Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

1:26.  For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after (i.e., according to) the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.

The for gives the reason of what has gone before.  This verse contains another proof of what was said in v 21, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For this is proved in two ways: (1) in verse 23, from the object of preaching, viz., the Cross, by which God was pleased to save the world, but which to the world seems foolishness; (2) from the ministers of preaching, viz., the Apostles, whose duty it was to preach salvation through the Cross, and who were men of no account, unpolished, despised, and foolish in the eyes of the world.

Again, the particle for fitly joins this verse to the preceding; verse 25 gives an indefinite and general statement which is true, not only of the cross, but also of the preachers of the Cross, as St Athanasius points out (Ad Antiochum, qu. 129).

This particle, then, declares the likeness of the Apostles to the Cross that they preached.  It is as if St Paul had said: God willed to use the foolishness and weakness of the Cross, and with it to overcome and subdue to Himself the wisdom and the power of all men; and we see this, not only in the Cross itself, and in its victory, but also in the Apostles who preach the Cross: for God has not chosen the wise and powerful of this world, but the Apostles, who are poor, simple, and foolish in the eyes of the world, that they might carry the banner of the Cross on high throughout the whole world, and bring all men into obedience to the faith of the Cross, and that they all might believe and hope for their righteousness and salvation through the Cross of Christ.

It is a reason drawn from likeness or analogy.  For such as the Cross was-worthless, despicable, and foolish before the world-such should be all preachers of the Cross.  For God in His wonderful wisdom has so well adapted everything to the Cross, which is the burden of all preaching, that not only the preachers but believers too should be like the Cross; for the first who were called to faith were men of low birth, of no reputation, unknown, sinners, publicans, and harlots.

Ye see your calling.  The reason and mode of your calling.  Because the Apostles who called you are not wise, according to this world’s wisdom, which knows not that which is spiritual and Divine.  So St Thomas applies the words to the Apostles, who called others.  St Chrysostom, however, applies them and rightly (from verse 2) to those who had been called and converted; for many unlearned had been converted to Christ, but few who were learned and nobly born.  The words then mean: Ye see of what kind are both callers and called.

Some wise and powerful, of course, were called, as e.g., Dionysius the Areopagite, Paulus the Proconsul, Nicodemus, St Paul himself, but they were few.  Moreover, the Apostle is speaking mainly of the Apostles, who were the first called, though they were poor and on no reputation.  And therefore St Ambrose (on St Luke, c. vi. 13), says: See the counsel of God.  he chose not the wise, the rich, the noble, but fishermen and publicans to train, that He might not be thought to have drawn any to His grace by His wisdom, to have redeemed us by His riches, to have won us to Him by the influence of power or birth; and that so, not love of disputation, but truth by its reasonableness might prevail.  St Augustine (vol. x Serm 59) says, “Great is the mercy of our Maker.  He knew that if the Senator were chosen, he would say, ‘I was chosen because of my rank.’  If the rich man were chosen, he would say, ‘I was chosen for my wealth.’  If a king, he would put it down to his power; if an orator, to his eloquence; if a philosopher, to his wisdom.  ‘For the present,’ says the Lord, ‘those proud men must be rejected: they are too haughty.  Give Me first that fisherman.  Come, poor man.  You have nothing, you know nothing; follow Me.  The empty vessel must be brought to the plentiful stream.’  The fisherman let down their nets; he received grace, and became a Divine orator.  Now while the words of the fishermen are read, orators bow their heads in reverence.”  It seems, therefore, that what some fable says about the royal birth and renown of the Apostle Bartholomew is groundless.

1:27.  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. The words “foolish, weak, base,” form a climax, and are used by St Paul to describe the faithful who had been called to Christ, or rather the Apostles themselves, who had called them.  He contrasts them as uncultivated, poor, base, and hence foolish in the eyes of the world, and the world’s laughing-stock, with the wise, strong, and powerful of the world.

Things which are not.  This is applied to the same persons as being contemptible and reckoned of no account.  In other words, God chose the despised Apostles, who were thought nothing of, that he might destroy, and, as it were, bring to nought things that are, i.e., which are highly esteemed, as e.g., the wise and mighty of the world.

