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 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2014

1Co 15:20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep:

But now is Christ risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that slept. (1.) Christ was and is the first of those that rise again, both in order of dignity and of merit. (2.) He was first in the Divine will and intention. (3.) First causally, for by Him we shall all rise again. (4.) Temporally, for Christ was the first in time to rise to everlasting life; for though some before Him were raised to life by Elijah and Elisha, yet they rose to this mortal life only, and again died; but Christ was the first to rise to the eternal life of bliss and glory. So Chrysostom, Anselm, Ambrose, Theophylact, Theodoret, and others. The word for firstfruits properly signifies this, and implies others to follow. So is Christ called the “first-begotten of the dead,” i.e., rising before all others, and, as it were, being born again from the dead.

It seems from this to be a point de fide that no one rose before Christ to everlasting life. Those, therefore, who at the death of Christ are said to have arisen (S. Mat_27:52), rose after Him in the way of nature, if not of time, for their resurrection depended on Christ’s as its cause. Francis Suarez points out this (p. 3. qu. 53, art. 3).

The earliest fruit of the earth, which under the Old Law was to be offered to God, was called the “firstfruits;” so Christ, after His resurrection, was offered to God as the firstfruits of the earth, into which He had been cast as a corn of wheat, and from which He sprang forth again in the new birth of the resurrection.

1Co 15:21 For by a man came death: and by a man the resurrection of the dead.

For by a man cameth death. Adam brought death on all men, Christ resurrection. The word since gives the reason why Christ is called the firstfruits of them that rise, viz., because by Christ, as a leader of the first rank of God’s army and the subduer of death, the resurrection of the dead was brought into the world.

1Co 15:22 And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.

The question may be asked whether even the wicked are to rise again and be endowed with life through Christ and His merits. S. Augustine (Ep. 28) says no, because their resurrection, being to condemnation, is better called death than life.  S. Thomas also says that Christ is the efficient cause of resurrection to all men, but the meritorious cause to the good alone.

But my answer is that Christ is the cause of the resurrection of all, even of the wicked:

1. Because Christ wished by His resurrection to abolish the power of death over the whole human race entirely, and therefore the wicked are included, not as wicked, but as men, abstracting their wickedness. See S. Ambrose (de Resurr. c. 21), and still more clearly S. Cyril (in Joann. lib. iv. c. 12).

2. Christ merited resurrection for the wicked, even as wicked, that He might inflict just punishment on His enemies, that His glory might be increased by the eternal punishment of His enemies. But these meanings are beside the scope of the passage. The Apostle is treating of the blessed resurrection of the saints, not of the resurrection of the wicked to misery.

We may here recapitulate the six methods by which the Apostle has proved that Christ rose again, that so he might prove that we too should rise.

1. From the testimony of those who saw Him alive after He rose, viz., Peter, Paul, James, the other Apostles, and the five hundred brethren (ver. 5).

2. If Christ is not risen, then the preaching of the Apostles and the faith of Christians are alike vain (ver. 14).

3. If Christ is not risen, we are still in our sins. This is proved by the fact that faith that justifies and expiates our sins is the same by which we believe that Christ died and rose again for us (ver. 17).

4. If Christ is not risen, then have ill perished who have fallen asleep in Christ, and have been destroyed both in body and soul; for the soul cannot live for ever without the body (ver. 18).

5. If we serve Christ only in this short life, and under His law have no hope of resurrection, then are we of all men most miserable (ver. 19).

6. By Adam all die, therefore through Christ shall all rise again, and be quickened. For Christ has done us as much good as Adam did harm: He came, not only that He might repair all the falls and loss of Adam and his descendants, but that He might lift us up to a higher state.(ver. 21).

1Co 15:23 But every one in his own order: the firstfruits, Christ: then they that are of Christ, who have believed in his coming.

But everyone in his own order. 1. According to Chrysostom, Theodoret and Theophylact this is the just among the blessed, the wicked among the reprobate.

2. According to the commentary ascribed to S. Jerome, this means that each shall rise higher and more blessed as he has been more holy here.

