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

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:5-14

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 28, 2012

I’ve included some suggested commentaries on 2 Corinthians at the end of this post.

A Synopsis of the Chapter~
1.
From what was said in the last chapter of the glory and honour belonging to the office of a preacher of the Gospel, S. Paul proceeds to assert that he discharges that office holily, sincerely, and blamelessly. He declares this to be a fact plainly known to all except to those whose minds were blinded.
2. He declares (ver. 7) that he and the other Apostles undergo many sufferings on behalf of the Gospel without flinching, and that they with fortitude always bear about in their bodies the mortification of Jesus, on account of the hope of resurrection to a better life.
3. He points out (ver. 17) that this our tribulation is but light and short lived, and works an eternal weight of glory.

Notes on 2 Cor 4:5-14~
2Co 4:5  For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ our Lord: and ourselves your servants through Jesus.

Ourselves your servants through Jesus. Supply “we show,” or “we preach.”

2Co 4:6  For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus.

For God . . . hath shined in our hearts. In the account of the creation of the world given in Genesis, light is said to have been created first of all, because light is a quality most splendid, pleasant, gladdening, useful, efficacious, and powerful. Cf. Dionysius (de Divin. Nomin. c. iv.), who enumerates thirty-four properties of light and of fire wonderfully adapted to set forth God and the things belonging to Him. Cf. note to Gen 1:2.

Hugo (de Sacram. pag. i. c. 10) and others point out, by way of allegory, that on the first day, when light was created and divided from darkness, the good angels were established in good and the evil in evil, and were separated each from other. What, therefore, was done in the world of sense was an image of what was being done in the unseen world. Nay, S. Augustine frequently maintains that the literal sense is that which refers to the angels.

The Apostle here explains this light tropologically. As God formerly produced light out of darkness, so now has He made unbelievers into believers, and has enlightened them with the light of faith. So, too, S. Augustine (contra Advers. Leg. lib. i. c. 8) lays down that by light and day succeeding the pre-existing darkness, and being again succeeded by darkness, is signified what spiritually takes place in man, viz., grace succeeding sin, and sin again grace.

To give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. To illuminate us, that we in turn may illuminate others with that clear and glorious knowledge which shines forth from God in the face of Christ, or else by means of our clear knowledge of Christ and His redemption. It is commonly said that a man is known by his face; hence to know “in the face” signifies to know clearly and openly. Just as at night a lighted torch throws light on the surrounding darkness, and is carried before travellers to show them the way clearly, so does Christ lighten us in the night of this world, so that we know God surely and plainly, and go on our way to see Him in the life of bliss in heaven. Hence the Glossa symbolically explains these words to mean: by Jesus Christ, who is the Face of the Father; for without Him the Father is not known. There is still kept up an allusion to the veil over Moses’ face contrasted with the open face of Christ (2 Cor 3:15). The word face may be, with the Syriac, translated the person, i.e., we illuminate, others in the name, place, and authority of Christ.  S. Cyril (de Fide ad Theodor. Imp.) says. “He hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. See how openly and plainly the light of the knowledge of God the Father has shone, forth in the person of Christ.”

2Co 4:7  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God and not of us.

But we have this treasure. The treasure is the ministry and preaching of the Gospel entrusted to him by God. Cf. ver. 1 and vers. 5 and 6.

In earthen vessels. (1.) In a body of dust frail and fragile. Our body is as an earthenware vessel; for as an earthen vessel is nothing but clay baked in the fire, so is our body nothing but earth made solid by the heat of the soul. Take away the soul, and the body returns to the dust whence it came. Cf. Ps 103:14. Or, (2.) in earthen vessels means in ourselves; for though we are Apostles, still we are men, frail and fashioned from the dust, and, like earthen vessels, are worthless, weak, and contemptible, exposed to injuries at the hands of all. This explanation is favoured by the words that follow: “We are troubled on every side,” &c. So in 1 Cor 1:27, it was said that God had chosen the Apostles as the foolish, and weak, and base things of the world; and also in 1 Cor 2:1, Paul said that he had come to the Corinthians, not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, but in weakness, and fear, and trembling ; and again, in 1 Cor 4:9, he expresses the same idea.

Origen (Hom. in Numer.) symbolically interprets this treasure as the grace of the Holy Spirit hidden in earthen vessels, i.e., in the rude, unpolished, and unadorned words of the law and the Gospel.

That the excellency may be of the power of God and not of us. God wills me to have this treasure in an earthen vessel, in order that the excellency which is in me, and the fruit that I gather in the conversion of the heathen, may not be ascribed to me, but to the power of God and the grace of Christ.

