their advantages. The writer proceeds to distinguish these gifts into nine orders or varieties.

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

The word of wisdom, given by God the Father through the Spirit, is the faculty of explaining the deepest mysteries of faith, from their highest and original principles, the mystery of the Trinity, the Incarnation, &c., and is what Saint Paul referred to when he said he spoke wisdom among the perfect, 1 Cor 2:6-7.

The word of knowledge is the faculty of explaining things of faith by human science, by reason, example, or comparison, which is now called the science of Theology.

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

Faith does not mean dogmatic or theological faith, though it springs from and includes it, but the complete trust in God’s power by which all blessings are obtained by prayer, of which our Lord spoke, Mark 9:23, “if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him who believes”: and Mark 11:23, “Whosoever shall say to this mountain,” &c.

10. To another the operation of powers, to another prophecy, to another discernment of spirits, to another, kinds of tongues, to another, the interpretation of speech.
11. But all these one and the same Spirit operates, dividing to each as he will.

The operation of powers, in Greek, energies of powers, signifies miracles of a more illustrious and conspicuous character, such as recalling the dead to life, called powers because they are an evident demonstration of the presence and action of the almighty power of God.

Prophecy is the faculty of foreseeing the future, which necessarily implies a communication from God, because to God alone the future belongs or is known; and the faculty of explaining the hidden meaning of the Scriptures.

The discernment of spirits is the faculty of distinguishing between real manifestations of the divine and supernatural power of God, and pretended ones, or such as are wrought, or simulated, by the agency or temptation of the devil.

Kinds of tongues, the faculty of using different varieties of human speech.

The interpretation of tongues was a distinct gift from the last. It is not every one, as Erasmus observes, who can speak a language, who is able fully to explain the whole meaning and significance of every utterance in that language; and what was said often needed an interpreter or expositor.

These various gifts are said to be communicated through the Spirit, according to the Spirit, and in the Spirit. They all come from God the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and are accorded to those in whom his grace and influence dwell. And, as they are intended for the benefit and advantage of the whole Church, there is no reason why they should occasion murmuring or jealousy. To enforce this, the Apostle five times repeats that they all proceed from one and the same Spirit. They are, therefore, so many reasons for thanksgiving to God, who has conferred these wonderful powers on his Church.

These gifts are communicated according to the will of the Holy Spirit. This alone should silence all cavil. They may have been, or they may not always have been, adapted to the natural previous gifts or powers of the several receivers: but all was determined by the wisdom of the Giver, and His will supreme over all. There are instances in which God’s inspiration has been given to men who, in their own opinion, were not adapted to receive it, as when Moses said I am not eloquent, Exodus 4:10, and Amos 7:14, I am no prophet, but a herdsman gathering wild figs. But man’s judgment is not infallible, and the prophet who complained that he was not eloquent, was afterwards the writer of the book of Deuteronomy.

12. For as the body is one, and has many members, but all the members of the body though many are one body: So also Christ.

As the body is one. The physical body of man is one, but has many different limbs and organs. So also is the Church of Christ, having many individual members, each endowed with separate gifts, yet they are all one.

13. For in one Spirit we have been all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free: and have all been given to drink in one Spirit.

One, because by the operation of the same Spirit, all have been baptized into one body, Jews and Greeks, bond and free. Also because they have been given to drink, through the operation of the same Spirit, the Eucharistic Chalice of the blood of Christ. We have all come, says Saint Chrysostom, to initiation into the same mysteries, and drink from one table. One table, one irrigation. Why, proceeds the same Father, does he not say, we are all fed by the same body, drink the same blood? Because, by reference to the Spirit, he signified both the blood and flesh of Christ, for by both we are made to drink in one Spirit. The Greek has into one Spirit. We are not only born again and incorporated into Christ by baptism, but by the same food, the body and blood of Christ, we are all fed and nourished.

14. For also the body is not one member, but many.

The body is not one member, but many. If it were one member it could scarcely be an organized body. What is here stated is a general physical law. The deduction from it, by analogy, is that in Christ, or Christendom, there are many members, various and diverse, differing in position and function, higher and lower; but all alike members of the body of Christ, one body with Christ. And the inference is that all should contribute, in their place and function, as the organs of the body do, to the life, energy, and utility of the whole, instead of engaging in strife with one another.

