The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan on 1 Corinthians 12:12-30

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 18, 2011

Text in red represent my additions to the text.

A Summary of 1 Corinthians 12:12-30.

St. Paul now illustrates how the different members of the Church, with their various gifts are all one, as parts of the one mystical body of which Christ is the head. As the human body is one, in spite of its various members, and as its vital spirit is one, although manifesting itself differently through different members, so it is with the mystical body of Christ, of which He is the Head and His Holy Spirit the soul. If, therefore, all the spiritual gifts possessed by the different members of the Church come from the same divine source and are intended for the same lofty purpose, which is the good of the Church, those who have the more humble gifts ought to be contented, not envying those who are more highly endowed (verses 12-20); and, contrariwise, those who have been more especially favored must not look down upon or despise their less fortunate brethren (verses 21-30).

12. For as the body is one, and hath many members ; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ.

So also is Christ. Literally, “So also Christ.” On this passage, where we might expect the word “Church” to be in the place of the term “Christ,” St. Chrysostom remarks: “As head and body are one man, so, says the Apostle, the Church and Christ are one; wherefore he puts Christ instead of the Church.”

13. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free; and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink.

St. Paul now proves that the faithful are all one. All have been regenerated by means of the same Baptism, operating in virtue of the same Holy Spirit, and all are incorporated in the same Jesus Christ, so that they form one mystical body, vivified by Christ’s Holy Spirit. All former differences of religion, race, or condition of life have thus been obliterated.

We have all been made to drink, i.e., all the faithful have participated in the effusion of gifts, some ordinary, some extraordinary, which the one Holy Spirit has poured out on them in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Here St. Chrysostom says: “He seems to me now to speak of that descent of the Holy Ghost which is after Baptism, and before the reception of the (Eucharistic) mysteries” (cited by Rick.). In the early days of the Church Confirmation was administered immediately after Baptism, as in the Greek Church still (cf. Prat, La Theol. de Saint Paul, tom. II. p. 379).

Gentiles (Vulg., gentiles) is “Greeks” in the MSS.

14. For the body also is not one member, but many.

In verse 12 the analogy was drawn between the oneness of the human body and that of Christ’s mystical body, the Church, and it was shown to be complete. In verse 13 it was proved that the Church is one. Therefore the conclusion now follows that the human body is one, although its parts and members are many.

15. If the foot should say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
16. And if the ear should say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
17. If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?
18. But now God hath set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him.
19. And if they all were one member, where would be the body?
20. But now there are many members indeed, yet one body.

15-20. The relation of the different members of the human body to the whole are now indicated, leaving it to be understood that similar relations exist among the faithful with regard to their common mystical body, the Church. The Apostle observes (a) that the greater or lesser nobility of a member of the human body does not make it more or less a part of the body; and (b) that the variety which exists between the different members is necessary for the perfection and harmony of the whole. Because the foot performs less noble functions than the hand, or the ear than the eye, it does not follow that the foot and the ear are not a part of the body, as well as the hand and the eye. Therefore, those who have received more simple spiritual gifts must not thence think they are not a part of the Church. Moreover, the needs of the human body are many. But if all the members had the same function, if all “were the eye,” for example, how could the various necessities of the whole be satisfied? Or if all the members were equal, “where would be the body?” since each member has to perform a different function. The diversity of the members is, therefore, according to the will of God, both in the human body and in Christ’s mystical body; whence it follows that he who is not content with the gifts he has received acts contrary to the will of God.

21. And the eye cannot say to the hand: I need not thy help; nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you.
22. Yea, much more those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body, are more necessary.

21, 22. St. Paul in the preceding verses has been arguing that those Christians whose special spiritual endowments were of a lower order ought, nevertheless, to be satisfied with their necessary part and functions in the mystical body of Christ. In the following verses (21-30) he wishes to repress pride and contempt in those who were more highly favored toward those of humbler gifts. The human body and its members continue to be the means of illustrating what goes on in the Church.

The nobler members of the body, such as the eye with regard to the hand, or the hand with regard to the feet, cannot disdain the need of the lower member which it must have. Nay more, certain members of the body, like the heart, brain and stomach, while of far greater delicacy than certain others, are really more necessary (μᾶλλον, meaning more).

Some think that the Apostle is still speaking in verse 22 of the outer organs, and that by the more feeble members he means the more delicate, such as the eye.

23. And such as we think to be the less honourable members of the body, about these we put more abundant honour; and those that are our uncomely parts, have more abundant comeliness.

The less honourable members (Vulg., ignobiliora membra) doubtless refers to such as the feet, the legs and the like; while the uncomely parts (Vulg., inhonesta) are those of which St. Thomas says: Dicuntur autem membra aliqua inhonesta in Sanctis non propter aliquam peccati turpitudinem, sed propter inobedientiam membrorum genitalium subsecutam ex peccato originali. (Our base members are treated with much more diffidence, particularly, by human diligence. Some members are called base in holy things, not as the result of the baseness of sin, but due to the disobedience of the genitalia, as a consequence of original sin.) Therefore we think more abundant honour means more clothing, and likewise more abundant comeliness means more covering.