3. Œcumenius and Primasius explain it in this way. All who are to be quickened in Christ shall rise again in this order—Christ the first in time and dignity; secondly, the just shall rise; thirdly shall come the end of the world. This is the Apostle’s meaning, as appears from the next words. Cf. 1Th_4:16.

1Co 15:24 Afterwards the end: when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father: when he shall have brought to nought all principality and power and virtue.

afterwards the end. The end of the whole dispensation of Christ for the salvation of the human race, and it will consequently be the end of the age then existing, of time, of all generations, and all corruptions, and of the universe. So Anselm. For Christ is the end of the whole universe, and when those that He has chosen out of it are completed, then the universe will be ended also.

2. “The end” may, with Theodoret, be rendered “consummation,” i.e., the general resurrection of all, even of the wicked, when all things will come to an end.

When he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father. The kingdom is the Church of the faithful and congregation of the elect; not as though God did not now reign over it, for Christ says: “The kingdom of God is within you” (S. Luk_17:21), but because sin has somewhat of power over it, because the devil, death, and cares that attack mortals are found in it. In other words, Then cometh the end when Christ shall have presented, and as it were restored to His Father, the Church of the elect, which had been intrusted to His care and governance during the struggle of this life, that He might gloriously reign over it for ever. The Son shall as it were present it to His Father with the words: “Father, Thou didst send Me into the world, and after I ascended to heaven to be with Thee I have ruled these continuously, and protected them from the power and assaults of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Lo, these that I bring are Thine. They are My possession, given Me by Thee; they are the fruit of My labour, won by My sweat and blood. This is Thy kingdom as it is Mine, and is now free and pure from every sin, temptation, and trouble, that Thou mayst reign gloriously over it for ever.” Cf. S. Ambrose and S. Augustine (de Trinitate, lib. i. c. 8 and 10).

To God, and the Father is a hendiadys, to signify that Christ as man will present His faithful ones to God, as Son to His Father.

When he shall have brought to nought all principality and power and virtue. When He shall have destroyed the power and dominion of the devils, so that they shall no longer be able to attack the Church, which is the kingdom of God. Cf. Eph_6:12, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Theophylact, Ambrose, Œcumenius.

Principalities, Powers, and Virtues are names of three angelic choirs (cf. Eph 1:21). It hence appears that some of them fell and became devils, and kept the same names, just as each kept the same nature, the same order, rank, and power, especially in their attacks on the Church.  S. Paul says then that, when Christ shall have destroyed all the rule of the devils, who are and are called Principalities and Dominions, so that they might no longer attack the Church, He will then hand over the Kingdom to His Father, and will be the end and consummation of all things.

S. Augustine (de Trinitate, lib. i.. c. 8) explains this passage of the good angels, and then the meaning will be. There will be no longer any necessity for the assistance of the angelic Principalities, Powers, and Dominions, and therefore their dispensation and guidance will be done away with in the Church. But the former meaning is truer, because the Apostle is speaking of the enemies of Christ, as is clear from the next verse.

1Co 15:25 For he must reign, until he hath put all his enemies under his feet.

Christ must rule the Church till God the Father puts all the devils and the wicked under Him. Till does not denote an end of His reign, for there is no doubt that when His enemies shall have been overcome Christ will reign more truly and for ever, though in another way and with other glory than now. Cf. S. Chrysostom. It signifies what may have been done before a certain event, not what was done afterwards. So Joseph (S. Matt 1:25) is said not to have known Mary his wife till she brought forth her Son, not as though he knew her afterwards, as the impure Helvidius insinuates, but that he did not know her before she conceived and gave birth; for S. Matthew merely wished to record a wonderful event that was naturally incredible, viz., the conception and birth of Christ from a virgin without a father. So Paul says here that even now, while the Church is struggling with her enemies, Christ reigns over her. Moreover, it follows from this that Christ will reign after the struggle and triumph, for S. Paul implies but does not state what is evident to all. S. Augustine (Sentences, n. 169) well says: “As long as we are struggling against sins there is no perfect peace; for those that oppose us are crushed in dangerous fight, and those have been overcome are not yet triumphed over in peaceful land where care cannot come, but are still kept down by a power that must ever be on its guard.”

