Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
Posted by Dim Bulb on June 27, 2012
2Co 8:7 That as in all things you abound in faith and word and knowledge and all carefulness, moreover also in your charity towards us: so in this grace also you may abound
2Co 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich he became poor for your sakes: that through his poverty you might be rich.
for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a fresh stimulus to almsgiving (concerning which St Paul has been exhorting them). Christ, the King of kings, for your sakes became poor when He was born in the stable, because there was no room for Him in the inn. Instead of His royal throne He had a manger; for bedding, hay; for fire, the breath of ox and ass; for curtains, spiders’ webs; for sweet perfumes, stable ordure; for purple, filthy rags; for His stud, ox and ass; for a crowd of nobles, Joseph and Mary. So, too, His whole after-life was stamped with poverty, or, as Erasmus renders the Greek here, with beggary. From this it appears that Christ was not merely poor, but was also an actual beggar.
That through his poverty you might be rich. Rich with spiritual riches, with lessons of godliness, with forgiveness of sins, righteousness, holiness, and other virtues. The Corinthians are tacitly bidden, if they wish to imitate Christ closely, to enrich the poor with their alms, to impoverish themselves so as to enrich others. Cf. Anselm on the riches and poverty of Christ, and Chrysostom (Hom. 17), who points out how the Christian should not be ashamed of or shrink from poverty.
S. Gregory Nazianzen (Oral. 1 in Pascha) beautifully contrasts our benefits and Christ’s loving-kindness. He says: “Christ was made poor that we through His poverty might be rich. He took the form of a servant that we might regain liberty. He descended that we might be exalted. He was tempted that we might overcome. He was despised that He might fill us with glory. He died that we might be saved. He ascended, to draw to Himself those lying prostrate on the ground through sin’s stumblingblock.” S. Augustine again says beautifully: “What will His riches do if His poverty made us rich?” Lastly, from these words of the Apostle, Bede infers: “All good faithful souls are rich: let none despise himself. The poor in his cell, being rich in his conscience, sleeps more quietly on the hard ground than he that is Rich in gold sleeps in purple.”
2Co 8:13 For I mean not that others should be eased and you burdened, but by an equality.
For I mean not that others should be eased and you burdened. I do not enjoin on you such liberal almsgiving as to enable the poor to live in luxury and you in need, but I wish every one to think of the necessities of others according to his power, without neglecting his own (Theophylact). S. Paul does not enjoin this, but he counsels it. It is, say S. Thomas and Anselm, an evangelical counsel, and, therefore, a sign of greater perfection, to give all your goods to the poor and become wholly poor yourself. “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor,” said Christ (S. Matt 19:21). This can be done not only by those who are going to devote themselves to the religious life, but even by those who remain in the world, as, e.g., by the poor widow (S. Mark 12:43). Do not mistake me: any one may do this provided he do not bring himself into extreme necessity, and if he has no family, for whom he is bound to provide. Theophylact adds that in the next verse the Apostle exhorts the Corinthians to give beyond their strength, when he says “that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want,” meaning: If you wish for a great reward, give liberally; if for the whole reward, give your all. He takes abundance to mean profuse almsgiving, abounding beyond their strength, such as S. Paul praised in the Macedonians. The reason is this, that such an act is one of supreme, heroic almsgiving, poverty, fortitude, and hope in God.
We have a striking example of this in S. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, who, after spending all his goods on the poor, at last gave himself up to the Vandals to be enslaved in the place of the son of a widow. His self-abnegation is praised by S. Augustine (de Civ. Dei, lib. i. c. 10). The event showed that his action was pleasing to God, for, when he was living as a slave, he was recognised by the Vandals under the inspiration of God, and was honourably treated and sent back home. S. Paula, again, was so liberal to the poor that her frequent prayer was heard, and, according to her wish, she had to be buried at the expense of others, and in another’s garments. S. Jerome, in his Life of her, praises her warmly for this. S. Martin, S. John the Almoner, and many others are examples of the same liberality. But abundance in this verse more properly denotes the abundant wealth of the Corinthians; for S. Paul contrasts it with the poverty of the Christians of Jerusalem, and desires that one may relieve the other.
