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

Bernardin de Piconio’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 10, 2012

Chapter 15~Some of the Corinthians, influenced by pagan philosophy, and the errors of false apostles, were doubtful as to the future resurrection of the dead, and turned it into an allegory. This error tended to overthrow the foundation of the Christian faith, of which this is one of the capital dogmas; and in this chapter the Apostle addresses himself to the proof of it. He first recalls to their memory the faith as he delivered it to them, and reminds them that the truth he had most insisted on was the reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ implies our own; the denial of the resurrection of Christ involves several absurd and blasphemous inferences which he enumerates in 1 Cor 15:12-20, and from it proves the certainty of ours, 1 Cor 15:21-22. He ascribes the contrary error, in verse 29, to converse and association with wicked men: answers various philosophical objections in 1 Cor 15:35-42; and concludes with a magnificent description of the mode and circumstances of the resurrection, and the nature of the glorified body.

1. But I make known to you, brethren, the Gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand.

The Gospel which I preached to you. The glad tidings of Christ our Saviour, of which the sum is that God is made man, and was crucified, and rose again. This I make known to you; I am not telling you anything new (Saint Chrysostom). In which you stand, or persevere. Or if any did not, this was their rebuke (St Ambrose).

2. By which also you are being saved: if you hold it as I proclaimed it to you, unless you have believed in vain.

As I proclaimed it to you. In the Greek: By which you are being saved, if you keep in memory the words in which I conveyed the good tidings to you. Some of them had turned this doctrine into a figure of speech, and maintained that they had already attained the resurrection by newness of life, like Hymenaius and Philetus in 2 Tim 2:17. You are saved by faith in the resurrection, if you retain that belief, as I delivered it to you, in a real corporeal resurrection which is to take place at the end of the world. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. A mortal blow has been struck at the Christian faith, says Saint Chrysostom. For faith in the resurrection of the body is a basis and foundation of the Christian religion, and therefore of everlasting salvation.

3. For I delivered to you among the first, what also I received: that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures:

The resurrection of the body follows from, and is proved by, the resurrection of Christ, as Saint Paul shows a few sentences further on. Accordingly he here states the proofs of Christ’s resurrection; which may seem unnecessary to us, because we are accustomed to read them in the Gospels; but this documentary evidence was not in the hands of the Corinthians, the Gospels being not then written, and they depended upon the verbal statement. I delivered to you, among the first and earliest truths I taught you, what I received from the mouth of Christ. The doctrine of faith is a deposit, given by Christ to the Apostles, and through the Apostles and their successors transmitted onward to the end of the world. In both cases, as delivered to Saint Paul, and as delivered by him, it was a verbal tradition, unaccompanied by writing. Christ died, in reality, not only in appearance, for our sins, not any of his own. According to the Scriptures. Tertullian thinks that Saint Paul introduces this reference to prophecy in order to soften a certain horror arising from the association of death, and especially an ignominious and painful death, with the character of perfect holiness and the person of Deity, to which at that time the minds of men had not become accustomed. His words are: Even an Apostle could not say without some shrinking and difficulty, that Christ died, and he therefore adds,
according to the Scriptures, to soften the harshness of the announcement and avert scandal. Lib. ad Prax. 29.

4. And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures:

And that he was buried, and therefore really died. And rose again; in the Greek, was waked up. According to the Scriptures, as prefigured in the history of Jonah; in the words of Isaiah, His sepulchre shall be glorious. Isa 11:10, and Hosea 6:3, He will revive us after two days: on the third day he will raise us up.

5. And that he appeared to Cephas, and after this the eleven:
6. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren together, of whom many remain until now, but some have fallen asleep:

7. Then he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles:

Next he proceeds to prove the resurrection of Christ from the testimony of the Apostles; without, however, referring to all the appearances of Christ after the resurrection, which are related by the Evangelists, and citing two which they do not record. He appeared to Cephas, in all probability when St. Peter left the sepulchre, Luke 24:12, Luke 24:34. To the eleven. The Greek has the twelve. This manifestation occurred twice—on the day of the resurrection, and a week later—and probably also, and perhaps frequently, on other occasions. The interview with the five hundred occurred some time later, by appointment of Christ, in Galilee, Matt 28:15, and according to a tradition, on Mount Tabor. Some of these five hundred, he adds, are still living, and you can, if you like, refer to them for verification of the statement. Then he was seen by James, his brother, or cousin, the Bishop of Jerusalem; to which interview there is no allusion in the Gospels. Then to all the Apostles, and many other of his disciples, at his Ascension into heaven.

8. And last of all, as an abortive birth, he appeared to me.

Last of all, he appeared to me, an Apostle, but chosen after all the rest, as if I were an abortion, a similitude which strikingly illustrates Saint Paul’s humility. It is certain from this express statement, which he has made before at the opening of 1 Cor 11, that Saint Paul had really seen Christ, not only in dreams and visions, but with his bodily eyes, at his conversion when on his journey to Damascus. Otherwise he would not have put his own name into the list of those to whom our Lord had shown himself after his resurrection; neither would his testimony have added anything to the evidence he accumulates to prove the fact. The extraordinary humility the Apostle shows may lead us to infer that the greater is the grace we receive, the lowlier we should be. Grace humbles while it exalts, and the contest between exaltation and humility pleases God, and does us good.

9. For I am the least of the Apostles, who am not worthy to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.

I am not worthy to be called an Apostle, because he had persecuted the Church which it was an Apostle’s office to found. My sin is ever before me. Nevertheless, by the grace of God I have been called to, and now hold this office. Sum id quod sum. God said to Moses, EGO SUM QUI SUM. God is what he is, in his eternal and original nature; we are what he makes us, by creation and grace. This grace, the Apostle proceeds (vs. 10), has not been ineffectual, or as Ambrose says poor, in me, but has enabled me to labour more abundantly than any other of the Apostolic college. No other has travelled so far, evangelized so many nations, endured such great persecutions, laboured with his own hands for his support. In his humility he dwells upon his own unworthiness, but he exalts the effects of the grace of God, to which alone he ascribes these results.

10. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace in me was not in vain, but I laboured more abundantly than all those: but not I, but the grace of God with me.

But not I. That is, Saint Augustine says, not I alone, but the grace of God with me. and consequently, neither the grace of God alone, nor he alone, but God’s grace with him. He attributes to God’s grace the principal share in all he had done, but does not deny the co-operation of his own free will; on the contrary he asserts it, for he says, not I laboured (alone), but aided and supported by the grace of God. Aid does not exclude, but on the contrary includes, the operation of him to whom it is rendered. The Greek has, the grace of God which with me (understand) laboured, the verb, which has occurred just before, not being repeated. Or it may be understood which is and has been with me, aiding and empowering me.

11. Whether therefore I, or they; thus we preach, and thus you believed.

Thus we preach. The Apostle here returns to the subject in hand. Whether it be I, or the other Apostles, the resurrection of Christ is what we proclaim, and what you have received, and publicly and solemnly, before the Church, declared that you believe and accept.

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