Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Synopsis of 1 Corinthians 4~S. Paul proceeds in his task of uprooting the divisions, the pride, and the boasting of the Corinthians, and especially of some of their teachers who held him in contempt. And—

1. He shows that he cares nothing for their judgment, or for that of other men, but for God’s only.
2. He reproves their elation at their gifts (vers. 7, 8.).
3. And chiefly he urges upon the, the example of himself and of the other Apostles, who, as the offscouring of the world, preached the Gospel with humility, despised and persecuted by all (vers. 9-14).
iv. He exhorts them as his children, as having begotten them in Christ, and threatens to come soon to Corinth to rebuke and punish these false, boastful, and puffed-up teachers (vers. 15-21)

1Co 4:1  Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God.

Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ. I have forbidden you to boast yourselves in Paul or Apollos; but lest any man should therefore despise us, I say that every one should regard us as minsters of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Kemnitius raises a railing objection based on these last words, that the Council of Trent was wrong in relying on this passage to prove that the Pope can give dispensation in the matter of vows and laws; for he says that a steward’s duty is not to relax laws but to distribute goods. I answer that the Council knew this very well; but that its argument was simply this: If the stewardship of the affairs of the Church has been intrusted to the Pope, therefore he can in certain cases, when there is need, dispense, that is, dissolve vows and oaths, and remit penances and the debt of temporal punishment, just as the steward of a household can, when the honour or profit of his lord demands it, make dispensations, grants, or remissions—for this belongs to the office intrusted to him; only he is bound to dispense rightly, not to squander thoughtlessly, as S. Bernard says (de Precep. et Disp., and de Consid. lib. iii.): “It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful. Where necessity urges it, a dispensation is excusable; where expedience calls for it, it is laudable. I mean, of course, expedience which makes for the common good, not that of the individual; for where neither of these exists, not only is a dispensation a breach of faith, it is a heartless act of squandering.”

The word used here, “steward,” denotes one who has charge of a house, and rules, divides, and arranges everything in it; one, too, who gives gifts and remits debts, when he believes sincerely that to do so would be pleasing to his lord, or make for his honour and advantage. His chief virtues are prudence and faithfulness. So does the Pope, as steward of the Church and vicegerent of Christ, ordain everything, grant indulgences, and dispense with vows.

The mysteries of God mentioned here are the mystic secrets of Divine doctrine and off the Sacraments of Christ. For both these are mysteries of Christ, intrusted by Him to Paul and the other Apostles as His stewards. Hence it was that the strife and divisions of the Corinthians arose from a dispute about the Sacrament of baptism, inasmuch as one would boast that he had received baptism from Paul, another from Apollos. Cf. ch. 1:13.

1Co 4:2  Here now it is required among the dispensers that a man be found faithful.

Here now it is required among the dispensers that a man be found faithful. You have been called from the study of wisdom and human eloquence to the simple and lowly teaching of Christ, so as not to dispute whether Paul or Apollos is the wiser or the more eloquent; and I have said that both of us are stewards of this teaching. Perchance, as you are always ready to draw comparisons between us, you will now begin to dispute about our stewardship, and ask, as men will, which of us is the more faithful in his office of preacher. Many of you say that Paul is the more faithful and more powerful, but Apollos more eloquent. Each will boast of his own teacher, and say that he is better and more faithful than we. Therefore to cut away all occasion for comparison let me tell you that I care nothing for the judgment of you or of any other man, but for God’s alone. So says Theophylact, following Chrysostom.

The chief quality requires in a steward is faithfulness. S. Paul alludes to the words of Christ: “Who then is a faithful and wise steward?” (S. Luk_12:42). Theophylact says: “He is faithful if he does not regard his master’s goods as his own, if he does not treat them as if he were owner of them, but distribute them as another’s and his master’s: he does not speak of them as his own, but on the contrary say that what is his own belongs to his master.” So, too, is a teacher or preacher faithful who does not seek his own glory, but the glory of God and the conversion of souls, and do all he can to forward these two objects, not only by his preaching, but also by a perfect example of a holy life.

