Father de Piconio’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Chapter 7

Chapter vii. In this [chapter the Apostle replies] to some questions regarding Christian marriage and continence, which had been referred to him by the Christians of Corinth.

1. Of the things concerning which you write to me; if is good for man not to touch the woman:
2. But on account of fornication let each have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.

The tilings concerning which you wrote to me. Theodoret calls this the beginning of the second volume of the Epistle, in which Samt Paul answers the questions addressed to him. The first of these was, not whether marriage is lawful, which question he answers in ver. 8, but whether the use of marriage after baptism was lawful for those who had been married before. This much is acknowledged by Saint Athanasius, Saint Chrysostom, and, indeed all other writers who have considered the Apostle’s language. As to who were the parties who denied the lawfulness of the use of marriage under such circumstances, there is some difference of opinion. Saint Ambrose and Saint Anselm think they were secret teachers of heresy, not yet expelled from the Church. More modern writers have thought that their view proceeded from zeal for true piety, but without due consideration for human infirmity and the laws of human life; for such a tenet would be obviously impracticable after the conversion of whole nations to the faith. Saint Paul’s answer is that continence is good, in the Greek noble or honourable. The Syriac: it is good not to approach the wife. But such virtue is angelic, rather than human. For a general rule, regard must be had to the necessity of avoiding fornication (ver. 2), which word the Greek text uses in the plural, as a general term including impurity of every kind. He decides therefore let every man—every man is quite at liberty to—keep the wife to whom he is already married, and the same rule is applicable to the other sex. Heretics have endeavoured to argue from the words let each have his wife, the necessity of the marriage of priests and monks. But 1. The Apostle is not treating of marriage at all, but of the use of marriage already contracted; and 2. If he expressed such an opinion it would be directly contrary to what he says in verses 7, 8, 38, of this chapter.

3. Let the husband render her due to the wife: and similarly the wife to the husband.
4. The woman has not power of her own body, but the husband. And similarly also the husband has not power of his own body, but the woman.
5. Do not defraud one another, unless perhaps by consent for a time, that you may have time for prayer: and revert again to the same, lest Satan tempt you through incontinence.
6. But I say this according to indulgence, not according to command.
7. For I wish you all to be as myself: but each one has his proper gift from God; one indeed thus, and another thus.

Render her due (ver 3). The Greek: due benevolence. The Syriac: due affection. There is a twofold obligation to avoid impurity (vss. 4-5), each for the other as well as himself or herself. Both parties have by the marriage bond surrendered, each to the other, the right of disposing of themselves in this respect. To defraud, in verse 5, is to observe continence without the consent of the other party. There is of course no objection to this, if done by mutual consent, and this may be done for life, ver. 7, which, however, the Apostle does not urge, as he regards the case as exceptional. He approves of it for a limited time, and for the sake of prayer and pious exercises. The Greek text has: that you may be at leisure for fasting and prayer. That you may have time for prayer (ver 5), to pray with greater purity, fervency, and assiduity, and under the term prayer is included the reception of the holy Eucharist, for which is required purity and recollection. Revert again to the same (ver 5), the Greek, “come together again to the same place”: lest if you remain apart permanently or for too long a time, human infirmity be used by Satan as a means of tempting you to sin. I do not insist on this, if you think it best to remain apart, but it is permitted as a concession to the weak. I wish you were all as I am myself (ver 7). The Greek: I wish all men. The Syriac: because I could wish all men to be as I am in purity. I wish, prefer, would like it better, if possible: a wish not a precept: I should hke it better if you were all like me in continence. St. Chrysostom. The virginity of Saint Paul is asserted by Œcumenius. Estius gives many quotations from the Fathers in proof of his celibacy.

Each has his proper gift. Marriage and continence are both graces and gifts of God, though not equal in dignity.

8. But I say to the unmarried and to the widowed It is good for them if they so remain, as I also.

I say to the unmarried. This is a different subject. The Syriac has: It is better, or is fitting for them to remain unmarried, as 1 also am unmarried. So also Theodoret. The Apostle is so far from enjoining marriage, as the heretics assert, in ver 2, that he actually dissuades from it, citing his own example. Ambrose and Saint Anselm observe that this proves that the Apostle had never been married.

9. But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to be burned.

It is better to marry than to be burned. The Greek: to be set on fire. The Ethiopic version reads: better than to fornicate: and so Saint Jerome understands it. Fire burns, not those who only feel the warmth, but who handle it or fall into it. So desire burns, not those who feel it, but who consent to it. Not temptation, but consent to temptation, is burning ; indeed the temptation is necessary, to secure the crown of victory.