Observe that there are three things which the world is wont to admire, viz., wisdom, power, and birth, were passed over by God when He called men to faith, righteousness, and salvation; and on the other hand that three things opposite to these were chosen by Him, viz., want of wisdom, of power, and of birth.  This was done to show that the work was from God, and that this calling was to be ascribed to the grace of God and not to human excellence.  Thus, in the second century after the Apostles, He chose Agnes, a maiden of thirteen years, who amazed and confounded her judges and all the heathen who saw her by her wonderful fortitude.  Well, therefore, does the Collect for her day run: Almighty and everlasting God, who choosest the weak things of the world to confound the strong, mercifully grant that we who keep the Feast of Thy Virgin and martyr St Agnes, may receive the fruit of her prayers.  Such too were Sts Agatha, Luch, Dorothy, Barbara, and a countless number of others whom God seems to have raised up to show the power of His grace in their weakness.  Therefore in their Collect the Church prays: O God, who, amongst other marvels of Thy power, hast also conferred upon feeble women the victory of martyrdom, mercifully grant that we, who keep the ‘birthday’ of Thy blessed Virgin and Martyr, (Name), may be her example come to Thee.

1:30. But of Him are ye in Christ. By the gift of God Himself, by His grace, were ye called to believe in Christ.  So Anselm.  To be in Christ is to have been incorporated with Him in Baptism, or to be in the Church of Christ, and in Christianity.

Who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. This righteousness, say our modern innovators, is imputed, because it is ours, not substantially and inherently, but is merely the external righteousness of Christ imputed to us; before God we seem righteous.  But I reply: If this be true, then in the same way the active redemption wrought in Christ, which St Paul here joins with righteousness, will be imputed to us,  and consequently we shall be redeemers of ourselves, which is absurd.  In the second place, wisdom is infused into us, and so is faith, and so therefore is righteousness; for the Apostle classes together the righteousness and wisdom of Christ as both alike ours.

I say, then, with Chrysostom,l Theophylact, Anselm, Ambrose, and St Thomas, that the sense of this passage is this: Christ is made unto us the author and cause of real Christian wisdom, redemption, sanctification, and righteousness.

1. By way of satisfaction and meritoriously; and this is what the Apostle specially has in him mind here: because Christ paid man’s debt with the most precious price of His own Blood, and so made satisfaction for man, and merited for us righteousness, wisdom, and satisfaction.  In this way he was made for us righteousness, because the righteousness, i.e., the satisfaction of Christ, is ours, just as much as if we had ourselves made satisfaction to God.  And hence it is that theologians teach that the satisfaction of Christ is applied to us in justification through the Sacraments, as if naturally first, and that then as a natural consequence our sins are forgiven through that satisfaction, and grace is infused.  This condemns the error of Peter Abelard, in which he is followed by the Socinians, who teach that Christ was the teacher of the world, not its redeemer-nay more, that He was sent by the Father to give to man an example of perfect virtue, but not to free him from sin or to redeem him.  St Bernard refutes this in Ep. 190, to Pope Innocent, where he says: Christ is the end of the law to everyone that believeth.  In short, St Paul says that He was made to us righteousness by God the Father.  Is not then that righteousness mine which was made for me?  If my guilt is brought against me, why am I not given the benefit of my righteousness?  And indeed what is given me is safer than what is innate.  For this has whereof it may glory, but not before God.  But the former, since it is effectual to salvation, has no ground of glorying, except in the Lord.  ‘For if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head,’ says Job, lest the answer come, ‘What hast thou that thou didst not receive?  But if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou has not received it?’  This is the righteousness of man in the blood of his Redeemer, which Aelard, that man of perdition, scoffs and sneers at, and so tries to empty of its force, that he holds and argues that all that the Lord God did in emptying Himself…in suffering indignities…is to be reduced to this, that it was all done that He might by His life and teaching give to man a rule of life, and by His suffering and death set up a goal of charity.  Abelard’s argument was fallacious and frivolous: the devil, he said, had no right over man; therefore man needed no liberator.  The premise is doubtless true when understood of lawful right, but not of usurped right, under which man through sin by his own free will has submitted himself to the power of the devil, of sin, of hell.

2.  By way of example; because the righteousness of Christ is the most perfect example, to which all our righteousness ought to be conformed.  In this sense St Paul’s meaning is, Christ is an example and mirror of righteousness.

3.  Efficiently; because Christ effects and produces this righteousness in us through His Sacraments, and because he teaches the Saints true wisdom and understanding; as, e.g., how to live a good and Christian life, by what road to attain to heaven, and how we must strive after bliss.