1Co 4:3  But to me it is a very small thing to be judged by you or by man’s day. But neither do I judge my own self.

But with me it is a very small thing . . . or of man’s judgment. The Latin version give “of man’s day.” The meaning is the same; for the “day of the Lord” is frequently put for the “judgment of the Lord,” and a day is commonly named for defendants to appear for judgment. Cf. S. Jerome (ad Algas. qu. x.). He adds that Paul, as a native of the Cilician Tarsus, used the Greek idiom common there, and called “human judgment” “man’s day.”

It would, however, be better to say that Paul, being a Hebrew, borrowed this from the idiom of the Hebrews. For he is alluding to Jer 17:16, where Jeremiah, being mocked and persecuted because of his prophecies, says: “Neither have I desired man’s day; Thou knowest.” The day of man is that wherein man prospers, and is honoured and praised by all as powerful, happy, and enviable. Jeremiah’s meaning, then, is: “I have not desired longer life, prosperity, riches, honours, pleasures, or the applauses of men; for if I had looked for such things I should not have prophesied to them of sadness and disaster, but I should have praised their glory and their lusts; but this I did not do, nor desired man’s day or his applause. For I know that man is but frail and miserable, and quickly to vanish away in death with all his goods and glory. Knowing this and recollecting it, I have not desired to please man in my prophecies and teachings, but to please and obey Thee, alone, O God, and to win commendation from none but Thee, and I call upon Thee to be my witness to this by saying, ‘Thou knowest,’ just as Job did when he said (Job 16:19), ‘Behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high.'”

So, too, say S. Jerome, Rabanus, Hugo, S. Thomas, and others. In imitation of Jeremiah, therefore, the Apostle says: “With me it is a very small thing to be judged of you or of man’s day.” In other words, he cared little for the power and wisdom of this world, for man’s favour and applause. Happy he who could say, ” I have not desired man’s day,” and call God for a witness to his truth. This is the height of perfection which enables a man to count all things as dross if only he can gain Christ. This noble portion was that of Moss, who abjured his position as son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.

S. Chrysostom well moralises here: “Let us not, therefore, seek the praises of men. For to do so is to offer an insult to God, as though we counted His praise insufficient, and so passed Him by, and strove for that of our fellow-servants. For as those who contend for the mastery in a small arena seek for themselves a larger, because they think that the other is not large enough to display their prowess, so do they who contend in the sight of God pass by the larger arena, when they seek for the applause of men, and heap up for themselves punishment through their lust for the lesser good. Everything has been perverted, the whole world overturned, by this desire of ours to do everything for the sake of men, by our want of diligence in good works, by our disdaining the praise of God, and seeking only that of our fellow-servants. In our crimes, again, we despise God, and fear man; for if man were present we should abstain from fornication, and even though our lust burnt more fiercely its violence would be held in check by very shame lest we be seen by man. But when none but God sees us, we not only are guilty of adultery and fornication, but we have dared and still dare to commit far more heinous wickedness. Would not this alone be enough to bring down upon us God’s avenging thunders? Hence it is that all our woes have sprung, because in our disgraceful actions we fear not God but man.”

S. Chrysostom again (Hom. 17 in Ep. ad Rom.) says: “Just as boys in play put on each other’s heads crowns of hay, and often laugh behind his back at the boy they have crowned, so too do those who speak you fair to your face jeer at you quietly among themselves. What else is this but placing crowns of hay on each other’s heads? Would or were nothing else but hay! But as it is, this crown of ours is full of warning to us, for it destroys all that we have rightly done. Consider, then, its value; flee from the loss it entails. For if there are a hundred, or a thousand, or a host without number to applaud you, yet all of them are nothing more than chattering jackdaws. Nay, if you but think of the cloud of angel-witnesses they will seem viler than worms, and their words more flimsy than cobwebs, more fleeting than smoke, or than a dream of the night. Say to thy soul what Paul said, ‘Knowest thou not that we shall judge angels?’ Then call it away from such a feast, and chide it, and say, ‘Dost thou that art to sit in judgment on angels wish to be judged by such unclean spirits?’

