Father de Piconio’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Chapter 8

Notes in red, if any, are mine.

Chapter 8. In this chapter the Apostle replies to another question put to him, concerning the lawfulness of eating food which had been sacrificed to idols. Though the food itself, the gift of God, is not rendered profane or unholy by having been used in idol sacrifice, and there is no crime in eating it, still it had better not be done, if it occasions scandal to Christians, who are, as yet, imperfectly informed.

1. And concerning those things which are sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge inflates, but charity edifies.

Things sacrificed to idols. Greek, idolothytis, that is bread, wine, flesh, and similar things, large quantities of which, it is probable, were exposed for sale in the markets at Corinth, after having been offered in the temples; or else, as appears from verse 10, were eaten within the enclosure of the temples themselves, which must have been converted into a kind of public restaurant or table d’ho’te.

We all have knowledge. All we who are properly instructed in the Christian faith, have sufficient knowledge to direct us what to do. So the Syriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions. But it would seem that the Apostle uses the words ironically, with reference to party leaders at Corinth, who prided themselves on their superior knowledge, among whom he presumes to class himself, as also knowing something. Knowledge, without charity inflates, puffs up, in the Syriac, renders arrogant. Saint Thomas compares it with the boil that seized the wise men of Egypt in presence of Moses (Ex 9:11) and rendered them incapable of standing before Moses, or being of any service to themselves or others. Not only so, but such knowledge is actually a cause of positive mischief. Science that inflates, and draws to sin, is the science of devils, not of pastors. Charity edifies, seeks its neighbours’ good.

2. And if any one thinks he knows anything, he knows not as yet as he ought to know.

If anyone thinks he knows anything, he knows not yet. This is undoubtedly said with special reference to the persons of whom he is complaining. It is nevertheless a profound and universal truth. Many things are capable of being known with certainty, but not even the simplest fact in nature, or human life, can be understood thoroughly in all its bearings, by any human, perhaps by any finite, intelligence.

He knows not as yet as he ought to know. What is the right mode of knowing? To answer this, we must consider the principle of knowledge, and its end. God is the Father of light, from whom all knowledge proceeds. We should, therefore, know with humility. The end of all knowledge is the glory of God, and the salvation of our neighbour. We should, therefore, know with charity. As rich men are not lords of their possessions, but depositaries, so learned men are depositaries, not proprietors of science. It is given them for the edification of others, not for their own use, much less for scandal.

Saint Thomas, quoting Saint Bernard, says: the mode of knowing is to know in what order, with what desire, to what end, you seek to know. In what order; to learn first what will soonest bring you to salvation. With what desire: what will most effectually bring you to love God. With what end; not vain glory or curiosity, but the edification of yourself and your neighbour. Some know, only to know; this is curiosity. Some to be known; this is vanity. Some to sell their knowledge; and it is a vile trade. Some to be edified; this is prudence. Some to edify; this is charity. St. Bernard, Serm. 35.

3. But if any one loves God, this man is known of God,

If any man loves God, any man who possesses knowledge, if he obtains and uses it as just described, for God’s glory, and the good of his neighbour, such an one is loved of God, and acceptable to God. He who has science without charity, knows God, but God knows not him. Amen, I say to yon, I never knew you, Matt 7:23. As in the Divine Word, in whom is all knowledge, God is well pleased, so in proportion is he pleased in the man who has knowledge, and is a promoter of edification and charity.

4. But concerning the meats which are immolated to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world; and that there is no God, but one.
5. For though there are which are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth (since there are gods many, and lords many):

Concerning the meats which are immolated. That is, have been immolated, to idols, the particular question under consideration. Wc know, you proclaim that you know, and you are right, that an idol is nothing. The idol is nothing, not literally, for it is materially something, but it is nothing, in the sense that the power it represents has no real existence, is not a true object of worship, has no real share in the government of the universe. The idol is nothing in mundo, in the world. This distinction is not always observed by heretics, some of whom infer that the Apostle is here condemning the use of images. If Apollo or Athena were a real power in the universe, worthy of divine worship, it would be reasonable and pious to adore an image of Athena or Apollo. The guilt of idolatry consists in paying worship to that which is not, or is not worthy of it. Christ and the Saints are worthy of honour and reverence, and to honour and reverence their images is, therefore, pious and reasonable. There is no God but one. The pagans adored many (verse 5). Jupiter, Apollo, Juno, etc., were called gods in heaven. Hercules, Aesculapius, the nymphs, etc., were called gods on earth. Theodoret. Otherwise, there were those called gods on earth, that is kings, who were worshipped by the pagans as divine.

6. Yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whcm are all things, and we through him.

To us, who know the true faith, there is but one God; the Father, the first cause of existence, and we to him, in ilium, for his glory and service. And one Lord Jesus Christ, per quem omnia facta sunt, through whom, as the immediate agent, all things were made. And we through him, we live through him, both by creation and redemption; in both of which the Father is the author, and the Son the immediate agent. The Son alone, or especially, is here called Lord, because he is our Lord by right of redemption and the price of his blood.

7. But knowledge is not in all. And some with conscience of the idol, even now, eat as a thing offered in sacrifice; and their conscience, being weak, is polluted.

Knowledge is not in all. The knowledge of the absolute nothingness of pagan deities, was not always clear to the minds of recent converts from paganism, and feasting in their temples appeared to them an act of idolatrous worship. In chapter 10. where the discussion of this question is continued, the Apostle makes a statement which implies that the weak brethren, here referred to, were not altogether wrong in the view they took of the nature of false deities. It must be observed also that Saint Paul does not formally concede the lawfulness of taking part in pagan festivities, but only grants it argumenti gratia. Even, if lawful, it still occasions scandal.

8. But meat does not commend us to God. For neither if we have eaten, shall we abound ; nor if we have not eaten, shall we be deficient.

Meat commends us not to God, but abstinence may, as St. Thomas observes. We shall not abound in God’s grace by eating, receive thereby any spiritual advantage or improvement. And abstinence cannot do us any spiritual harm.

9. But see lest perhaps this your license become an offence to the weak.

I.e., the weak in conscience could become scandalized.

10. For if one sees the man who has knowledge sitting at meat in an idol temple; will not his conscience, being weak, be edified to eat things offered in sacrifice?

His conscience, being weak, that is, his knowledge being incomplete, he will be edified or encouraged to join in pagan feasts, and thus his salvation will be endangered, for he will more readily be induced to sacrifice to idols in time of persecution.

11. And shall the weak brother perish through thy knowledge, for whom Christ died?
12. But thus sinning against the brethren, and wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

Wounding the conscience of weak brethren, you sin against Christ. To wound or strike a weak and infirm man is base and cowardly; not less is it base and cowardly to wound weak consciences, or weak faith, by an evil example. Saint Chrysostom. It wounds Christ, by depriving him of the fruit of his passion. To strike the infirm is inhuman; to strike Christ is impious; to slay those to whom he has given life, is murder. Father George of Amiens.

Saint Paul does not, in this chapter, dispose of the question under consideration, which is answered further on, but so far he advances one argument against participation in pagan festivals, namely the scandal thereby given to recent converts.

13. Wherefore, if meat scandalizes my brother, I will not eat flesh for ever, lest I scandalize my brother.

Where the salvation of the weak in conscience is concerned, St Paul would gladly surrender his rights. This statement provides a transition into the subject matter of chapter 9.

Corollary of Piety~ In God’s kingdom the highest are the humblest. The devil is proud, and evil men are proud. But God, who knows all things, condescends to make himself the common servant of all his creatures, and provides every moment for the humblest wants of the humblest among them. And when this great Lord of the universe came down from heaven to earth, he proved that he was meek and lowly of heart. God’s holy angels have far wider knowledge and deeper wisdom than the wisest of the sons of men, yet they too are lowly and humble. Saint John and Saint Paul had the knowledge of the deepest mysteries of God, yet as their writings prove, their humility was equal to their science. There is some trace of this in all great men who, in the inspiration of genius, which is in some sense an illumination from the great creative Intellect, the Word of God, have been eminent in the highest degree in even merely human learning and science; for humility is always an attribute of true genius and true science. The knowledge that inflates is that partial knowledge which is the child, not of genuine zeal for truth, but of vanity, and the object and effort of which is only to impose on the credulity and simplicity of the ignorant and simple. He who loves God knows all that the profoundest wisdom could teach him; for all other knowledge is only for the purposes of this mortal life, and the learned and the ignorant, like the rich and poor, the powerful and the lowly, are all brought to a level in the grave.

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