Text in purple indicates the Fr. MacEvilly’s paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on. Text in red are my additions.
1 Cor 2:10 But to us God hath revealed them by his Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
But, although this wisdom be mysterious, and for ages hidden from the world, it has been made known to us by the revelation of God’s spirit, who is intimately acquainted with all the secret counsels of God.
In this verse the Apostle answers an objection which might be made to him, viz.:—If these things be so hidden and mysterious, how came you to know them? He answers, that he has known them from the revelation of God’s spirit, who is intimately acquainted with the secrets of God. “Searcheth all things.” These words express perfect and intimate knowledge, and contain an allusion to the mode in which human knowledge is acquired; for the Holy Ghost sees all things intuitively without requiring to search for them.
1 Cor 2:11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him? So the things also that are of God, no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God.
(And that the spirit of God, or the Holy Ghost, alone is capable of knowing the secret thoughts and designs of God, may be easily illustrated by a human example); for, who is it that knows the private and hidden thoughts of man, except his own spirit? So it is also with regard to the private thoughts of the divine mind.
He illustrates by a human example, how the Holy Ghost, and He only, is intimately acquainted with the secret designs of God. As no one on earth knows the hidden thoughts of man’s mind, but his own spirit; so no one knows the hidden thoughts of God but “the Spirit of God;” i.e., the Holy Ghost, co-essential with him and possessing the same divine nature. Of course the Son of God is no more excluded here than the Holy Ghost is in another passage, where it is said: “No one knows the Father but the Son,” &c., because when there is a question of the absolute, essential attributes of the Godhead, they alone are excluded, who have a different nature.
1 Cor 2:12 Now, we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God: that we may know the things that are given us from God.
And it is this same spirit, co-essential with God—a spirit opposed to the spirit of this world—that we have received, so that through him we may be enabled to know the general gifts which have been bestowed on the Church by Christ.
“Of this world,” in Greek, τοῦ κοσμοῦ (tou kosmou), “of the world.” “That we may know the things,” &c. These words refer to the general effects of God’s goodness, contained in the wisdom of God, of which he speaks all through this chapter. Hence they furnish no argument in favour of the justifying faith of heretics, which requires a particular knowledge, and has a special object, viz., the justification of the particular individual who has this faith; whereas here, there is a question of general knowledge imparted by God’s spirit.
1 Cor 2:13 Which things also we speak: not in the learned words of human wisdom, but in the doctrine of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
Of which general gifts and blessings, contained in the wisdom of God, we treat, not in the learned language borrowed from human wisdom, but in the language taught us by the same spirit of God, accommodating spiritual language and subjects to spiritual persons.
“But in the doctrine of the spirit.” (In the common Greek, of the Holy Ghost; the epithet, “Holy,” is wanting in some of the chief MSS. and some versions, and rejected by Griesbach). “Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” The interpretation of these words, given in the Paraphrase, is the one that accords best with the entire context. The Apostle wishes to convey by them, that his reason for not preaching the sublime truths of religion to the Corinthians was, because they were not “spiritual” persons, to whom alone such spiritual subjects were suited. This interpretation derives probability from the following verse. The words may also be interpreted thus: accommodating spiritual language to spiritual matters or subjects; according to which interpretation these latter words are nothing more than a repetition in a different form of the idea conveyed by the words, “not in the learned words of human wisdom.” It is by no means unusual with writers to repeat the same idea in different words.
1 Cor 2:14 But the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God. For it is foolishness to him: and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined.
And my reason for not treating of these exalted spiritual subjects indiscriminately before all is, that the sensual or animal man, that is to say, the man who is not practised in the principles of faith, cannot understand the exalted truths of God’s spirit. To such a man they are folly, because they arc to be examined on spiritual principles, with which he is not conversant.