4.  As our end; because Christ Himself and His glory are the end of our righteousness and sanctification.  St Bernard, in his 22nd Sermon on the Canticles, deals with these four, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption, sumbolically.  In the first place, he adapts them to the four works of Christ.  He says, Christ was made for us wisdom in His preaching, righteousness in the forgiveness of sins, sanctification in the life that He spent with sinners, redemption in the sufferings hat he bore for sinners.  And again further on he says, Christ was made for us by God wisdom by teaching prudence, righteousness by forgiving our trespasses, sanctification by the example He st of temperance and of chaste life, redemption by the example He left of patience and of fortitude in dying.  Where, I ask, is true wisdom, except in the teaching of Christ?  Whence comes true righteousness but from the mercy of Christ?  Where is there true temperance but in the life of Christ?  Where true fortitude save in the Passion of Christ? In the second plce, St Bernard naturally adapts these four to the four cardinal virtues, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, which Christ imparts to us.  he goes on to say, Only those, then, who have been imbued with His doctrine are to be called prudent; only those, who by His mercy have obtained forgiveness of their sins, are to be called righteous; only those are to be called  temperate who strive to imitate His life; only those are to be called brave who bravely bear adversity and show patience like His.  In vain surely does any one strive to acquire virtues if he thinks that they are to be obtained from any other source but the Lord of virtues, hose teaching is the school of prudence, whose mercy the working of righteousness, whose life the mirror of temperance, whose death the pattern of fortitude.

1:31.  That according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.  He is quoting not the words but the sense of Jeremiah 9:23.  So Ambrose, Theophylact, Anselm, St Thomas.  In Jeremiah the passage runs: Thus saith the Lord, let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in him might, let not the rich man glory in his riches, but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me.  This it is to glory in the Lord.  Jeremiah is speaking of liberation from the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and from slaughter by the Chaldeans, which were then threatening the Jews.  In other words, then, he says: The Jews glory in the counsels of their wise men, in the strength of their soldiers, in the riches of Jerusalem, as though these would make them secure against the Chaldeans; but they err, for their true glory is to know and understand God, that is, His Providence, ad that it is He alone who worketh mercy, and mercifully sets free whom He will, and not the wisdom, might, or riches of man.  Moreover, He alone inflicts just punishments on whom He will, and no wise, mighty, or rich man can set free from it-even as, O Jews, he will inflict it on you, and will bring it to pass, that death (that is, the Chaldeans, shall bring death upon you) shall climb up into your houses, through your windows, and slay all your little ones.

The Apostle rightly adapts this in this passage to those who were calling others, or who had been called into Christianity, that no one may attribute the grace of Christ to himself, his virtues, or the gifts of nature, but only to Christ, and consequently his tacit exhortation is: “Do not, O Corinthians, glory in yourselves, or in Paul, or in Apollos, your teachers, but in the Lord alone.”  For this is what in the beginning he proposed to prove, and therefore all that is here said must be referred to it.  Anselm says: That man glories in the Lord only who knows that it is not of himself, but of Him, not only that he is, but also that it is well with him.  Again, that man glories in the Lord who, if he has anything which makes him pleasing to God, holds that he has received it, not because of his own wisdom, power, good works, talent, or merits, but merely through the grace of God.  Thirdly, he who in all that he does seeks not his own glory, but that of the Lord.

St Bernard wrote a noteworthy sermon on these words of the Apostle; see also Sermon 25 on Canticles.  he says: Moreover, the whole glorying of the Saints is within and not without, that is, not in the flower of grass, or the mouth of the vulgar, but in the Lord; for God alone is the sole judge of their conscience, Him alone they desire to please, and to please Him is their only real and chief glory.  And Sermon 13 on Canticles: Brethren, let none of you desire to be praised in this life.  For whatever fervour you gain for yourselveshere which you do not refer to Him, you steal from Him.  For whence, thou dust that perishest, whence comes thy glory? And in his sentences: The Apostle knew that glory properly belongs to the Creator, and not to the creature.  But he also knew that the rational creature so seeks after glory that it can scarcely or perhaps never overcome this desire, just because it was made in the image of the Creator. Therefore he gave most wholesome advice when he said: ‘Since you cannot be persuaded not to glory, let him that glorieth glory in the Lord.’ Let us, too, say in company with the Psalmist, Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give the praise, and with the four and twenty elders who cast their crowns efore the throne, Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever (Rev 5:13).

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One Response to Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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