10. But to those who are joined in marriage, I command, not I, but the Lord, the wife not to leave her husband.
11. But if she leaves him, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled with her husband. And the husband is not to send away his wife.

To those who are joined in marriage. A third question, regarding divorce. The Apostle’s command is founded upon that of Christ. Not I, but the Lord. Christ commanded that the husband should not send away the wife except for fornication; and this extends to both sexes. The command is now left on record in Matt 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:9, Luc 16:18.  Divorce on this ground does not justify another marriage (ver 11). The indissolubility of marriage is founded on the example of Christ, who will never send away his bride, the Church,nor will the Church ever abandon her Divine Spouse. See on Eph 5.

12. For to the rest I say, not the Lord. If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away.
13. And if any believing woman has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her not send away her husband.
14. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife; and the unbelieving woman is sanctified by the believing husband: otherwise your sons would be unclean, but now they are holy.

For to the rest (ver 12). The previously quoted command of Christ is addressed to married couples, both Christian. As regards those cases in which one party only is converted, the other remaining in unbelief, Christ has given no instructions, and the following advice is to be taken as mine. There is in such cases no necessity for separation (ver 13,), nor is it justifiable unless the unbelieving partner insists upon it (vers 15, below). The unbeliever is so far sanctified (ver 14) as to be placed in a condition more favourable to conversion than any other could be, being surrounded by Christian children and grand-children, and brought into intercourse with Christian people. Tertullian and Saint Chrysostom think this refers to the use of marriage, which some Christians feared might be rendered unholy under such circumstances, and this scruple the Apostle removes. Were it so, the children of such unions would be illegitimate; but they are certainly holy, born in lawful wedlock. Or else: if you separate, your children would be regarded as illegitimate, and would be brought up in paganism.

15. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart: for a brother or sister is not subject to slavery in a matter of this kind: but God has called us in peace.

If the unbelieving depart. In this case the marriage is dissolved, and both parties are at liberty to marry again. A Christian is not bound by an obligation which would make him, or her, subject to the caprice of an unbelieving husband or wife. God has called us to peace; if the unbelieving partner raises war, or requires you to sacrifice, or join in impiety, or is intolerant of Christian worship, it is better he, or she, should depart. Better for marriage to be dissolved, than piety. Saint Chrysostom says. The cause of God is greater than the cause of marriage. The reverence of marriage cannot be exacted by one who abhors the author of marriage. The insult to the Creator abolishes the right of marriage. Ambrose in Paulum.

16. For whence knowest thou, woman, if thou wilt save thy husband? or whence knowest thou, man, if thou wilt save thy wife?

Whence knowest thou? You will say, there is hope of their conversion, if they remain. But this is extremely doubtful, and should not be made a scruple if the separation seems in other respects more conducive to tranquillity and peace of conscience.

17. Except that to each according as the Lord hath divided; as God hath called each one, so let him walk, and thus I teach in all the Churches.

Except to each according as the Lord hath divided. Regard must be had, in deciding this question, to the different circumstances of each case. There is no positive obligation laid upon every believer, who has an unbelieving husband or wife, to send them away or leave them, even if the unbeliever desires to depart, irrespective of the special circumstances of the case. Every one must decide this question for himself, or herself, and in whatever circumstances God has called him to the faith, remain stedfast in that faith, whatever decision he may arrive at as regards the question of marriage. This is what I have always and everywhere held and taught in all places where I have founded the faith, and where this question has been brought before me, and this is my opinion with regard to it.

18. Is any called circumcised? let him not procure uncircumcision. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.
19. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing: but the observation of the commandments of God.
20. Every one in the vocation in which he has been called, in that let him remain.

Let him not procure uncircumcision (ver 18). Some converted Jews endeavoured, or pretended to do so, as shown by some instances mentioned by Saint Epiphanius, and cited by Cornelius a Lapide and other writers. The Gentile convert, who has never received circumcision, is not to do so, or be solicitous on the subject. Obedience to the commands of God (ver 19), and of the Church, is the only thing he need care about. To love God and obey his commands, is true religion. Conversion to the faith does not change the mode of life as to externals (ver 20); let that continue, so it be honest, lawful, and blameless.

