Father Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:12-30

1Co 12:12 For as the body is one and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body: So also is Christ.

For as the body is one . . . so also is Christ. As an animal body is one, as a man has but one body, so also has Christ one body, the Church, the members of which are many, whose head He is.
1. But S. Augustine objects (de Peccat. Meritis, lib. i. c. 31) that if the Apostle had meant this he would have said, “So also is [the body] of Christ,” rather than, “So also is Christ.” In other words, he would have said that the body of Christ, the Church, has many members.

2. James Faber gathers from this that the body of Christ being indivisibly united to the whole Godhead, locally fills heaven and earth, which are, as it were, its place and His body. As Plato said that God was the soul of the world, and consequently was in a sense the whole world, so the body of Christ, from its intimate conjunction with Deity, is, like the Divine Spirit, diffused through the whole world, its parts and members are the several divisions of space and the bodies contained in it. But still in respect of the unity of the Deity, and of the body of Christ as its soul, they make up one body, viz., the universe. And hence it is that the Ubiquitarians are supposed to have obtained their false opinion that the body of Christ is everywhere. This absurd doctrine has been confuted by many, but most clearly of all by Gregory of Valentia, in five books written against the heresy of the Ubiquitarians.

3. I say, then, with S. Augustine that the meaning of this passage is simply this. So also is Christ one body, i.e., the Church. For Christ is both head and body to the Church, inasmuch as He sustains all her members and works in them all, teaches by the doctor, baptizes by the minister, believes through faith, and repents in the penitent. For in this sense Christ is not locally but mystically, and by way of operation and effectually, the body, hypostasis, soul, and spirit of the whole Church. As the Church is the body of Christ, its head, so in turn is Christ the body of the Church, because, through the operation of His grace, He transfers Himself into all the members of the Church. So the Apostle often says that we are one in Christ, that through baptism we are incorporated into Christ and made one plant with Him. And Christ said to Paul, “Why persecutest thou Me?” that is, the Christians, My members (Acts ix. 4). So Paul says again: “To me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Therefore S. Francis in his words, “My God, my Love, my All,” was but echoing S. Paul.

1Co 12:13 For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free: and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink.

For in one Spirit we were all baptized. He proves that Christ is one body with many members from baptism, for by baptism we were regenerate, and incorporated into the one body of the Church, and therefore into Christ. In that body we live by the same Spirit, the Spirit of Christ; and on the same food, the Eucharist, we are fed, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, bond or free. Notice the phrase “into one body:” this body is the Church, and consequently we are baptized into Christ, who, as I have said, is in a sense the body of the Church.

And in one Spirit we have all been made to drink. In the Eucharistic chalice we have quaffed, together with Christ’s blood, His Spirit. Hence some Greek copies read, “We have all drunk of one draught.” Cf. Clemens Alex. Pædag. lib. i. c. 6. The meaning is that from it we all partake of one and the same Spirit of Christ, who, by abiding in all, quickens every member, and makes it perform duly its function. In other words, not only were we born and incorporated into the said body, but we all partake of the same food, viz., Christ’s body and blood, in the Eucharist. For one species of the Eucharist leads easily to the other, and by “the drink” we may well understand “the food;” just as on the other hand from the species of bread we understand that of wine in chap. x. 17. Cf. Chrysostom and Cajetan, whose comments here are noteworthy.

It appears from this that all the baptized, whether good or bad, are the body of Christ, that is, are of the Church, and that they have been grafted into Him as members by baptism; for the soul of this body, the Church, is the faith which all the faithful have, even though their life be evil. Cf. notes to Eph_5:27.

1Co 12:14 For the body also is not one member, but many.
1Co 12:15 If the foot should say: Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body: Is it therefore not of the Body?
1Co 12:16 And if the ear should say: Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body: Is it therefore not of the body?
1Co 12:17 If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?
1Co 12:18 But now God hath set the members, every one of them, in the body as it hath pleased him.
1Co 12:19 And if they all were one member, where would be the body?
1Co 12:20 But now there are many members indeed, yet one body.
1Co 12:21 And the eye cannot say to the hand: I need not thy help. Nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you.
1Co 12:22 Yea, much, more those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body are more necessary

Yea, much more those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body are more necessary. S. Chrysostom and Theophylact think that this refers to the eyes, which are small and delicate but yet most necessary. But as the eyes have been included in the preceding verse amongst the nobler members which govern the body, it is better to refer it, as others do, to the internal parts of the body. For the belly is as the kitchen or the caterer for the whole of the body, and cooks and distributes the food for every part, and therefore is essential to the life of the body.

1Co 12:23 And such as we think to be the less houourable members of the body, about these we put more abundant honour: and those that are our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

Ver. 23.—And those members of the body, such as we think to be the less honorable….about these who put more abundant honor. The “less honourable” members are the feet, say Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Ambrose. We are more careful to cover them with shoes, or to bestow ornament upon them, lest they be hurt in walking, or catch cold or in some way convey illness to the stomach and head.

