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’s Notes on 1 Corinthians 13

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 30, 2011

A Summary of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

In these verses St. Paul treats of the necessity of charity; in verses 4-7 he portrays its exalted qualities; and finally, in the last section, verses 8-13, he shows that charity outlasts all other virtues. It was very shortsighted and foolish in the Corinthians to be seeking so ardently the extraordinary gifts of tongues, of prophecy, and of faith, while neglecting, in their hot pursuit of them, the very foundation of them all, that without which they all were as nothing, namely, charity.

1. If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

If I speak. Literally, “Even if I were to speak.”

The charity of this chapter is that supernatural virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for God’s sake. It is either identical with sanctifying grace, or inseparable from it. The Apostle begins by comparing it with the gift of tongues, because the Corinthians esteemed the latter so highly. He tells them that if they could speak the languages of all men, and knew the mysterious modes of intercommunication which the angels have, it would be of no use to them without charity: they would be like sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal, i.e., of some little use perhaps to others, but of no real profit to themselves, so far as eternal life is concerned.

As (Vulg., velut) is not in the Greek.

2. And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

Charity is now compared with four other gifts,—prophecy, wisdom, knowledge and faith. See notes on 1 Cor 12:8-10. If one should possess all these extraordinary gifts and powers, and still be without the love and grace of God, he is nothing in the sight of heaven.

3. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Here the Apostle compares charity with those gifts, such as “healings,” “helps,” and the like (1 Cor 12:28), which have mercy towards others for their object. Endowed with these extraordinary graces one might be willing to give all he possessed to relieve the distresses of others, he might be ready to cast himself into flames to save his neighbor; but all such heroic acts would profit their doer nothing toward life eternal without the supernatural virtue of charity.

The reading “that I may be burned,” has the majority of MSS. and the versions in its favor. But the three oldest MSS. give “that I may glory.” The latter reading, however, is out of harmony with the context and with the argument of St. Paul, because it introduces a bad motive for the heroic actions performed, and this alone would vitiate them, independently of the absence of charity. But St. Paul is supposing the actions to be good, to be extraordinary, yet of no worth in the supernatural order, simply on account of a want of charity in their author.

There is more probably no question in this verse, of one’s suffering martyrdom (against Estius), because martyrdom always confers sanctifying grace, and therefore charity; whereas St. Paul is here supposing the absence of charity. It is better, then, to hold with Comely that there is here question of death endured for some natural motive.

A Summary of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

A striking difference between charity and the extraordinary gifts which the Corinthians prized is this, that it alone suffices for eternal life, while they are supernaturally of no avail without charity. The reason is that charity is the root and life giving principle of all the other virtues. In order that we may better understand the nature of this exalted gift, St. Paul now describes its characteristics and actual fruits,—both negative and positive. If the qualities enumerated seem to pertain directly only to the neighbor, it is (a) because the love of God is presupposed, as included in charity towards the neighbor; and (b) because there was more need of insisting on the love of one’s neighbor.

4. Charity is patient, is kind: charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up;

Charity is patient, i.e., it endures evils without complaint or anger.

Is kind, i.e., is useful in helping others.

Charity envieth not, i.e., is not offended or saddened at the
good or success of others.

Charity dealeth not perversely, better, “is not boastful,” “is not pretentious” (περπερεύομαι = perpereuomai) in words and actions.

Is not puffed up, i.e., is not proud or boastful in thought.

5. Is not ambitious, seeketh not her own ; is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil;

Is not ambitious. Better, “Behaveth not amiss” (ουκ ασχημονει).

Seeketh not her own, to the detriment and disregard of others.

Is not provoked to anger for injuries received.

Thinketh no evil, i.e., does not take account of the evils she suffers and put them down against the evil-doer; she bears no malice.

6. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, i.e., is not pleased with the evil others do.

With the truth, i.e., with the virtue and goodness that appear in others.

7. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Beareth, etc. (στεγει = stegei,) i.e., tolerates and excuses all the defects and faults of one’s neighbor.

Believeth . . . hopeth . . . endureth, i.e., according to the Greek Fathers, charity believes only good things about one’s neighbor, so far as possible, hopes for the best concerning him, and bears patiently all the evils that come from men. St. Aug. and St. Thomas, however, think the meaning is that charity believes all that God has revealed, hopes for all that He has promised, and endures with patience the fulfillment of His promises.

A Summary of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Not only is charity the root and soul of all other virtues, but it endures forever. From their very imperfection charismata must cease, while charity abides even after hope has vanished and faith has given way to vision.

8. Charity never falleth away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed.

The Apostle now contrasts the durability of prophecies, of tongues, and of knowledge with that of charity. The former, he says, must cease either during this life, or at its close; whereas the latter will last throughout eternity.