21. Art thou called a slave? Care not for it: but even if thou canst be made free, rather use it.
22. For who is called in the Lord as a slave, is the Lord’s freedman: similarly who is called free, is the slave of Christ.
23. You are bought with a price, be not made slaves of men.

Art thou called a slave? The Syriac has: If thou art called a slave, care not for it, but even if thou canst be called into liberty, rather choose to be a slave. The Arabic: It is better if thou usest slavery. Saint Chyrsostom: Rather serve. Theodoret: Go on serving. Theophylact: You shall serve. He wishes to show that a state of slavery need be no hindrance to salvation: as Saint Chrysostom observes, in opposing some who interpreted Saint Paul’s words to mean, if thou canst be set free, choose freedom. This, he says, is contrary to the Apostle’s meaning. All who are redeemed in Christ are slaves, and all are free (vs 22). Free, because they are emancipated from the empire of sin and the power of the devil. Slaves because they belong to him who has redeemed and purchased them. You are bought with a price; be not slaves of men (vs 23), in prejudice of the obedience you owe to your supreme Lord. Obey them not in sin, but obey them according to the will of Christ. Offend not God to please man. Slaves were not to run away from temporal lords, under pretext of serving God; nor fail in duty to God on the pretext of serving man. Theophylact. It would seem that slavery must have existed in a somewhat mitigated form, and that slaves were under the protection of the laws, or this last injunction might have sometimes been difficult to fulfil.

24. Let every one, therefore, brethren, wherein he is called, therein remain with God.

Faith sanctifies every condition of life. The sanctity, not the condition, is the object of solicitude.

25. But concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord: but I give counsel, as having obtained mercy from the Lord, that I may be faithful
26. I think, therefore, that this is good on account of instant necessity, that it is good for man so to be,
27. Art thou bound to a wife? do not seek freedom. Art thou free from a wife? do not seek a wife.
28. But if thou shalt have taken a wife, thou hast not sinned: and if a virgin shall have married, she has not sinned: but such shall have trouble of the flesh. And I spare you.

Concerning virgins (ver 25), the lawfulness, propriety, and desirability of a resolution of perpetual chastity and celibacy, I have no command of Christ. I give my advice as one who has received the grace of the Apostolic ministry, and whose counsel may safely be followed. Such a resolution is good (ver 26), in the Greek, noble, beautiful, and excellent, first, on account of instant necessity, because it avoids the urgent and inevitable troubles and difficulties attending the married state; sorrow and disappointment, and the obligation of providing for a family. The Syriac reads: on account of the necessity of time, that is the shortness of human life, as in verse 29, which only leaves us time enough to provide properly for eternity, and none to expend upon pursuits and objects wholly carnal or temporal. If thou art free, remain so (ver 27), for it is the better and more perfect state. But this is only a counsel, not a precept. There is no sin in being married, in either sex (ver 28); but those who marry are involved in many troubles incidental to their state, such as those just referred to, from which they would otherwise be free, and from which I would willingly spare you, by the advice I have just given.

29. This, therefore I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains that both they who have wives, as not having them:
30. And who weep, as not weeping: and who rejoice, as not rejoicing: and who buy, as not possessing:
31. And who use this world, as if they use it not: for the figure of this world passes away.

The time is short (Ver 29). Human life is too short for devotion to the interests of time and eternity together. Especially, perhaps, as the Apostle expected a near approach of the day of judgment. Married and single (ver 29), the sad and the rejoicing, buyers and sellers (ver 30), should all live and labour, grieve and be merry, buy and sell, with reference to the eternity which is close upon them. Using this world (ver 31), they should use it only with reference to another. The Greek has, as not misusing it; but it is to misuse it, to use it for itself. The torrent of human things rolls swiftly by, and the moments as they fly carry all things with them. St. Augustine. The figure of this world passes (ver 31); the unsubstantial shadows and appearances of unreal good which cannot satisfy the soul. It mocks, deceives, and soon is gone ; the realities which do not pass, and which do not deceive, are those of eternity.

32. And I wish you to be without solicitude. Who is without a wife, is solicitous for what is the Lord’s, that he may please God.
33. But who is with a wife, is solicitous for what is the world’s, how he may please his wife, and is divided.
34. And the unmarried woman, and the virgin, thinks of what is the Lord’s: that she may be holy, body and spirit. But she who is married, thinks of what is the world’s, how she may please her husband.