2Co 4:8  In all things we suffer tribulation: but are not distressed. We are straitened: but are not destitute.

In all things we suffer tribulation: but not distressed. Not made anxious. Physically he was distressed, hemmed in, and pressed down, but in the midst of adversity the Apostle’s mind was serene and lofty. So, in Ps 4:1, David says. “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.”

We are straitened: but we are notdestitute. The Latin Version gives “We are in want, but not destitute,” or, as Ambrose, Theophylact, Erasmus, and Cajetan explain it: We are pressed with want, but not oppressed. There is a similar play on words in the Greek. Poverty gives sufficiency, nay, plenty, to a soul that is patient, wise, serene, and fixed on God. To say nothing of Christian writers, this was taught by Favorinus, who says. “It is true what wise men have said as the result of their experience, that they who have much want much, and that indigence takes its rise from abundance, and not from want. Much more is desired in order to guard the abundance you already have. Whoever, therefore, has great riches, and wishes to take forethought and guard against need or loss, needs loss, not gain, and should have less, that less may be lost.”

The Greek may also be rendered: We are without guidance, and are perplexed in the midst of our evils and difficulties; still we are not overcome by them, nor by our anxiety and weariness. We do not despair, but we hope for, and we find counsel, help, and deliverance in God, and so we are conquerors. This explanation is nearer to the Greek α̉πόρια, which denotes, not only bodily distress, but mental, viz., want of counsel, doubt, and perplexity, when the mind, seeing itself surrounded by difficulties, is at a stand-still, and knows not what to do. But God succours the Apostles and their successors in these straits, and points out a way of escape. S. Xavier and Gaspar Barzæus found this true in their work among the Indians, and testified that in every difficulty the Holy Spirit taught them more than all doctors or wise men could have done,

2Co 4:9  We suffer persecution: but are not forsaken. We are cast down: but we perish not.

We suffer persecution: but are not forsaken. S. Gregory of Nyssa (de Beatitud.), explaining the last of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are they that suffer persecution,” acutely and piously weighs the meaning of the word persecution, which etymologically points to some running, or rather running before. He puts before our eyes a holy man and tribulation, like two runners running side by side. When the saint does not give place to tribulation, he says that he goes before it, as victorious over it, and that tribulation follows hard after him, and is, therefore, called persecution, not consecution, for it follows after but does not reach the holy man. He says that this word points out that the saints, through patience, run with great swiftness for the prize of glory, display their vigour and strength most brightly in the midst of persecutions. He goes on: “Martyrdom shows us the arena, and marks out the course to be run by faith; for ‘persecution’ denotes an ardent desire for swiftness, nay, it even indicates the winning of the prize; for who can be victor in the race save he who leaves his competitor behind? Since, therefore, he that has an enemy behind, seeking to deprive him of the prize, has one ‘persecuting’ him—and such are they who finish the course of martyrdom on behalf of their holy religion, who are persecuted by their enemies, but not overtaken. Christ seems in these last words to put before us the most glorious crown of bliss, when He says, ‘Blessed are they that suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’”

We are cast down: but we perish not. There is here an allusion to the earthen vessels of ver. 7. Though, he seems to say, we are earthen vessels, and cast down, as it were, from the most lofty towers of persecutions, yet are we not shattered. We are so hardened by the fire of charity that we cannot break. Some add, “We are humiliated, but not confounded,” but the words are wanting in the Greek and Latin copies.

2Co 4:10  Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.

Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus. The death of Jesus, according to S. Ambrose, but the Greek is rather dying or mortification. The dying meant is the suffering of death like to the suffering of Jesus Christ, which is the road to and the beginning of death, a long and living death. This is the suffering spoken in vers. 8 and 9, suffering inflicted from without, though it may be extended also to any voluntary mortification of mind and body. It is called “the dying of Jesus,” (1.) because it is borne by His example; (2.) because it is undergone for His faith; (3.) because we, His servants, bear about in our body, by a kind of representation, the very death and Passion of Christ, just as slaves carry the badge and token of their master. Cf. Gal 6:17. So in Heb 11:26, it is said that Moses bore the reproach of Christ, and preferred it to the riches of Egypt (see note there). “There is no doubt,” says Ambrose, “that in His martyrs Christ is slain, and that in them that suffer chains or scourgings for the faith, Christ suffers the same.” Pau1 gives here the cause why, in the midst of trouble and distress, he is not crushed and destroyed, but is instead raised up and quickened. It is because by tribulation he is made like Christ crucified and smitten, and then raised and quickened; and, therefore, he rejoices in tribulation.

