1 Cor 12:31. 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 in chapter 13.
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 13~In this chapter, introduced parenthetically in the middle of his argument, the Apostle asserts the infinite superiority of charity to all other gifts of God, on the ground that charity will reign for eternity when all other gifts and graces, even faith and hope, shall have been absorbed and lost in it. Not only the excellence, but the absolute necessity of charity, is here insisted on; and there is an evident reference, throughout the chapter, to certain deficiencies of the Corinthian Christians in this respect. It is hardly necessary to observe that this splendid burst of inspired eloquence is probably the best known portion of the Apostle’s writings, and is sufficient to entitle him to a foremost place among the great writers of all countries and all ages.
1 Cor 13:1. If I should speak the tongues of men and Angels, and have not charity, I am becomelike sounding brass or a jingling cymbal.
The tongues of men and Angels is no doubt a hyperbolical exaggeration, signifying all languages that ever have been spoken, or ever could be spoken, in earth or heaven. It does not follow from the words of Saint Paul that the holy Angels may not have the power of communicating knowledge to one another without the intervention of language. The cymbal was an instrument consisting of two hollow plates of bronze, or other metal, which, when struck together, produced a ringing sound, and was employed in the festivals of Cybele. It is mentioned by Virgil and by Cicero.
1 Cor 13:2. And if I have had prophecy, and know all mysteries, and all science: and if I have had all faith, so that I remove mountains: and have not had charity, I am nothing.
1 Cor 13:3. And if I shall have distributed all my possessions in food to the poor, and if I shall have given up my body to burn: and have not had charity, it profits me nothing.
From language he proceeds to higher gifts, as described in verses 8-10 of the last chapter: 1. prophecy; 2. wisdom, or the knowledge of the hidden mysteries of God; 3. science, enabling me to explain and prove these mysteries by reason and facts of creation, to the intelligence of others; 4. faith, which accomplishes the impossible. These are indeed great and noble gifts; but I am nothing, says St. Augustine. The distribution of all his goods to the poor would be an exercise of the gift called in verse 28 of the last chapter, opitulations, or aids, on a large scale. Such an exhibition of generosity would be very uncommon, and practically almost impossible, in a person destitute of Christian charity, and any love of God. It is theoretically possible, as proceeding from sympathy and compassion for the physical sufferings of others, and would not be absolutely without merit, as coming from a good impulse. And it would undoubtedly benefit the persons who were fed, in a material sense. But it would be of no spiritual benefit to the giver, in a spiritual sense, if unaccompanied by any desire to benefit their souls, or any love of God. Not even if, to save the lives of others, and for temporal ends, he gave his body to be burned. In the days of the Apostles a foreign philosopher, probably from the East, actually burned himself alive, at the Olympic games, out of vain glory, as is related by Lucian, who was present. God estimates by charity all we do, even martyrdom itself. This much the Apostle says to show the necessity of charity. He now proceeds to describe it.
1 Cor 13:4. Charity is patient, benignant; charity envies not, does not misbehave, is not inflated.
Charity is patient and long-suffering; gentle, kind, accommodating; envies not the happiness of others; is not noisy, vulgar, self-asserting, petulant, perverse, insolent, sly, malicious; is never self-conceited. Charity is not the parent of other virtues, but the queen; they are not derived from her, but she commands, forms, directs and perfects them.
1 Cor 13:5. Is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not irritated, thinks not ill.
Is not ambitions. In the Greek, does not condescend to act indecorously; the Syriac: will not do what is shameful. Men who are ambitious of popular favour will sometimes stoop to flatter the vices of their inferiors, which is probably the reason why the Vulgate here uses the word ambitiosa. Charity seeks the public and general advantage, rather than her own. Is not easily provoked to anger, but takes time for consideration. Is not quick to suspect evil in others, but attributes good motives to them as far as is possible.
1 Cor 13:6. Rejoices not at iniquity, but rejoices with truth.
Rejoices not at iniquity. Is not pleased at hearing of evil done by others, but rejoices in honesty, integrity, justice.
