Father Bernardin de Piconio’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians Chapter 1

In this chapter the Apostle, after greeting the Corinthian Christians, warns them against sects and divisions, and exhorts them to unity.

1.  Paul, called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes.

Called to be an Apostle by the will of God. Not by my own will, or yours, like the self-appointed teachers of whom I have to complain.  St Thomas observes: Would to God all prelates could be said to be appointed by the will of God, and not his indignation and wrath, for the sins of those who are subject to them.

Our brother Sosthenes. He was the chief of the synagogue at Corinth, and was beaten by the pagans before the judgment seat of Gallio, in the tumult which preceded St Paul’s departure from Corinth, as related in Acts 18:17.  He then attached himself to the Apostle and accompanied him to Ephesus.  Being a person of influence and authority, well known in Corinth, he obtained the honor of being associated with St Paul in the title of this Epistle.

2.  To the Church of God which is at Corinth, sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in every place, theirs and ours.

Called to be saints. Called effectually so as to be sanctified in Baptism.

With all who call upon the name of the Lord. It was thus a circular Epistle, addressed not only to the Corinthians, but to all Churches throughout the world.

3.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, from whom are all good gifts (James 1:17); and from our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are given to us great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4).  He makes no mention of the Holy Spirit, because, St Thomas says, his presence is grace and peace.

4. I give thanks to my God always for you in the grace of God, which is given you in Christ Jesus.
5.  That in all things you are become rich in him, in every word, and in all knowledge.
6.  As the testimony of Christ is confirmed in you:
7.  So that there is nothing wanting to you in any grace, waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
8.  Who also will confirm you to the end without crime, in the day of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9.  God is faithful, by whom you have been called into the society of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

(vss 5-9).  That in all things you are become rich. This is the grace of God, given them in Jesus Christ, not that they are rich in worldly goods, as some of them were, but rich in the possession of Christ, in his faith, an din the communion of His Church, and of Christian hope; and rich also in every word, and in all knowledge, that is in the gift of languages, and in the knowledge of divine things, imparted by the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This is doubtless said with special reference to the more perfect among them.  There were others whom he addresses in a tone of charitable rebuke further on.  These gifts, he continues in verse 6, are a proof and testimony of the truth of the Gospel you have embraced.  There is no spiritual gift which God can confer on you, which he has not bestowed, until the second coming of Christ, for which you wait.  This has a side-reference to some who did not believe in the resurrection of the body, and the coming of Christ at the last day.  God give you the gift of perseverance, that you may be blameless on that day.  And this I hope, from confidence in God’s fidelity in his promises, who intended your salvation when he called you to the high dignity of association and communion with his Son Jesus Christ.  It would seem that at that period the Apostle expected a near approach of the coming of Christ, and the end of the world.

1:10  But I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all say the same thing, and that there may be no schism among you: but that you may be perfect in the same sentiments and the same opinion.

Through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. It will not have escaped the reader, and it is very remarkable, that this is the tenth time the Apostle introduces this name, in the few lines he has already written.  He evidently never tires of the sound of it.  So far he has given the Corinthian Christians congratulation and praise, speaking to some of them, St Augustine says, as of the whole.  He has now some blame to administer, but introduces it with entreaty.  I beseech you. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they slighted by adopting various party names, as if his was not sufficient; praying them, as they are one in the society of Jesus Christ, to be one in the understanding and expression of their faith.  One mind and heart, one meaning and one language.

1:11  For it has been signified to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

Of the house of Chloe. Both the Greek text and the Vulgate have those who are of Chloe. The Syriac: the domestics of Chloe. The Arabic: the friends of Chloe, which is also what St Chrysostom understands.  Chloe was no doubt a Christian woman at Corinth in a position of wealth and influence, so that her name was well known to the Christian community.

1:12  And I say this, that every one of you says: I indeed am of Paul; and I of Apollo; but I of Cephas; and I am of Christ.

I say, I have no doubt of the truth of what I hear.  Each of you says I am of  Paul, a disciple and follower and spiritual child of Paul.  An I of Apollo. Apollo (Acts 18:24) was a Jew of Alexandria, eloquent and powerful in the Scriptures, who having been converted to the faith of Christ by Aquila and Priscilla, came to Corinth after St Paul’s departure, and gave great help and support, by his eloquence and learning, to the Christians in that city, especially in their controversy with the Jews, to whom he publicly demonstrated that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the ancient Scripture.  Some party feeling seems to have arisen on his account and that of St Paul.  Some of the Corinthians, declining to take part in it, avowed themselves disciples of St Peter, from whom possibly they had received the faith in Rome; while others had in their earlier years heard the words of Christ in Judea or Galilee.