Salvianus (de Vero Jud. et Provid. Dei, lib. i.) says that no one is miserable who is content in the midst of misery, rather he is happy, because it is of his own devotion that he lives in misery. Toil, fasting, poverty, humility, weakness, persecution are not grievous to those that endure them, but to those that kick at them. Among the heathen, Fabricius, Fabius, Regulus, Camillus found poverty and affliction no burden. “No one,” he says, “is made miserable by other people’s opinion but by his own, and therefore false judgment cannot make them miserable whose conscience approves them. . . . None, I think, are happier than they who act according to their own knowledge and wish. Religious are of low estate, but they wish it so; they are poor, but pleased with poverty; they have no ambition, for they scorn it; they mourn, but they rejoice to mourn; they are weak, but they delight in weakness. ‘When I am weak,’ says the Apostle, ‘then am I strong.’ And so, no matter what may happen to those that are religious indeed, they are to be called happy. None are more joyous in the midst of all kinds of adversity than those who are in a state of their own choosing.”

That the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. This is that future life when we shall rise with Christ to glory (ver. 14); and also the present life, when, after the pattern of the risen body of Christ, our afflicted bodies become more lively through the operation of the Spirit, on account of our hope of the resurrection and through the power of God, which delivers us from so many dangers every day and strengthens us against them.

2Co 4:11  For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake: that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

For we who live are always delivered unto death. In the midst of a life such as ours, we are exposed to constant danger of death and to every kind of trouble.

The thought, then, that in all our tribulation we are made like to Christ in His Passion and resurrection is what animates, comforts, and strengthens us. As in our afflicted and mortified body the death of Christ is visibly set forth, so in its deliverance, salvation, and strengthening do we see the life and resurrection of Christ. When we are thrown to the lions and other wild beasts, to be, as all expect, surely devoured by them, they spare us and fawn upon us; when we are cast into the fire it shrinks from us, nay, with genial warmth refreshes us; when we are thrown into the sea to be drowned, the sea bears us up and preserves us from all hurt; when I was stoned at Lystra and left for dead, I was soon after found to be alive. In all these and similar persecutions and afflictions I have fellowship with, I am made like, and I set forth the suffering, death, and burial of Christ, which by the power of God, were but the glorious prelude to the life of bliss. And for this reason I am strong, nay, I rejoice and glory in all my tribulations; for they give me a sure and certain hope of an eternal life of glory. “Therefore,” says Œcumenius, “was Christ permitted by God to be delivered to death, that His resurrection might be made manifest to all. He who daily raises us certainty raised up Himself also, and will in good time raise us up to eternal life.”

2Co 4:12  So then death worketh in us: but life in you.

So then death worketh in us, but life in you. Your spiritual life, your salvation is produced through faith and grace, but ours by the death of our body. The passion and death of the Apostles has been the life of the Church. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” says Tertullian. Chrysostom gives a different explanation: “You live in peace and suffer no such persecutions for the faith as I do; and so you seem to live and I seem to die daily.”

2Co 4:13  But having the same spirit of faith, as it is written: I believed, for which cause I have spoken; we also believe. For which cause we speak also:

But having the same spirit of faith. As David was hemmed in with dangers, and yet was delivered by God alone from them all, and said. “I believed,” i.e., I believe that God will always be true to His promises and deliver me, so too do we believe and hope, and boldly profess that our help and strength, our deliverance and resurrection have been promised by God, and will most surely be wrought out.

Ps. 116., alluded to here by S. Paul, is a Eucharistic psalm, in which David gives God thanks for his safe deliverance. Hence it begins with, “I believed.” In other words: I, David, in the midst of dangers and adversity, when hunted by Saul and his men, when my life was sought by Achish and the Philistines, when I was so placed that I seemed to be deprived of all human help, and to be in desperate straits, yet put my trust in God, who had promised me safety and moreover the kingdom, by the mouth of Samuel. Wherefore, I said boldly that I believed, without doubting that God would deliver me from all these evils, and would bring me to His promised kingdom, as, in fact, He has delivered me, and has set me on the throne. “Right dear in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints.” My death is of great account and great price in the sight of the Lord. God, therefore, carefully watches that my death, or that of His other Saints may not be allowed, except for good cause and great gain, and He wonderfully guards us and delivers us. This, I, David, found in the cave and at other times when I was shut in by the bands of Saul and of my other enemies, and therefore with praise and thanksgiving do I exclaim, What return shall I make unto the Lord for all the benefits that He hath done unto me? I will receive the cup of salvation, of my many safe deliverances—that cup which is a witness and public profession of God’s goodness to me, and of my frequent escapes from danger—of God’s salvation will I take.