There is no question in this verse of charity or grace being inadmissible in this life. Such a stupid heresy of the Reformers is clearly refuted by the Apostle in 1 Cor 9:27. Cf. Cone. Trid., Sess. VI., cap. XV. can. 27 (see below).

CANON XXVII.-If any one saith, that there is no mortal sin but that of infidelity; or, that grace once received is not lost by any other sin, however grievous and enormous, save by that of infidelity ; let him be anathema. (source).

9. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10. But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.

The reason is now given why charismatic gifts will cease hereafter, but charity will remain; namely, charisms, such as wisdom, knowledge and prophecy, like earthly knowledge also, are possessed only in part, i.e., they are imperfect, incomplete, because they suppose and depend on faith; but faith by its very nature is obscure. But when faith yields to vision in the life to come, then those gifts which have depended on it will also pass away. Charity, it is true, will be more perfect in heaven, but it will remain specifically the same.

Perfect (vs 10) refers to the vision of God hereafter in which we shall see and know all things.

11. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.

The imperfection of faith and of present knowledge, as compared with charity and the vision of God, is here beautifully illustrated by the difference between childhood and perfect maturity.

12. We see now througn a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.

By another striking illustration the same truth is enforced; and while the Apostle has been speaking of charismatic knowledge, commentators are generally agreed that he now includes all our present knowledge of divine things.

We see now, etc. Better, “For now we see,” etc. (βλεπομεν γαρ), i.e., in the present life we do not know God directly, as He is in Himself, but only through the medium of creatures or of revelation, which, like a dim mirror, reflect the divine perfections only incompletely.

A glass, etc., means a mirror, which in ancient times was made of brass or polished steel, and, unlike our modern looking-glasses, reflected the object only dimly and imperfectly.

In a dark manner, i.e., obscurely, both because our knowledge of God is not immediate, and because our minds cannot now penetrate and understand with perfection the great mysteries which God has revealed to us (cf. Num 12:6-8).

But then, i.e., in the blessedness of heaven, we shall see God face to face, i.e., clearly and distinctly as He is in Himself.

Now I know in part, etc., i.e., in this present life I know only imperfectly, in an indirect and obscure manner; but then, i.e., in heaven, I shall know God and divine things immediately and perfectly, as God will know me. St. Paul does not mean that our knowledge of God will be equal to His understanding of us, but only that it will be similar; it will be direct and perfect in its kind.

13. And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.

13. But this happy state is reserved for the life to come.

Now, i.e., in the present life, there remain, etc. The Apostle insists on the permanent necessity in this life of the theological virtues, as contrasted with the transient character and utility of the charisms. Faith, hope, and charity are the very foundation of the Christian life; and hence they are far superior to those extraordinary gifts, such as, tongues and prophecy, which serve only a passing need in the Church. But of these three theological virtues charity is the most excellent, because, while faith gives place to vision (2 Cor 5:7) and hope to possession (Rom 8:24), charity remains throughout eternity.

Protestant commentators hold generally that faith and hope, as well as charity, remain in the future life; but this is opposed to St. Paul’s plain teaching in 2 Cor 5:7 and in Rom 8:24, just cited.


10 Responses to “Father Callan’s Notes on 1 Corinthians 13”

  1. […] of the Epiphany of the Lord « This Weeks Posts: Sunday Jan 23-Saturday Jan 29 Father Callan’s Notes on 1 Corinthians 13 […]

  2. […] Father Callan’s Notes on 1 Corinthians 13. […]

  3. […] Charity (verse 14) is the queen of virtues, the silver cord which binds all the others together, and without which every other virtue is imperfect. See on Eph 4:2, 32 ; 1 Cor 13. Father Callan’s commentary on 1 Cor 13 can be found here. […]

  4. […] Father Callan on 1 Cor 13:1-13 for Quinquagesima Sunday Mass, March 6 (Extraordinary Form). […]

  5. […] wish to consult the less technical commentaries on this passage by Fr.  Bernardin de Piconio, or Fr. Callan. The really ambitious may wish to consult St Thomas Aquinas’ four part lecture on these […]

  6. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on the Epistle Reading (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). […]

  7. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on the Epistle Reading (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). […]

  8. […] Charity (verse 14) is the queen of virtues, the silver cord which binds all the others together, and without which every other virtue is imperfect. See on Eph 4:2, 32 ; 1 Cor 13. Father Callan’s commentary on 1 Cor 13 can be found here. […]

  9. […] Charity (verse 14) is the queen of virtues, the silver cord which binds all the others together, and without which every other virtue is imperfect. See on Eph 4:2, 32 ; 1 Cor 13. Father Callan’s commentary on 1 Cor 13 can be found here. […]

  10. […] Charity (verse 14) is the queen of virtues, the silver cord which binds all the others together, and without which every other virtue is imperfect. See on Eph 4:2, 32 ; 1 Cor 13. Father Callan’s commentary on 1 Cor 13 can be found here. […]

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