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Father Callan’s Notes on 1 Corinthians 14:1-6

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 30, 2011

PROPHECY IS SUPERIOR TO THE GIFT OF TONGUES
A Summary of 1 Corinthians 14:1-6

By his glorious tribute to charity the Apostle tried indirectly to withdraw the Corinthians from their inordinate desire for charisms. But even in their pursuit of these special gifts they were greatly mistaken in that they considered the ability to speak with tongues more excellent than prophecy, which they regarded as little above ordinary preaching. The aim of the present chapter is to correct this error and to show that prophecy is in every way more useful than speaking with tongues.

After eulogizing charity in the preceding chapter the Apostle now adds a final word, exhorting the faithful to strive for its possession. If they have this most excellent virtue, it is not forbidden them to be zealous also for gifts more unusual, though less perfect. But in seeking these latter, they should desire rather to prophesy than to speak strange tongues, for prophecy is more useful to the faithful.

1. Follow after charity, be zealous for spiritual gifts; but rather that you may prophesy.

Spiritual gifts are those mentioned in 12:8-10.

Prophesy. The gift of prophecy in the early Church consisted not only in foretelling the future, but also, and especially in the ability extemporaneously to preach and exhort the faithful under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Although prophecy is here compared only with the gift of tongues, it seems the Apostle rated it above all other charisms.

2. For he that speaketh in a tongue, speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man heareth. Yet by the Spirit he speaketh mysteries.

Speaketh in a tongue, i.e., in a strange language unknown to him before, and which neither the speaker, nor the hearer for the most part understood. The gift of tongues is frequently mentioned in the New Testament. In Mark 16:17 there is question of speaking “with new tongues”; and in Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6; and in 1 Cor 12-14 “tongues” are spoken of in different ways. There are various opinions regarding the nature of this gift, (a) Some Rationalists think it consisted in certain inarticulate and unintelligible sounds and cries uttered in a state of enthusiasm. But such an explanation is directly contrary to the obvious meaning of those passages of Scripture in which this gift is mentioned, and also to the manner in which it was regarded by those who heard the strange tongues on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:6 ff.). (b) Bisping and others believe it gave the faculty of speaking in the primitive language of our first parents. But if this were so, we could not explain the clear declarations of Scripture about divers tongues, and new tongues, (c) We hold, therefore, the common view that the gift in question meant the ability to speak in one or more foreign languages unknown to the speaker before, and for the most part unintelligible both to himself and to those who heard him. Thus on the day of Pentecost the languages spoken by the Apostles were not understood by any except those to whom they were native (Acts 2:8, 11). In Corinth it seems the strange tongues were not understood by any who heard them, nor as a rule by those who spoke them. Hence there was always need of an interpreter, or of the gift of interpretation on the part of the speaker.

Speaketh not unto men, etc. This shows that the gift of tongues was not for preaching and teaching, but for praying to God.

No man heareth, i.e., no one understood the strange language.

By the Spirit, i.e., with his soul and heart stimulated to utterance, although he would not understand. Since the article is not used with “spirit” in the Greek, it is better to understand the reference to be to the mind rather than to the Holy Ghost, as some think, and hence the term should not be written with a capital either in Latin or in English.

Mysteries, i.e., truths hidden by reason both of their nature and of the language in which they were expressed.

3. But he that prophesieth, speaketh to men unto edification, and exhortation, and comfort.

Very different from the gift of tongues, which was unintelligible, apart from interpretation, both to speaker and hearer, was the gift of prophecy, which was understood by all and useful to all. Through prophecy the speaker edified the faithful by exciting them to good endeavors; he exhorted them to fervor and zeal; he comforted them in their temptations and difficulties in pursuing
virtue.

It is clear that prophecy here does not so much refer to foretelling the future and revealing secrets, as to the special power of instructing, exhorting and comforting the faithful.

4. He that speaketh in a tongue, edifieth himself : but he that prophesieth, edifieth the church.

He that speaketh in a strange language, which neither he nor his hearers understand, edifieth himself, not because he necessarily understands what he is saying, but because he knows he is praising God and speaking to God in prayer, and in consequence his faith and love are stimulated and increased; but he does not help others who do not know what he is saying.

He that prophesieth, on the contrary, helps not only himself, but the church, i.e., the assembly of the faithful who hear him. See on 1 Cor 12:10, 28. Prophecy therefore is superior to the gift of tongues.

Dei of the Vulgate is not represented in the best Greek MSS.

5. And I would have you all to speak with tongues, but rather to prophesy. For greater is he that prophesieth, than he that speaketh with tongues: unless perhaps he interpret, that the church may receive edification.

The Apostle does not wish to be understood as despising the gift of tongues, which is very good in itself, but he would have the faithful seek rather to prophecy because that is more useful. “That which is useful only to the one who does it, is less than that which is useful also to others” (St. Thomas).

To prophesy. Literally, “That ye should prophesy.”

Interpret. The power of interpreting the gift of tongues was distinct from that gift, although both were sometimes united in the same person.

6. But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either in revelation, or in knowledge, or in prophecy, or in doctrine.

If I come, etc. To show the inutility of speaking with tongues the Apostle refers to himself as an illustration. He asks the faithful of Corinth what profit he could be to them on his forthcoming visit, if he should speak to them only in a strange language which they could not understand. It is evident that, if he is going to be useful to them when he comes, he must speak either in revelation, i.e., as a prophet, communicating to them what he has received through revelation; or in knowledge, i.e., as a doctor explaining doctrine.

Modern authorities are agreed that there is question here of only two charisms, prophecy and doctrine, being regarded only as external manifestations of what is possessed internally through revelation and knowledge.

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2 Responses to “Father Callan’s Notes on 1 Corinthians 14:1-6”

  1. […] Father Callan’s Notes on 1 Corinthians 14:1-6. ******************************************************************* […]

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