15. If the foot said: Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body: is it therefore not of the body?
16. And if the ear said: Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body: is it therefore not of the body?
17. If the whole body were eye : where the hearing? If the whole were hearing : where the smelling?
18. But now God has placed the members, each of them in the body, as he would.
19. But if they were all one member, where the body?
20. But now there are indeed many members, but one body.

The feet are the laity undistinguished by special office in the Church, or special supernatural gifts, or the office of teaching. They are not the hand or the eye. But they are still members of him who sits in glory at the right hand of God. What is important, is to belong to Christ; and they belong to Christ as much as the rulers of the Church, or its teachers. The hearers belong to Christ as
much as the teachers; the ear as the eye. If all were teachers, instructors, seers, who would there be to listen to them? If all were on a level, and had no special gift, and none to guide them, if the whole were hearing, who would distinguish the false from the true, the imposition of false miracles from the real gifts of the Spirit?

God has placed the members in the body, the faithful in his Church, in the disposition and order and arrangement which he sees to be best. Without an organization, a distribution of offices and functions, and the gifts specially suitable and necessary to them, so vast a system as the Church of Christ, destined to spread throughout the world, could not exist. Where would be the body? A body is not certain component parts aggregated together, but these in a certain order and arrangement, as the material universe is not a fortuitous concourse of atoms, but these arranged and disposed by a creative law. But one body. The unity of the body necessitates and implies both the multiplicity and the mutual arrangement of its component parts.

21. And the eye cannot say to the hand: I want not thy help, or again the head to the feet: you are not necessary to me.
22. But much more the members of the body which appear weaker, are more necessary.
23. And those we think the more ignoble members of the body, these we surround with more abundant honour: and to what parts of us are shameful, have more abundant respect.
24. And what of us are honourable need none: but God has tempered the body, by giving more abundant honour to that, to which it was wanting.
25. That there may be no schism in the body, but that the members may be alike solicitous for one another.
26. And if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with it: or if one member is glorified, all the members rejoice together.

The eye, signifies those who are absorbed in the contemplation of divine truth; the hand, those engaged in the active service of the Church. The contemplative life cannot dispense with the active life. Mary seated at the feet of Jesus was in need of the ministration of Martha, as Saint Thomas observes. And the prelates of the Church, who are the head, cannot carry on their work without the assistance of the inferior orders, and of the laity; any more than the head can bring into effect its designs and projects, if the feet do not carry it about. The head, and all the body, stands in need of the assistance, requires even the decoration and ornament, of the humblest members of the body. If one foot halts, the fulness of the church halts with it; if an eyebrow is shaved off, the whole countenance is strangely deformed, thus Saint Chrysostom. Iron will do what gold cannot, thus Saint Ambrose.

The weaker organs, such as the brain and the intestines, are more essential to life than the more robust, for life cannot exist without them, but life may be sustained after the loss of many of the bones. There are Christians whose utility and service to the Church are not conspicuous or ostentatiously displayed, but whose value is known to God: such as many whose life is hid with Christ in God, in the retirement of the religious life. Some are actually marked with infamy, as unworthy members of the body of Christ, and looked down upon, who are yet penitent, contrite, humble, and therefore pleasing to God, and their merits and prayers are precious in his sight. The word honour, in this passage, is used for dress, which the head, the face, the hands, do not require, but is bestowed on what we wish to conceal.