S. Jerome too (ad Pammach.) wisely says: “The first monastic virtue is to despise the judgment of men, and always to bear in mind the words of the Apostle, ‘If yet I pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ.’ Some such saying, too, did God address to the Prophets when He told them that He would make their face as a city of brass, and an adamantine stone, and an iron pillar, that they might not tremble at the threats of the people, but with unmoved brow tread under foot the impudent jeers of their adversaries.”

Lastly, Anselm says here: “The righteous look not for man’s judgment but for the award of the Eternal Judge, and therefore with Paul they despise the words of detractors.”

This is what one of the Saints meant when he said, “If you wish to be happy learn to despise and to be despised.” But neither do I judge  my own self. I cannot certainly judge myself, my works, my motives, my conscience.

1Co 4:4  For I am not conscious to myself of anything. Yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

For I am not conscious to myself of anything. Yet am I not hereby justified. I do not judge myself. For though I am not conscious of any unfaithfulness in my Apostolic office, yet I am not really just: I do not mean in the sight of men, for I do nor care for their judgment: I mean in the sight of God, who perhaps sees in me sins that I do not. Hence S. Basil (Constit. Monast. c. 1) says: “Although in many things we all offend, yet we have no conception at all of the greater part of our offences. This is why the Apostle once said, ‘I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified.’ It is as if he had said, ‘I commit many venial sins of which I am bot aware.’ For the same reason the prophet said, ‘Who understands his offences?’ You will not then be saying what is not true if you call yourself a sinner.”

From this we can argue against the Protestants that the justified have no sure knowledge, much less faith that they are justified. They reply that S. Paul means here that as regards his works he did not know that he was justified, but that he had a sure knowledge of it from faith and Holy Scripture, which promise justification to every one that believeth on Christ. In other words, they say that they know that they are justified, not because they are free from sins, and live holy lives, but through God’s mercy accepting their belief in the free gift of justification by Christ. But this answer of theirs is frivolous and feigned, for the Apostle goes on to say (in the next verse),

1Co 4:5  Therefore, judge not before the time: until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts. And then shall every man have praise from God.

Therefore judge not before the time: until the Lord come, who both will bring to light, &c. He will reveal the thoughts and actions of men that lie hid in darkness. He means, then, that to God alone are naked and open the hidden things of man, his intentions, his secret motives, and the depths of his heart, which is to him like a bottomless sea, and therefore that none but God sees man’s justification. None, therefore, save God should judge another, or even himself, for his faith, his works, or the grace of Christ. For we often think that we are doing right when we are acting amiss: we often suppose that we are led by the grace of Christ, and act out of love for Him, when all the time we are impelled by our own lust or by the love of our own fame. Cf. Chrysostom and Ambrose and S. Jerome ( Dial. 2 contra Pelag.).  S. Augustine, too, has some beautiful remarks on this point in his sermon on Ps. 42., where he says that the deep of human misery and blindness calls to the deep of Divine mercy and illumination.

This argument is confirmed by the following reflections: (1.) that God even does not look upon us as justified by works but by faith, and this, according to the Protestants, we know of as well as God does; for we believe, they say, by faith. Therefore, according to them, what the Apostle says is false; for he says that God alone knows it and not we. (2.) The words which say that God beings to light the hidden things of darkness, and makes manifest the counsels of the hearts, do not mean that God surveys and manifests men’s faith, but their designs, their motives, and works. (3.) Just as the nature of our works is uncertain to us, so too is our faith, which according to Protestants alone justifies: for no man can know for a certainty that he believes on Christ with a faith that is firm and Divine, and therefore still less can he know that he is justified by it. The Holy Spirit often says the same elsewhere. Cf. Ecc 9:1; Prov 20:9; Job 9:21; Jer 17:9.

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One Response to Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time | stjoeofoblog

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