“Honour” here means either covering or the attention bestowed upon the feet in the way of decorated boots or leggings, such as many rich young men, and especially soldiers, wear. Homer, e.g., frequently speaks of the “well-greaved Achæans.”

Our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Theophylact refer these to the pudenda. These, says S. Augustine (Retract. lib. ii. c. 7), are called uncomely, not because nature so made them, but because, since the Fall, lust reigns in them more than elsewhere, because lust is contrary to the law of reason, and therefore ought to be a cause of shame to man. For it puts man to shame when his member so casts off his authority. The more abundant honour that they receive is a more careful and comely covering, so that even if men anywhere discard clothing, they yet cover these parts, as Theophylact says. Moreover, these members are honoured in wedlock, as being necessary to the procreation of children and the perpetuation of the species, as Chrysostom says. Hence, under the Romans, any one who emasculated himself was severely punished, as an offender against the common good and a violent assailant of nature.

Others think that the “more feeble” and “less honourable members are identical, and are the belly and its subsidiary organs. But the Apostle makes a distinction between them, and connects them as distinct entities by the conjunction “and.” His meaning then is, that as we care for those members of the body which are more feeble and ignoble when compared to the rest, and treat them as if they were more useful, so, too, in the Church those who seem to be of less account, such as the infirm, the unknown, and the despised, are for that very reason of more use and should be the more carefully helped. So say Chrysostom, Theophylact, Anselm. For the use of beggars in the Church, see S. Chrysostom (Hom. 20 Moral, and also contra Invid. Hom. 31).

We have an illustration of this verse in the allegory of the belly deserted by the other members, by which Menenius Agrippa brought back the lower orders who had seceded from the senate of the Roman people, and settled on Mons Sacer (Livy, lib. ii. dec. 1). Menenius said: “At that time when men’s members were not so agreed as they are now, but each sought its own private ends, they say that the other parts of the body were indignant that the belly should get its wants supplied by their care, their toil, and their ministry, and itself rest quietly in the midst, and enjoy the pleasures they gave; so they agreed that the hand would lift no food to the mouth, that the mouth would not admit it if it were offered, nor the teeth chew it. Then while, as they thought, that they were reducing the belly by hunger, they found that each member and the whole body also were brought down to the last extremities. They saw then that the belly had, too, its active service, and was not more nourished by them than they gained from it. They saw that the blood, re-invigorated by the food that had been eaten, was impartially distributed through the veins into every part of the body, giving each its life and energy. Then, by drawing a comparison between the civil war in the body and the angry action of the lower orders against the Fathers, Menenius induced them to return.”

1Co 12:24 But our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, giving to that which wanted the more abundant honour.

But our comely parts have no need. The eyes, the face, and the hands, which are the more comely parts of the body, lack no ornament, but are comely enough in themselves.

Giving to that which wanted the more abundant honour. That is more careful guard, more clothing, and ornament. Cf. ver. 22.

1Co 12:25 That there might be no schism in the body: but the members might be mutually careful one for another.

That there should be no schism in the body: but the members might be mutually careful one for another. No schism, such as that related by Menenius, but that all should have the same care for the others as for themselves, or else it may mean that each member should be solicitous for the common good of the whole body.

1Co 12:26 And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it: or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it.

And it one member suffer all the members suffer with it. “They suffer together” in such away that the suffering member’s grief is lightened, “not by communion in disaster, but by the solace afforded by charity,” says S. Augustine (Ep. 133). Hence S. Basil (Reg. Brevior. 175) says that the outward proof of love is twofold: (1.) rejoicing in the good of one’s neighbour and labouring for it; (2.) in grief and sorrow for his misfortune or his sin. He who has not this loves not.

Doctors infer from this verse that souls in bliss, burning with love for us, help us by their prayers in our troubles and dangers; and that we in our turn ought to help souls kept in purgatory, for they suffer the devouring flame, and therefore he must be cruel indeed who does not suffer with them, and do what he can to set them free.

Or one member be glory. Or as Ambrose takes it, “be glorified,” or, according to Ephrem, “whether one member rejoice.” Salmeron, after S. Chrysostom, beautifully says: “He who loves possesses whatever is in the body, the Church: take away envy and what I have is thine.” S. Chrysostom says again: “If the eye suffer, all the members will grieve, all will crease to act: the feet will not go, the hands will not work, the belly will take no pleasure in its wonted food, although it is the eye only that is suffering. Why, 0 eye, do you trouble the belly? why chain the feet? why bind the hands? Because all are knit together by nature, and suffer together in a “mysterious manner.”

1Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and members of member.