1Co 15:26 And the enemy, death, shall be destroyed last:

That death which still reigns over the bodies of the saints will be altogether destroyed at the resurrection. The first enemy of Christ and His followers is the devil, who was conquered by Christ on the Cross. The second is sin, which, through the grace of Christ, is being conquered by Christians in this life. The third is death, which will be the last to be overcome, and that will he in the resurrection.

1Co 15:27 For he hath put all things under his feet. And whereas he saith: All things are put under him; undoubtedly, he is excepted, who put all things under him.

He hath put all things under His feet. God will in the resurrection put all men and angels, good and bad, under Christ. He speaks of the future as past, after the manner of the prophets.

And whereas he saith: All things are put under him (Jesus); undoubtedly, he (the Father) is excepted, who put all things under him (Jesus). S. Paul adds this lest any one should suppose that the Father has given everything to the Son in such a way as to deprive Himself of authority over them, for so the Father would be less than the Son and subject to Him. Sometimes among men, when fathers are getting old, they make a gift of their goods and offices to their sons, but not so God.

1Co 15:28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then the Son also himself shall be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

Then the Son also himself shall be subject unto him. Some understand this of His Godhead, as though Christ as God will show Himself to have received everything, and His very Godhead, from His Father, and will so declare Himself to His Father. But this is too bold a statement; for the Son is not, subject to the Father, because He has all that He has from the Father, but He is equal to Him in majesty and honour. Hence others often take this passage of Christ according to His human nature. (1.) With Chrysostom, He will show His subjection, and so all will see how perfect were the obedience and subjection of Christ here. (2.) Better, with Anselm, Christ will be subject as man, i.e., He will subject Himself and will offer Himself with His elect to the eternal praise of God, and to a participation in the Divine goodness, dominion, and glory. For this subjection of Christ is the same as is alluded to in ver. 24, where it is said that Christ shall hand over the kingdom to God the Father, that He may fully and gloriously reign over Him and His elect. This subjection of Christ and the saints to God is not mean and servile, but blessed and glorious. For God holds them in heaven who are subject to Him as sons, He rules over them, and blesses them, and makes them happy with the utmost height of glory. Well, then, is such subjection and service called reigning, and such service is much to be longed for with David (Ps. lxi. 1, Vulg.): “Shall not my soul be subject to God? for of Him cometh my salvation.” On the other hand the wicked, who will not submit themselves to God, will be by this very fact His enemies, and the most unhappy of all men. In this very word subject there seems to lurk a double application; and so Gregory of Nyssa says, in his sermon on these words: “Subjection to God is a separation from evil that is perfect and absolute on every side. Christ shall be subject to His Father in the resurrection, because in it all the elect and faithful members of Christ will be clear from all evil, and will receive a chief part of what is good, and will be most closely united with Deity, and with its eternity, power, and bliss; and then will God be all in all, since there will be no evil in those things that remain; for God cannot be in what is evil, but must be in all that is good. Christ then will be subject to His Father when His Church shall be, and shall be so set free from all evil; for the subjection of the Church is called the subjection of Christ.” (3.) The words shall be may be understood to denote merely a continued action. In other words, Christ shall persevere for ever in the subjection which He now is under to His Father. Hilary wrote on this sentence of the Apostle’s against the Arians (de Trin. lib. ii.), S. Jerome (Ep. to Principia). S. Augustine (de Trin. lib. i. c. 8), where he says: “Christ, in so far as He is God with the Father, has us as His subjects; in so far as He is a priest, He is subject even as we to His Father.”

That God may be all in all. Viz., as Anselm says, that God may have all power over all things and may show that as God He is everything to His elect, or in place of everything else; that He is our life, salvation, power, plenty, glory, honour, peace, and all things, and the end and satisfaction of our desires. So God will rule over all in all things, and will subject all things to Himself and His glory.

S. Augustine (de Civ. Dei. lib. xxii. c. 9) argues from this verse that the saints in heaven know our prayers and our state.

