Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

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

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

ii. 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).

iii. 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.

1Co 12:3  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 . . . no man . . . calleth Jesus (anathama) accursed. 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 calleth Jesus anathama. 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.”

No man can say that Jesus is the Lord 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.

1Co 12:4  Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit.

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

1Co 12:5  And there are diversities of ministries. but the same Lord.

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.

1Co 12:6  And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all.

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.

Which 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.

1Co 12:7  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.

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 were we 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.

whether bond or free: 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.

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One Response to Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for Pentecost Sunday | stjoeofoblog

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