Members of the member” is how the Latin version reads. This is explained (1.) by S. Thomas: “You are members of the principal member, viz., Christ, for Christ is the head of the Church;” (2.) by S. Anselm, “You are members of Christ through the agency of another member, viz., Paul, by whom you were united to Christ, the head, and to the Church, the body.” But (3.) the Greek gives “members in part,” and this is the rendering of some Latin Fathers, or “members of each other.” S. Ambrose seems to understand it so. The Latin version also means “fellow-members,” brethren in the same society, of the same mystical body, the Church. So too S. Chrysostom and Ephrem, whose meaning may be paraphrased: “Each one, in his part and place, is a member of the Church.”

Notice here that, as in the body there is (1.) a unity and a union of soul and body; (2.) diversity of members; (3.) differences of function between the several members; (4.) an aptitude for its function given to each member; (5.) a community of interests in the members, so that each is bound to work, not for itself only but for the others also, just because they are members of the one body; (6.) harmony, inasmuch as each member is content with its rank and duty, does not seek another post or envy a more honoured member, so that there is the most perfect union and concord, the same share in sorrow and joy: so is it in the Church. There each one has from Christ, as if He were his soul, his proper gift, his proper talent, his office and rank, his functions to be discharged for others’ good, not his own, his limits fixed by God. If anyone disturbs this order and seeks after another post, he resists the ordinance and providence of God, and forgets that all his gifts have come from God. S. Paul therefore says: “You, 0 Corinthians are members of the same body of Christ, the Church: let there not be then any divisions among you, let no one despise, envy, grieve at another, but let him love him, help him, and rejoice with him. Let each be content with his place, his rank, and his duty, for so he will be a partaker, not only of his own good, but also of the good of others. Just as the foot walks for the benefit of the eye, the ear, the belly, so in their turn the eye sees, the ear hears, and the belly digests for the benefit of the foot. But if there is envy and unwillingness shown by the eye to see, by the ear to hear, and the belly to digest, then those members hurt themselves as much as any other; and, as Chrysostom says, it is just as if one hand were to cut off the other, for that hand would be dishonoured and weakened through receiving no help from the other hand. Moreover, if nature is at such pains to preserve such perfect concord between the different members of the body, and so sternly forbids any seditious discord, how much greater concord between men’s minds will the grace of God through its greater power effect, how little will it endure that any member should stand aloof from and be at variance with another in the same body! If the magistrate or the king severely punishes sedition in the state, what, think you, will Christ do to the schismatics who rend His Church?

1Co 12:28 And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors: after that miracles: then the graces of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches.

And God indeed hath set some in the church, &c. Apostles as the rulers, prophets as the eyes, teachers as the tongue. From this it follows that the princes of this world are not, as Brentius thinks, the rulers and the head of the Church, but the Apostles and their successors, the Pope and the bishops; “for God,” says S. Paul, “set the Apostles first.” After that come “powers,” i.e., workers of miracles, who are as the hands of the Church; then healers of diseases; then helps, or those who help others and perform works of mercy towards the sick, the poor, the unhappy, guests, and foreigners; then governments, or men who rule. and correct others, as parish priests, as S. Thomas says, or better still, with Theophylact and Cajetan, men who have the care of the temporal wealth which the faithful offer to the Church. These last are as the feet in the body of Christ, and of such were the deacons ordained by the Apostles to look after tables and the widows (Acts vi. 1-6).

Notice the abstract here put for the concrete: “powers” for workers of powers, “gifts of healing” for healers, “helps” for helpers, “governments” for governors, “diversities of tongues” for men skilled in different languages.  S. Paul knits all these, as other members of the Church, to Apostles, prophets, and teachers.

1Co 12:29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors?

Are all apostles? Certainly not. Let each, therefore, be content with the position in which God has placed him in the Church, and with the grace that he has freely received from God, and thank God for all, and use the grace given him to God’s glory and the good of the Church.

1Co 12:30 Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

Have all the grace of healing? S. Augustine says (Ep. 137) that “God, who divides to every man severally as He will, has not willed that miracles should be wrought in honour of every saint.” It is not wonderful then that God should work miracles in this place, in this temple, at this or that image of the Holy Mother, or again that He should give one grace to one saint, another to another. Those, e.g., who invoke S. Antony He sets free from the plague, those S. Apollonia from toothache, those S. Barbara from sudden death, and from dying without confession; for, as the Apostle says, “God divides to every man severally as He will.” So at the pool of Bethesda, and not elsewhere, God miraculously healed the impotent folk (S. John v. 2-4). So by the rod of Aaron, and of no one else, He worked miracles (Num. xvii. 8). So by the image of the brazen serpent, and of nothing else, He set free the Jews from the plague of fiery serpents (Num. xxi. 9).

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One Response to Father Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:12-30

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

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