1:13  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or in the name of Paul were you baptized?

Is Christ divided? Have you more than one Christ?  Has he any partner or associate in power and dominion, with whom he divides his authority?  Was it Paul, or Peter, or Apollo, who was crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in any of these names?  As we have but one Christ, crucified for us, so have we but one teacher and master, by whose name we should be called.  Every preacher should endeavor to win the souls of his hearers for Christ, not for himself.  And every Christian should reverence the teachers and ministers of the Church as the ministers of Christ, not as Christs themselves.  Is your teacher Christ?  was he crucified for you?

1:14  I thank God I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Caius:
1:15  Lest any should say that I baptized in my own name.
1:16  I baptized also the house of Stephanus: but I know not if I baptized any other.

(vs 14).  I thank God. By Divine Providence it was ordered that I baptized very few amongst you, lest it should be said I baptized in my own name (vs 15).  Crispus was a chief of the Jewish synagogue at Corinth (Acts 18:8), a colleague of Sosthenes.  Caius (Rom 16:23) is the person there designated as my host.  (vs 16) There is a eulogy to Stephanus in chapter 15 of this Epistle.  St Thomas thinks that the circumstances here referred to gave origin to the Greek form of baptism.  Be (name) the servant of the Lord baptized, in the name of the Father, ect., instead of I baptize you, ect., lest it should give occasion to say, I of Paul, of Cephas, ect.

1:17  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize, not in wisdom of word, that the cross of Christ may not be emptied.

Christ sent me not to baptize. There was an interval between the profession of faith of the new convert, and his baptism, during which he received instruction in the mysteries of faith, as a catechuman.  This instruction of  catechumens is here included in baptism, and St Paul did not habitually undertake it, leaving it to others, and devoting his whole time to making the Gospel known to the outer world, which was the special function of the Apostolate.  Hence it was that he baptized very few.  Not in wisdom of word, eloquence and display of learning, of which he implies that the Corinthians thought too much.  The cross of Christ, and Christ on the cross, was the one subject he sought to bring before the thoughts of men, and implant in their hearts.  If they were only converted by human eloquence, the Cross was emptied of its power and robbed of its glory.

18. For the word of the cross, to those who perish, is indeed folly; but to those who are being saved, that is to us, it is the power of God.

The word of the cross is folly to those who perish. What greater folly than to hope for salvation from one who was unable to save himself from a painful and ignominious death? Yet to us who by faith have entered the way of salvation (the particle is in the present tense, in the Greek) the cross is the power of God, because we know that the death of Christ is effecting our salvation.

19. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and reprobate the prudence of the prudent.

Isa 29:14. Wisdom shall perish frcm the wise, and the understanding of the prudent shall be hid. God

20. Where is the wise? Where the Scribe? where the enquirer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

Isa 33:18. Where, among the teachers of the Gospel of Christ, do you find pagan philosophers, Jewish scribes, professors of the physical sciences, who search out the secrets of the material world? Truly God has infatuated the wisdom of the world, says Tertullian, since he can make no use of it for the furtherance of his kingdom. The philosophers have never found out truth for themselves, which is evident from the divergence of their views on every conceivable question: much less can they point it out to others. The simple preaching of the cross of Christ has established the true faith of God, and rooted it firmly in the belief of mankind, in spite of schools of philosophy and the strength of earthly power and empire.

21. For because in the wisdom of God the world knew not God through wisdom, it pleased God to save believers through the folly of preaching.

The Greeks, Theophylact says, had the wisdom of God for their teacher; the wisdom displayed in creation, Yet they never knew God. His wisdom intended they should know him in his works; the sin of men prevented the realization of this intention. The mode of salvation is therefore changed; and God now, by the simple preaching of the cross, which to the wisdom of this world appears folly, saves, not speculators, disputants, cavillers, but believers.

22. Because also the Jews seek signs, and the Greeks ask for wisdom.
23. But we preach Christ crucified; to the Jews indeed a scandal, and to the nations folly;
24. But to those themselves who are called, Jews and Greeks, Christ the virtue of God, and the wisdom of God.
25. Because the folly of God is wiser than men: and the weakness of God stronger than men.
26. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many noble:
27. But the foolish of the world God has chosen to confound the wise: and the weakness of the world God has chosen to confound the strong:
28. And the ignoble things of the world, and contemptible, God has chosen, and the things that are not, to destroy the things that are:
29. That no flesh may glory in his sight.
30. And of him are you in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption:
31. That as it is written: Who glories, in the Lord let him glory.

