Father Callan on 1 Corinthians 4:7-13
Posted by Dim Bulb on September 13, 2010
HUMILITY OF THE APOSTLES
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 4:7-13. When recommending humility to all the Corinthians in the preceding verse, the Apostle doubtless had chiefly in mind the leaders of the factions at Corinth. Now he directly attacks them with bitter irony, placing before them the life of real Apostles (Estius, Comely, etc.). St. Thomas, however, and the Fathers generally believe that the present section continues the thought of verse 6, and that the Apostle consequently is here, as there, addressing the faithful rather than their leaders. We see no reason why both in general cannot be meant.
1 Cor 4:7. For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
How foolish it was for the Corinthians to glory in those human leaders, in whom there was nothing whereof to glory; or to glory in themselves as if they were better than their neighbors! If they have anything that distinguisheth them, whether in the natural, or in the supernatural order, this is not due to them, but to God from whom they have received all they possess. Therefore they have nothing in themselves whereof to glory.
St. Thomas and most of the Fathers have understood this verse to refer to supernatural, as well as natural gifts; and St. Augustine constantly urged it against the Pelagians and Semipelagians to prove that man cannot accomplish, or even begin, a salutary work without the grace of God (MacR.). Using this verse the Second Council of Orange declared: If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). [I’ve here quoted the text in full, Fr. Callan quoted just the pertinent part in Latin].
1 Cor 4:8. You are now full; you are now become rich; you reign without us; and I would to God you did reign, that we also might reign with you.
In their own estimation the Corinthian faithful and leaders of factions are completely sufficient unto themselves. They are full, i.e., they want nothing; they are rich, i.e., they possess all wealth ; they reign, i.e., already arrived at the state of the blessed they reign with Christ triumphantly even in this life,—all this without us, i.e., without the true Apostles, Paul and his companions, who converted them to Christianity and put them on the way to happiness.
I would to God, etc. Dropping the irony of his remarks, St. Paul says I wish you actually did reign, so that we Apostles, the founders of your Church, might also share in your felicity, being freed from our distresses, trials, labors, and the like.
1 Cor 4:9. For I think that God hath set forth us apostles, the last, as it were men appointed to death: we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men.
I think that. “That” (Vulg., quod) is omitted by all the best MSS. How different from the apparently glorious condition of the Corinthians is the state of the true Apostles! Far from already reigning in Christ’s kingdom, the Apostles are like men reserved for the beasts in the grand finale of the games; they are the most abject and the last of men.
God hath set forth, etc. God has made public display of us Apostles.
Appointed to death, i.e., doomed to die as gladiators or slaves in the public arena; “they were appointed to fight with beasts” (Tertull.).
A spectacle to the world, etc. Like men exposed to wild beasts in the theatre, the Apostles became a spectacle to good angels and good men who admired their fortitude, mildness and humility in the midst of sufferings and persecutions, and to bad angels and evil men who rejoiced at their trials and sorrows.
1 Cor 4:10. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are honourable, but we without honour.
Continuing ironically to take the Corinthians at their own measure the Apostle further contrasts their fancied state with the condition of the Apostles.
We are fools, etc., i.e., the Apostles who preached Christ crucified in simple language were regarded as fools by the worldly Corinthians who gloried in eloquence and human wisdom.
We are weak, etc., i.e., the Apostles were regarded as weak, because destitute of human resources ; they were without honour, i.e., derided and despised, because wanting in worldly science and eloquence: whereas the Corinthians gloried in their human aids and natural attainments.
1 Cor 4:11. Even unto this hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no fixed abode;
The abject and destitute condition of the Apostles was not something of the past that no longer endured; it continued even unto this hour when the Apostle was writing, and throughout his life. At all times Christ’s true Apostles were in want of the things that were necessary for human life, such as food, drink and clothing; and moreover, they were unceasingly pursued by persecutions from one place to another.
1 Cor 4:12. And we labour, working with our own hands; we are reviled, and we bless; we are persecuted, and we suffer it.
In order not to be dependent on those for whom he labored preaching the Gospel, St. Paul worked at his trade of tent making to earn his daily bread (Acts 18:3; 20:34; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:8). For reviling and persecutions on the part of his enemies he returned blessing, sweetness and resignation.
1 Cor 4:13. We are blasphemed, and we entreat; we are made as the refuse of this world, the offscouring of all even until now.
The refuse . . . offscouring, etc. The Apostles were treated as outcasts, as scapegoats (περίψωμα) , as unfit to live in human society. Some think the above words refer to the custom at Athens of reserving certain worthless persons to be cast into the sea as a kind of scapegoat sacrifice against plagues, famines, or other public calamities.
Note: the words περικάθαρμα, refuse, filth, and περίψωμα, offscouring, scum, were sometimes used to denote scapegoats. Because St Paul speaks in this verse of being made refuse and offscouring of this world some see a connection with verse 9: “For I think that God hath set forth us apostles, the last, as it were men appointed to death: we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men.” St Paul is expressing a willingness to be a victim on behalf of others, as in 1 Cor 15:31; 2 Cor 4:10-11; Gal 6:17; Phil 2:17.