And (he) is divided (ver 33), between the solicitude to please God (ver 32) and worldly cares and anxieties. The Greek text, in one of its readings, joins these words with the next verse. There is a distinction between a woman and a virgin, but this is altogether rejected by Saint Jerome. The heart of the married woman, or man, cannot be wholly given to God; or their attention wholly fixed on the things of eternity.

35. Further, I say this for your advantage: not to throw a noose over you, but for that which is honourable, and may put it in your power to pray to the Lord without impediment.

I say this for your advantage. I speak only for your spiritual profit, and the furtherance of your salvation, and am anxious not to entangle you in efforts and enterprises beyond your strength. My object is the increase of virtue and piety. Luther asserted that Saint Paul preferred virginity to marriage, only because it was freer from worldly cares. But Saint Chrysostom, Saint Basil, Saint Athanasius, Saint Jerome, Ambrose, Saint Augustine, all maintain, and have written volumes to prove, what Saint Paul also here asserts, that it is more honourable than marriage, and directly tends to the advancement of holiness and the spiritual life. Saint Thomas says: It is good to remain in virginity, honourable for purity, delightful for freedom, profitable for reward, for the golden crown and the fruit of a hundred-fold are due to it. Luke 8, 8. And he quotes from Saint Augustine: Virginity rises above the condition of human nature, and makes mortal man like the angels; the victory of the virgins is greater than the victory of the angels, for the angels are without flesh, and virgins triumph in the flesh.

36. And if any one thinks he appears unfair towards his virgin, because past the age, and it ought to be so done; let him do what he will: he sins not if he marries.
37. For who has determined firmly in his heart, not having necessity, but having power over his own will, and has judged this in his heart, to keep his virgin, does well.
38. Therefore, both he who gives his virgin in marriage, does well: and he who gives her not, does better.

Unfair towards his virgin (ver 36). His daughter. There is probably an allusion to some circumstances that had occurred at Corinth, with regard to which, the Apostle had been consulted, but which are not now remembered. A wise father should only recommend a religious life to his daughters, when he is really free, that is, when the decision is left to him. (A father who thus offers his child to God, offers an acceptable sacrifice, her consent being presupposed. If he did so without her own inclination, and consigned her in opposition to her wishes to a life for which she had no vocation, he would be, like Jephta, the murderer of his child).

39. A woman is bound to the law during the time her husband lives. If her husband shall have fallen asleep, she is free: let her marry whom she will: only in the Lord.

This is another, and the last, of the questions referred to the Apostle, relating to this subject. A woman deprived of her husband by death is free to marry again, but only to marry a Christian. There have been examples of holy women who have acted otherwise, but this has been either in ignorance of the law, or under peculiar circumstances which rendered it inevitable.

40. But she will be happier if she so remains, according to my counsel; and I think that I have the Spirit of God.

I think I have the Spirit of God. Words of great humility, but also of great authority; for the presence of the Spirit gives to the advice of the Apostle the force of a counsel of God: she is happier if she so remain.

Corollary of Piety~
The supreme affection of the human heart is one and indivisible. It is the prerogative of Deity alone to love all his intelligent creatures separately and individually with an affection as complete and perfect as if no other being existed in the universe. The creature is so constituted that its affection can be centred in its fulness upon the Creator only, from whom only its real happiness can be derived. It may indeed be diverted from its true object, and wasted upon some created object, unworthy of it, and then it becomes an unholy passion, under the influence of which it wastes away, fatigued and disappointed, and is ultimately extinguished for ever: for lost souls and lost angels cannot love. Within the limits which Gdd’s providence has appointed and allows, earthly passion, though a concession to human infirmity, never, even in its fulness of transport, altogether supersedes or excludes the Creator’s right over the supreme devotion of the human heart. Earthly friendships and affections, apart from God, fade and die: they are a part of the figure of this world, perpetually changing and passing away. Those which are consecrated to God, and offered to his service,will be lost in the fulness of infinite charity which shall reign hereafter between the creature, redeemed and sanctified, and the Creator, manifested to its view. Lost, yet not lost. We do not see the stars in the sunshine, yet the stars are there, as bright as ever. But their feeble and trembling rays are drowned in the splendour that streams from the great orb that rules the day. And all finite affections, the love of nearest friends, even devotion to the saints in glory, will be absorbed, not extinguished, in the noontide glory of adoration and affection which will irradiate and fill the human soul, in the tenderness and majesty, the grandeur and the loveliness of the beatific vision of God.

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