2Co 8:14 In this present time let your abundance supply their want, that their abundance also may supply your want: that there may be an equality,
That their abundance also may supply your want. So their abundant supply of faith and hope and all graces will, by their prayers and merits before God, assist your spiritual poverty in this life, and in the other life they will, when you die, receive you into everlasting habitations. The kingdom of heaven is the possession of Christ’s poor (Anselm).
That there may be an equality. I do not command so large almsgiving that your homes be pauperised while the poor have ample, but of your superfluity, which supplies the proper matter of almsgiving, I beg you to communicate with the poor, and supply their want, so that you may both have the necessities of life, and may each hold the mean between the two extremes of poverty and abundance. Let there be nothing superfluous in the means of them that give, and nothing deficient in the way of the necessaries of life to them that receive (Theophylact).
That there may be an equality. By an interchange of spiritual goods as well as temporal.
2Co 8:15 As it is written: He that had much had nothing over; and he that had little had no want.
As it is written. Exodus 16:18. Paul applies what is said of the gathering and eating of manna, to show that God wishes men to strive after equality in communion of goods.
He that had much. He that gathered much had no more than he that gathered little, and vice versâ. The passage quoted from Exodus declares that by a continuous miracle God rained down manna for forty years in the wilderness on so many hundreds of thousands of Jews, in such a way that the greedy who gathered much, and the idle who gathered little, both found, when they returned home and measured what they had got, that they had but an homer full, or enough for a day’s food for each. If they collected either more or less, God or an angel subtracted from it or added to it invisibly, to bring all to an equality. So, then, an homer was the measure for men, women, and children, and it contained as much only as a man would ordinarily eat in a day (Nyssen, de Vita Moysis, Chrysostom, Anselm, Vatablus, Theophylact).
The reason for this was (1.) that God would in this way restrain the greediness and gluttony of the Jews, and their excessive love of earthly things (Chrysostom and Theophylact). (2.) By this continuous miracle God would remind us that in all our necessity we should look to His Providence, and recollect that He provides for each all that is needful for his life; therefore, as we sit at table, let us regard God as raining down manna upon us from heaven. So now God supplies, not only to the rich but the poor also, and those that have bad health or are burdened with a large family, their daily portion, which is enough to maintain the life of all. This will seem to any one who considers the matter, and compares the small gain made with the great expenditure of so many heads of families, a wonderful and incredible thing; and by this test alone any one may see God’s sweet and wondrous care for all. Let not the poor, therefore, bewail their lot, nor desire great riches, “For since we all,” says S. Chrysostom, “have but one belly to fill, and one time to live in, and one body to cover, the rich man has no more from his abundance, nor the poor man less from his poverty; but both have food and clothing, and in this they are equal.”
Observe, again, the beautiful application S. Paul makes of the symbolic manna. As God gave of it an equal measure to all, so is it right that Christians should cultivate an equality: those who have abundant wealth should distribute to the poor, and make them equal to themselves, so far as the necessaries of life go, that all may be content, and, having what is necessary, live equally (Theophylact and Chrysostom). Observe, however, that as the rich, by giving of their superfluous wealth to the poor, make them equal to themselves, so too do the poor, by a fellowship of merits, make the rich equal to them, not altogether absolutely, but by way of proportion, in such a way that neither has any lack of either kind of benefits, or has an excessive supply when compared with others; for otherwise the rich would not by giving to the poor make them as rich as themselves, nor would the poor by giving in return his prayers and other spiritual goods give an equal gift, but rather a far more valuable gift than he received. Nor again does he give of his spiritual goods as much as he has (S. Thomas).
Analogically, S. Chrysostom and Anselm refer this passage to the glory of heaven, which all will share equally. But this must he understood of the objective bliss; for all will see the same God, and in Him will be satisfied and blessed; but in this vision, and consequently in joy and glory, there will be degrees, and a disparity proportioned to merit. It was so in the case of the manna: an equal share was given to each, satisfying all equally, yet it tasted differently to different people.