“But the sensual man perceiveth not the things that are of the Spirit of God.” In this verse, the Apostle assigns a reason for not preaching the sublime truths of the Christian economy to the Corinthians. “By the sensual man,” (“animalis homo”) is meant the man who, although he may have received the faith and may be a saint—and this the Apostle supposes; for, in the next chapter (verse 1), he calls the same persons, “little ones in Christ”—still, is not practised in its principles, and cannot, therefore, relish the more sublime truths of religion, “these things that are of the Spirit of God.” “For it is foolishness to him;” such things appear to him quite unmeaning. “Because it is spiritually examined.” The Greek, πνευματικῶς ανακρινεται (pneumatikos anakrinetai), may also be translated, and with more propriety, “because they are spiritually examined.” These things are to be examined on spiritual principles, in which he is not versed; just as the sublime truths of natural philosophy (v.g.), those regarding the revolution of the earth, the magnitude of the sun, &c.—would appear “foolishness” to a child or untutored peasant, who judges from sensation; because, such truths are to be examined on scientific principles, with which these persons are not conversant.
1 Cor 2:15 But the spiritual man judgeth all things: and he himself is judged of no man.
But the spiritual man—the man who is fully conversant with the principles of faith taught us by God’s holy spirit—understands and discerns all spiritual matters, and he himself is judged by no man for this line of conduct, when acting upon the principles of faith.
“But the spiritual man,” i.e., the man who has not only received the faith—in which respect he and the sensual or animal man do not differ—but is also, unlike the sensual man, practised in its principles. “Judgeth all things.” In Greek, ανακρίνει μεν πάντα (anakrinei men panta), discerneth all things. Such a man understands all spiritual matters. “And he himself is judged,” or examined by no man in order to be set right—not surely by the “sensual man,” who is supposed to be incapable of such a judgment, for “he perceiveth not the things that are of the Spirit of God;” nor by the spiritual man, who would himself have acted in the same way. These latter words are added by the Apostle to show how foolish a part the Corinthians acted in censuring his own mode of preaching.
In order to see how utterly unfounded is the objection against church authority derived from the two preceding verses, we have only to examine the meaning of the several words, and also their bearing on the context. “Sensual” or “animal” has, in Sacred Scripture, different significations, according to the different functions of anima (ψυχη = psuchē), from which it is derived; and anima denotes—first, the vegetative soul, or the principle of life; thus it is said of Adam in Genesis, “factus est in animam viventem” (and man became a living soul~Gen 2:7) secondly, it denotes the soul, inasmuch as it is the principle or seat of sensation; thirdly, inasmuch as it is the seat of carnal affections, or the anima concupisciblis. Viewed without reference to the grace of God or faith, it designates the inferior part of the soul as it judges from sensation, rather than from reason, ψυχη, its corresponding Greek word, has the same meaning in the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy; it designates the animal nature of man, common to him with the beasts. “Spiritual” also has as many significations as the word, spiritus has (in Greek, πνευμα = pneuma), from which it is derived. Abstracting from grace and faith, it denotes the superior part of the soul, as it follows reason. Then, in a natural point of view, anima and spiritus, from which animal or “sensual” and spiritual are derived, designate different states or faculties of the soul: anima, inasmuch as it is directed by sensation; spiritus, as guided more by reason. But considering the operation of divine grace, the words have another signification analogous to their former meaning. And it is in this latter or spiritual point of view, St. Paul here regards them. He considers the soul as imbued with the principles of faith in different ways. “The spiritual” man—the man who has the faith, and is conversant with its principles, a signification analogous to that which the word bears, when, in a natural point of view, it means the man practised in the principles of reason. “Animal” or “sensual.” the man who has received the faith, is versed in its rudiments and necessary points of belief, but unpractised in its principles. The word by no means signifies a man who has not the Holy Ghost, and is not in justice; for, St. Paul calls the same “little ones in Christ” (chap. 3), consequently baptized; and these he always regards as saints. Hence, then, the passage means, that the Apostle refrained from discoursing on the sublime truths of faith, “the wisdom of God in mystery, before the Corinthians. Why? Because, being “sensual” or “animal,” and not conversant with the principles of faith, they were incapable of understanding them, or his explanations regarding them; for “they are examined on spiritual principles,” spiritualiter examinantur; just as it would be downright folly to treat of the sublime truths of natural science before children or rustics, whose ideas are derived from sensation. From a want of acquaintance with the principles of science, the very terms thereof would be to them unintelligible. But “the spiritual man” understands all the truths of faith, because practised in its principles, “and he is judged by no one.”