The Apostle says, which seem to be infirm, which we think dishonourable. Nothing God has made is ignoble by nature or in itself. Man’s judgment is often mistaken: God looks at the heart. As heaven is distant from earth, so are his thoughts from ours. Often he values what we despise, despises what we honour. We should therefore despise none, but leave all to God’s judgment, and meanwhile, charitably and humbly, cherish, care for, aid, honour, and adorn, those especially who seem abandoned and overlooked. Those who receive least of the visible power of the Holy Spirit, are often endowed more largely with grace that is not seen. Those who are already reverenced and honoured before the world, do not need these additional tokens of respect. God has tempered, or balanced, the human body, giving us the instinct of supplying by art the adornment required by those portions to which nature has not supplied it, and which the others do not want. There should be, therefore, no schism, or contrariety of ends and aims, but concord, mutual solicitude and charity, among the members of the body of Christ, all conspiring and acting in unison for the glory of God. For if one suffers, all feel the pain; if one is made glorious, all rejoice. Saint Chrysostom observes that in these verses all orders and degrees of men in the Church of Christ are successively addressed; and these three requirements insisted on: that all should be united in aim that each should care for the rest; that what happens to one should be regarded as affecting the whole.

27. But you are the body of Christ, and member of member.

Member of member. The Greek text, as read by our translator, was probably members among members. The modern text reads, members in part; of the whole body of Christ throughout the world, not in your city or province only.

28. And some indeed God has placed in the Church; first Apostles, secondly Prophets, thirdly Doctors, then powers, then graces of healing, aids, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of things said,
29. Are all Apostles? are all Prophets? are all Doctors?
30. Have all powers? have all graces of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?

Some God has placed, referring to verse 12, which reads: God has placed the members in the body. Offices and functions in the Church are disposed by his ordering and providence. The Apostles are the founders and princes of the Churches, the sowers of the faith, the leaders and first fathers of the faithful. Prophets reveal what is hidden in the present and the future. Doctors of the Church explain the teaching of the Apostles. Powers or virtues, are the gift of miracles. Graces or gifts of healing, the miraculous cure of the sick. Aids, ministering to those in sickness, trouble, or distress, not by supernatural means, but by distribution of alms and attention to their material or spiritual wants. Governments, the administration of the revenues of the Church contributed by the faithful for the support of religion and relief of the poor; though some think it refers to the care and direction of souls. Then come the gifts of speaking foreign languages and interpreting them; and Saint Chrysostom observes that this gift, which was frequent among the Corinthians, is always mentioned last by Saint Paul. All are not Apostles, Prophets, Doctors of the Church; all do not work miracles, heal the sick, speak or interpret other languages; yet all alike are members of Christ’s body.

31. But emulate the better gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

Emulate the better gifts, not the most conspicuous, but the best. The word emulate may be either indicative or imperative, both in the Vulgate and in the Greek. The Syriac reads: If you are earnestly desirous of more ample gifts, I will show you a still nobler way. And this he proceeds to do.

Corollary of Piety.

The hands and feet of Christ were nailed to the cross, his side pierced with the spear, his back torn with the scourge, his head drooping with agony, his body racked in every limb with torment, even to death. The body thus torn and wounded is now seated in inconceivable majesty and splendour at the right hand of the Father in heaven, the object of adoration of Angels and Archangels. You are the body of Christ, not merely in a poetical figure, for the real and true body of Christ, given to the faithful in the holy Eucharist, unites us to him materially and spiritually, in a mode of union transcending the power of human understanding to comprehend, and yet real and true. This is the statement of the inspired Apostle, and the infallible tradition of the Catholic Church. He does not say, you shall be, but you are, even now in this mortal life, the body of Christ, now glorified in heaven. What are the paltry distinctions of earth, compared with this? Emperor or ploughman, prelate or street sweeper, slave or free man, rich and poor, are all alike raised above the Angels, if, belonging to the Catholic Church, they belong to the body of Christ. The humblest Christian who dies in the communion of the Church, has a dignity and is invested with a splendour, which nothing in this world can equal or approach, for he is united with the sacred Body which was taken of the immaculate substance of Mary, by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, in which dwelt bodily all the plenitude of Deity, and which is exalted above all principalities and powers, worshipped by Angels, the manifestation to creation of the glory and splendour of the Supreme Deity. What matter if you are humble and lowly, ignorant and despised, overlooked and misunderstood, if in Christ you are exalted and enthroned at God’s right hand in heaven? And if you think you are unworthy, cold, thankless, yet you partake the charity which streams from the burning heart of Jesus, which God’s love has fired, and shall flow for ever and ever.

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1 Response to Father de Piconio’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12

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

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