24. But our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, giving to that which wanted the more abundant honour,

But our comely parts, such as the face, the hands and the like, have no need of external covering. This clause really belongs to the preceding verse.

But God hath tempered, etc., i.e., God has so arranged the various parts of the human body that men by natural instinct are led to give more abundant honour, i.e., more clothing to some of its parts than to others.

25. That there might be no schism in the body; but the members might be mutually careful one for another.
26. And if one member suffer anything, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory all the members rejoice with it.

25. 26. God has wisely provided for the care of the different members of the human organism, in order that they may all perform their respective functions and work in beautiful harmony. Hence it is that the various parts share in one another’s pain or pleasure, and that some of the less honorable parts can least be dispensed with. So it is in society and in the Church; often those members who perform the lowest functions are the most indispensable to the welfare of the whole.

Anything (Vulg., quid) in verse 26 should be omitted, as wanting in the Greek MSS.

27. Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member.

What has been said of the human body is now applied to Christ’s mystical body, the Church, where also there is one unifying vital principle, but different members. You are the body of Christ, i.e., the faithful taken together constitute the body of the Church.

Members of member, i.e., the faithful are mutually dependent on one another; or (according to a better Greek reading, given below), taken severally, they are the members of the Church.

The Vulgate, et membra de membro represents an inferior Greek manuscript, but the best Greek has μελη εκ μερους, et membra ex parte, i.e., taken together you are the body of Christ, but taken singly or individually, you are His members. (The RSV reads: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it).

28. And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracles; then the graces of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches.

Although the members of the Church constitute one body, if taken together, they are distinct, with various offices and functions, if considered severally. The Apostle now speaks df some of the extraordinary gifts and powers that were bestowed on different individuals in the Church. There is no question here of the ordinary functions of the various grades in the hierarchy, that is, of bishops, priests and the like; but only of those classes that possessed certain extraordinary powers, such as prophecy.

Hath set. Literally, “Hath placed.”

In the Vulgate and in our version nine gifts are enumerated here, as in verses 8-10, above; but the Greek text and the old Latin versions contain only eight, interpretations of speeches being omitted.

The church, i.e., the Church in general, not only the Corinthian Church.

Apostles, i.e., those endowed with extraordinary powers for preaching the Gospel to unbelievers in new parts of the world.

Prophets, . . . doctors. See above, on verses 8-10. The first three classes are named here in the order of their dignity. Prophets, as such, always spoke under the inspiration ofthe Holy Ghost; whereas doctors, although especially instructed and assisted by the Holy Spirit, made use of their natural knowledge in their exposition of doctrine.

Miracles … the graces of healings. See above, on verses 8-10.

Helps, i.e., persons having extraordinary powers for looking after and assisting the poor, the sick and the destitute. Governments, i.e., those gifted for the exercise of authority over external affairs in the Church.

Kinds of tongues. See above, on verse 10. The Apostle mentions this gift last probably to show the Corinthians that it was not so important as they had thought.

Interpretations of speeches (Vulg., interpretationes sermonum) should be omitted here.

29. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors?
30. Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

29, 30. Although the most of these extraordinary graces were generally found in different individuals, it sometimes happened that several of them were possessed by the same person. Nevertheless, the Apostle is referring in these verses to the general rule, according to which the different gifts were variously distributed among the members of the Church. The conclusion is that all should be contented with the graces which God has been pleased to bestow upon them, not envying one another, not despising one another.

31. But be zealous for the better gifts. And I shew unto you yet a more excellent way.

While St. Paul admonished the Corinthians to be satisfied with the gifts they had, he did not mean to forbid them to strive for higher perfection; rather, he desired this. But in order to attain to greater excellence and the more perfect state, it is necessary to enter upon and learn the way of charity, the only road to true perfection. Accordingly, before going into a more exhaustive consideration of those gifts which the Corinthians erroneously sought above everything, the Apostle unfolds to them (1 Cor 12:31-13:13) the treasures of charity, without which all other endowments can profit them nothing. The present verse, therefore, serves as a transition from this to the following chapter.

The Corinthians are encouraged to seek the better gifts (τα κρειττονα, as in the Rec, with D E F G, Old Latin and Vulg.), i.e., the gifts that were really more useful for themselves and for the Church, although not so showy. A better reading of the above phrase has, “greater gifts”, as in B A C, i.e., gifts of a higher order than those he has been speaking about, and which he will discuss at length in chapter 14; these “greater gifts” are faith, hope and especially charity.


2 Responses to “Father Callan on 1 Corinthians 12:12-30”

  1. […] Father Callan on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. 12:15 AM EST. […]

  2. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on 1 Cor 12:12-30. […]

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