—(See Commentary, verse 15). Hence, the utter folly of the Sectaries who understand by “spiritual man,” the man who has the Holy Ghost; for then “animal” or “sensual,” would mean one who has not the Holy Ghost; and that the Apostle supposes the very reverse, has been already shown. Besides, the answer which the foregoing plain and obvious interpretation of the word “sensual” and “spiritual” contains, in reply to the objection against church authority, founded on this passage, the meaning of the word “judgeth” fully refutes the objection. The word corresponding with “judgeth” in the Greek (ανακρίνει = anakrinei), never means passing a judgment or sentence at all; it is a juridical term, designating the examination of witnesses. Hence, St. Paul by no means here speaks of a definitive, but only a discretionary judgment, or the faculty of understanding the matter in question, in consequence of being versed in its principles. Moreover, can it be supposed for an instant, that St. Paul declined preaching the sublime truths of religion to the “sensual” or “animal” man, because such a person was incapable of passing a definitive judgment on the doctrine which he proposed? In other words, can we suppose that the Apostle would submit to the definitive judgment of any man the truth of that doctrine, which he knew would outlive the heavens and the earth: which he received from the Holy Ghost: which he quoted from the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and confirmed by numerous miracles; and, particularly, when addressing men who received the faith (such as “the sensual” man is supposed here)—men whose very first duty it was, “to reduce their intellect to captivity unto the obedience of Christ”?—(2 Cor. 10:5). The judgment, then, of which St. Paul ascribes the faculty to the spiritual man, regards not disputed truth, but the mere faculty of understanding proved and admitted doctrine. And even supposing the Protestant interpretation, for an instant, to be correct, how will they prove that they have the Holy Ghost, according to their understanding of the passage?
No doubt, the words, “sensual” and “spiritual” have here a moral signification also, and convey to us, what we know from daily experience, that those gross, carnal men, “whose God is their belly,” spending their whole lives in the pursuit of forbidden pleasures, and the gratification of their guilty passions, “cannot understand,” i.e., can have no idea of the spiritual, unmixed joys which the faithful servants of God enjoy even in this life. Talk to these voluptuaries of the mortification of their passions—of faithfully following the model divinely pointed out to them on the Mount—of seeking the things that are above—of the consequent joys and tranquillity of conscience; such language sounds in their ears as no better than folly; they cannot understand it. However, at a future day, when it shall be too late, they shall be forced to see things in a different light. “We fools esteemed their life madness … behold now they are numbered among the children of God … therefore, we have erred from the way of truth,” &c.—(Wisdom, 5:5). Oh! Jesus, crucified for our sakes, preserve us from ever experiencing these unavailing regrets!
1 Cor 2:16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
For who hath known the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct him?—(and to judge the spiritual man, acting as such would be only judging the Lord himself, by whom the spiritual man is instructed). But we, when preaching to you, were instructed by Christ himself.
In this verse, he assigns a reason why the spiritual man, acting as such, can “be judged by no man,” not by the sensual man, who cannot “perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God,” nor by the spiritual man, who, in this judgment of discretion of which there is question here, would apply the same criterion or standard of judgment, which he himself had applied—I say, acting as such, because, should he not judge spiritually, he may err, and, therefore, be corrected as was St. Peter by the Apostle himself (Gal. 2:11)—and in it he also assigns a reason why the Apostle himself should not be judged or undervalued for his mode of preaching the Gospel among the Corinthians. “For who hath known the sense of the Lord?” These words are a quotation from Isaias, 40:13; at least, they express the sense of the prophet. “That he may instruct him.” If the word “him” refer to the “Lord,” then, these words are a part of the prophetic quotation. If it refer to the “spiritual man,” they are the words of the Apostle, and mean, that to attempt the correction of the spiritual man, judging as such, would be only instructing the Lord himself, by whom he is guided in his spiritual judgments. The Greek word tor “instruct,” συμβιβασει (simbibesai), in a physical signification, means to make come together. In a moral sense, as here, it means to put mentally together, to prove, to instruct others.