Observe here that (1.) the Jews had three kinds of sacrifices, the whole burnt-offering, the sin-offering, and the peace-offering. This last was a sacrifice of salvation, offered for the peace and salvation of any individual or family, or of the whole people, whether already obtained or to be obtained. (2.) In every Sacrifice a libation was made to God, just as if the sacrifice were God’s feast. The cup, therefore, of salvation is the cup of wine which was offered to God, poured out and drunk by the offerers. (3.) This cup was a figure of the Eucharistic chalice, which makes us not only mindful of the salvation wrought by Christ, but also partakers of it.

Tropologically: this “cup” is martyrdom and affliction, and the obstinate resistance that we make to sin, even unto death, says S. Basil, in his comments on Ps. cxvi. For Paul eagerly longed for martyrdom, and hence he speaks not of the cross, but of the cup of salvation, as though he should say: I will readily drink whatever the Lord may have given to me, even though it be the martyr’s death; and therefore knowing, says S. Augustine, that martyrdom is not within my own power, but depends on the grace of God, I will call upon that grace, and will publicly preach and celebrate the name of the Lord. Similarly, Christ speaks of His Passion as a cup, and bids His Apostles and martyrs and all His members drink of it (S. Matt 20:22, and Matt 26:42). As, then, every Christian offers to Christ, His Deliverer, the Eucharistic cup and sacrifice as a thanksgiving, so does Paul offer his sufferings, his afflictions, and death to Christ, as a most pleasing cup. So, too, have all the martyrs, by openly professing their faith and dying for it, offered to Christ the cup of their martyrdom.

I believed. I believed, and I still believe. This is a continuous act of belief, and not merely one that is inchoate, especially so since David speaks of the person of Paul and of us all, and puts his own belief forward as one deserving our imitation.

2Co 4:14  Knowing that he who raised up Jesus will raise us up also with Jesus and place us with you.

Will raise up us also . . . and place us with you. Shall present us with you in glory. He says out of modesty, “shall present us with you,” not “you with us,” because the Corinthians were the cause and object of his preaching, and so also of his glory.

2Co 4:15  For all things are for your sakes: that the grace, abounding through many, may abound in thanksgiving unto the glory of God.

That the grace, abound through many,  may abound in thanksgiving unto the glory of God. I.e., through many giving thanks. The Syriac renders it, “that since grace abounds through many, thanksgiving may be proportionately multiplied to the glory of God.”

SUGGESTED READINGS: All books listed are by Catholic authors. One should not infer that my listing them here is an endorsement of their particular views (e.g., Murphy-O’Connors theory that 2 Cor. is a composite document of several shorter letters of St Paul).

SECOND CORINTHIANS. By Fr. Thomas D. Stegman, S.J. Part of the new Catholic Commentary On Sacred Scripture.

SECOND CORINTHIANS (Sacra Pagina Series). By Fr. Jan Lambrecht, S.J. Somewhat technical, not for the beginner.

THE FIRST AND SECOND LETTERS OF ST PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS. By Dr. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. Part of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible). A good introductory commentary.

KEYS TO SECOND CORINTHIANS. By Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P. Very expensive, scholarly, thorough. Not for the average reader.

THE THEOLOGY OF THE SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS. By Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P. Scholarly, not for the average reader.

LECTURES ON SECOND CORINTHIANS (Online). By St Thomas Aquinas. This work, available online for free, still continues to exert influence 8 centuries after it production. The medieval style may not appeal to many.

ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM’S HOMILIES ON SECOND CORINTHIANS (Online).

NOTES ON CORINTHIANS, GALATIANS, ROMANS. By Fr. Joseph Rickaby, S.J. Somewhat dated. Originally published in 1898. slightly technical. Rickaby was a prolific author and a noted authority on St Thomas Aquinas.

THE SECOND EPISTLE OF ST PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS. By R. D. Byles. Somewhat dated. Originally published in 1897. A very basic commentary.

AN EXPOSITION OF THE EPISTLE OF ST PAUL (Vol 2). By Bernardine de Picquigny. The author ((1633-1709) was a Capuchin monk who is also sometimes called Bernardin de Piconio. This volume contains commentary on 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that his 3 volume exposition of St Paul “has ever been popular among scripture scholars.”

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2 Responses to “Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:5-14”

  1. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:5-14. Includes a list of suggested commentaries on the Epistle. […]

  2. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:5-14. Includes a list of suggested commentaries on the Epistle. […]

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