This is not what the world expected. The Jews ask for miracles, the Greeks require a system of philosophy (vs 22). The Cross of Christ, which we preach, is to the Jews a scandal, because they do not understand humility; folly to the Gentiles, who are sensible of no greater evils than suffering and death (vs 23). But those whom the grace of God calls to faith (vs 24), can perceive that all the power of God, greater than miracles, all the wisdom of God, far transcending the limited view of human philosophy, is centred in the Crucified. The sun itself is darkness to the blind, says Theodoret; but it gives light to those who see. This (vs 25), which the Greeks call folly, has done what all their systems of philosophy could never do: it has conquered the minds of men. That which seemed to them feeble and helpless, has subdued the empires of the world. Look
at those whom God has selected to be the bearers of this message of salvation to mankind. How few of them are men whom the world regards as wise and eloquent; how few are men of position and influence; how few men of noble or princely birth (vs 26)! He does not say absolutely none; there were, for instance, St. Dionysius the Areopagite, Paulus the governor of Cyprus, Nicodemus, Saint Paul himself, and Apollo.

(vs 27-28) But these were exceptions. For the most part, the early preachers of the Gospel of Christ, and their converts, were men whom the world, in its pride and ignorance, regarded as foolish, feeble, contemptible, and ignoble, as nothing. Yet in the end they put the old systems of philosophy to shame, subdued empires and governments to the faith of Christ, brought to nothing all that the  world, before their time, most admired, believed, reverenced, trusted in. He, who made all things of nothing, has restored all things by those who were as nothing. The fools have taught the wise men. The feeble have conquered kings and emperors. The humble and lowly have brought to the feet of Christ the excellence and grandeur of the world. Nothing that is of this world can glory before God (vs 29); its wisdom, its nobility, it power, are nothing in his sight. We also must learn to despise these things if we would have the regard of God.  (vss 30-31) Christ has given us wisdom, deeper than the systems of philosophy can teach; justice, or remission of sin, more complete than either Judaic or pagan sacrifices could confer; sanctity, which philosophers talked of, but could never realize; redemption from the miseries of life, in hope complete, in great degree in present realization also, by virtue of that hope. In this we may glory  (vs 31), but in nothing that is of this world. Thus saith the Lord: Let not the wise glory in his wisdom, and let not the strong glory in his strength, and let not the rich glory in his riches. But in this, let him glory, who glorieth, that he knows me, because I am the Lord, who show mercy and judgment and justice in the earth; for these are the things that please me, saith the Lord, Jer 9:23, 24.

Corollary of Piety~
The humblest Christian is wiser than the wisest of the philosphers of ancient times; familiar with mysteries which baffled the penetration, and eluded the grasp, of the greatest intellects of all time. All the philosophers of all ages have failed to discover the final cause of man’s existence; what our race is made for. But the Catechism of the Church reveals to every Christian child this secret, the foundation of all philosophy, so necessary to know, so marvellously concealed from the unassisted intelligence of man. God made me to know him, love him, serve him, and enjoy him for ever. Not the foundation of philosophy only, but its completion. Had philosophy attained this truth, it would have been content and satisfied, and desired to know no more. He who knows this knows all; he who knows it not, knows nothing.

The cross, once the emblem of the deepest degradation, the most profound and utter scorn, surmounts the sceptres of kings, is suspended in the courts of judicature, gleams in the decorations of the most renowed orders of chivalry among all the most civilised nations of the world. Christ on the cross, in his most absolute destitution and dereliction, has proved the conqueror of the world. He has done what kings and conquerors could never do: subdued the hearts of men. Few could tell the names of the twelve Cesars; the names of the twelve fishermen of Galilee, who conquered the world, are familiar in every land, and millions of men are called after one or other of them, after eighteen hundred years. No Roman triumphs were ever so brilliant as those which have been achieved by the bearers of Christ’s message of salvation; and the world has no record of conquest which can be compared to his.

What earthly dignity, what far descended genealogy can compete with the nobility of the inheritors of the glory of the sons of God?

Empires pass away, and are not. The Church of Christ, once esteemed as nothmg, stands from generation and generation, triumphs over the empires, and through the ages. God has used the ignorant to put the wise to shame, made the weak victorious over strength, exalted the lowly above the noblest, chosen the things that are not to bring to nothing the things that were.

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