S. Jerome (Ep. ad Amandum) appropriately says: “What the Apostle means by saying that God shall be all in all is this: our Lord and Saviour is at present not all in all, but a part in each one, e.g., He is wisdom in Solomon, goodness in David, patience in Job, knowledge of the future in Daniel, faith in Peter, zeal in Phinehas and Paul, purity in John, and other things in other men. But when the end of all things comes, then He will be all in all, that each one of the saints may have all virtues, and Christ may be wholly in each one and in all.” From this passage S. Augustine says (de Trin. lib. i. c. 8) that some Christians thought that the humanity of Christ would reign till the day of judgment, but would then be changed into His Godhead, and they thought that this change is the subjection to the Father, of which S. Paul here speaks. This is both foolish and impossible, according to the faith and to nature.

Some who had given themselves up to the contemplative life, and who aimed at an impossible closeness of union with God, and fanatics, have argued from this and similar passages of Scripture, that at the resurrection all men and all created things will return to their Divine archetype as it existed in eternity in God, and so would have to be changed into God; that is to say, that then every creature will have to disappear into the depths of the uncreated being, i.e., into the Godhead. Gerson attacks this error at length, and accuses Ruisbrochius of holding it; but the latter clears himself from it, and attacks it in his turn (de Verâ Contempl. c. 19, and ad Samuel, i. 4).

But this passage of the Apostle’s lends no countenance to this error, but on the contrary opposes it. For if in the resurrection God will be all in all, all created things will be in existence still. Otherwise God would not be all in all, but only all in none, or in nothing. Moreover, we can explain by similitudes how God will be all in all to the blessed. (1.) As a few drops of water poured into a large cask of very strong wine are at once swallowed up by the wine and incorporated with it, so the blessed, through love and the beatific vision, will as it were lose themselves in God, and seem swallowed up and incorporated by God as their greatest good, loved above all things. (2.) As the light of the sun fills all the air, so that it seems no longer to be air but light, in the same way God will so fill the blessed with the light of His glory that they will seem to be, not so much men as gods. (3.) As iron seems to be ignited by fire and to be changed into fire, so will the blessed be so kindled by their love and enjoyment of God, that they will seem transformed into God. (4.) As a large vessel of sugar or honey, when poured into a little porridge, makes it not only sweet as honey, but as if it were sugar or honey, so does God by His sweetness so inebriate and fill with sweetness the blessed that they seem to be very sweetness; for God is a sea of sweetness and an ocean of joy and consolation. (5.) As most sweet strains of music fill the ears of all who hear them and ravish their minds, or as a diamond, ruby, or emerald fills and dazzles the eyes of all who look upon it, so does God ravish, delight, and fill the minds of all the blessed. (6.) As a mirror exhibits, represents, and contains the faces and appearance of everything placed before it, so that they all seem to exist, live, and move in the mirror, so do all the blessed live, move, and have their being in God; for God is a most bright and glowing mirror of everything.

Lastly, S. Bernard (Serm. xi. in Cant.) devoutly and beautifully says: “Who can understand how great sweetness is contained in the one short saying, ‘God shall be all in all?’ To say nothing of the body, I see in the soul three things—reason, will, and memory, and these three are the soul. How much of its integrity and perfection is lacking to each of these in this present life is known to every one who walks in the Spirit. Why is this, except that God is not yet all in all? Hence is it that the reason is so often deceived in its judgments, and the will weakened by a fourfold disturbing cause, and the memory clouded over by manifold causes of forgetfulness. To this threefold vanity a noble creature has beech made subject, not willingly, but in hope. For He that filleth the desire of the soul with good things will Himself be to the reason fulness of light, to the will a multitude of peace, to the memory eternal continuity. 0 Truth! 0 Love! 0 Eternity! 0 Trinity, blessed and blessing, to thee does my miserable trinity, after a wonderful fashion, aspire, since it is a miserable exile apart from Thee. . . . Put thy trust in God, for I will yet praise Him, when my reason knows no error, my will no grief, and my memory no fear; and when we enjoy that wondrous calm, that perfect sweetness, that eternal security which we hope for, God, as Truth, will give the first, as Charity the second, as Power the third, that He may be all in all, when the reason receives unclouded light, when the will obtains unbroken peace, and the memory drinks for ever of an inexhaustible Fountain. May you see all this, and rightly attribute it, first to the Son, then to the Spirit, and lastly to the Father.”

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