1 Cor 13:7. Bears all, trusts all, hopes all, endures all.
Bears all, in the Greek; conceals all the evil it hears, so far as is possible. Believes all the good that can with reason and prudence be believed. Hopes all; never despairs of the conversion and salvation of any. Endures all, calumny, persecution, death, for the love of God.
1 Cor 13:8. Charity never fails. Whether prophecies shall be abolished, or languages cease, or knowledge be destroyed.
1 Cor 13:9. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10. But when that shall have come which is perfect, that which is in part shall be abolished.
1 Cor 13:11. When I was a child I spoke as a child, I was wise as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I abolished what was of the child.
1 Cor 13:12. Now we see in a mirror, in enigma; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know, as I also am known.
1 Cor 13:13. And now there remain faith, hope, charity, these three; but charity is of these the greater.
Charity fails not; is eternal. Prophecy will come to an end, and be useless, when all things are clearly seen; languages will cease, when all with one voice will cry, Sanctus, sanctns, sanctus ; science, or learning, will be needless, when all truth is at once made manifest to all, for there will be nothing more to learn. The one occupation of eternity will be to love. What we really know, in this life, is almost nothing; what we are permitted to prophesy, is but some fragment of the truth. When the full light comes, this partial illumination will be no longer needed, as the stars pale when the sun rises. This life, compared with eternity, is childhood, compared with full growth. I spoke, felt, thought, as a child speaks, feels, and thinks. I threw aside the ideas of childhood when I became a man. We see God now, as we see objects in a mirror, that are out of sight, obscurely, partially, incompletely. We know him by enigmas, phrases and thoughts of which we can guess, but never fully understand the meaning. Then we shall see Him, face to face. We know Him, truly so far as faith can enlighten us, and we can in a degree understand, but only partially. We shall know Him then, as He knows us; not in the same degree, for God knows all, but is Himself incomprehensible by any finite intelligence; but in the same manner, by direct, clear, uninterrupted vision. Faith, hope, charity, are the greatest and noblest of God’s gifts to man, in this mortal life. There will be nothing to believe, when we see all; nothing to hope, when we have all. Faith will be lost in sight, hope in enjoyment; but charity will endure for ever.
Corollary of Piety. Faith and Hope are the glory and the joy of human life. Faith raises the intellect and the affections to nobler objects of contemplation than the things of time. Hope fills in the background of our lives with gold. Without faith in the unseen, man sinks into materialism, and becomes an animal, with a finer nervous system, more potent brain power, and wider knowledge, than his fellow brutes, but with no nobler aims than theirs, and no higher object of existence. Without hope, he sinks under the unendurable burden of the sorrows of his lot in life. His feet stumble upon the dark mountains on his weary way to hopeless captivity; and the annoyances and troubles he would have laughed at, if he encountered them on a joyous pilgrimage to the city of his pride and hope, are magnified into misfortunes bitterer than human nature can endure. Faith is the only repose of his ever restless intellect, hope the only solace of his inconsolable heart. And yet—and there is no more startling proof of the infinite grandeur of the things of eternity compared with the things of time—compared with Charity, which is eternal, Faith and Hope are childish things. Empires and their glory, science, civilization, invention, language, all God’s gifts to man, of nature and above nature, for the purposes of this mortal life, will one day be no more needed, and will pass away; and faith and hope pass with them. We do not believe in what we see; we do not hope for what we have. We shall no longer learn to know God; for we shall see him face to face. We shall no longer voluntarily love him; for we shall be drowned and consumed in the burning ocean of his charity. We love him here, says Saint Augustine: in heaven it will be his turn to love us. We shall no longer serve him; he will fold his children in an embrace that shall know no end. There remains the full consummation of the final cause of our existence, that for which he made us, to enjoy him for ever. When faith and hope have ceased, with all things that are temporal. Charity will reign for ever, and reign alone; for God is Charity.