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

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:12-30

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 9, 2016

This post contains Fr. MacEvilly’s summary analysis of all of 1 Cor 12, followed by his notes on the reading for the day (vss. 12-30). Print in purple represents his paraphrasing of the scripture text he is commenting on.


This and the two following chapters are employed by the Apostle in delivering instructions concerning the gifts of the Holy Ghost. In this chapter, he undertakes to remedy certain abuses of which these GRATIÆ GRATIS DATÆ, with which the Corinthian Church was abundantly favoured, were the occasion. It appears, that many among them, upon whom were conferred gifts of a more exalted and honourable description, had, in consequence, grown insolent, and despised their humbler and less favoured brethren. These, on the other hand, indulged feelings of jealousy and envy. Hence, schisms and divisions among them. To remedy this evil, the Apostle reminds them, in the first place, of their former degraded condition, when professing the errors of Paganism. As they, therefore, possessed no claim to these gifts, they should not make them serve as occasions of pride (1–4). In the next place, he shows that these gifts, although differing in number and quality, were one in their source and origin, viz., God, their author; and hence, they should serve rather to cement union, than cause divisions (4–6). He then reminds them that these gifts were given for the profit of the entire body of the faithful, as well those who were not favoured with them, as those who were (7). In the next place, he shows that in the distribution of the several gifts, which he enumerates and classes wider nine distinct heads, the Holy Ghost is influenced solely by his own gratuitous will; and, therefore, these gifts should neither prove the occasion of pride to one party, nor of envy to the other (8–12). By a beautiful illustration drawn from the unity of the natural body of man, although composed of different members, he points out the relative duties which the different members of the mystic body of Christ owe to each other. He shows, that, like the natural body, the mystic body of Christ is one (12–13). (Hence, the members of the Church should have but one soul), and composed of different members (14). (Hence, all cannot have the same gifts). He then points out, that the different members, all enjoy the honours of the body by incorporation (15, 16). And, that consistently with the nature of an organized body, all cannot have the same functions (17–20). Addressing the more highly gifted, he assigns reasons why they should treat the others with greater attention (21–27). He applies all that had been said of the natural body to the Church, and shows the variety of gifts and functions in it (27–30). He recommends charity (31).

1Co 12:12 For as the body is one and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body: So also is Christ.

(And that the very difference of these gifts conferred on the several members of the Church should, far from creating disunion, on the contrary, secure harmony, is clear from the example of the human body and its several component members). For, as the human body is one, although composed of different members, nor does the difference or multitude of members make it cease to be one body; so it is also with the mystical body of which Christ is head. (It is one, although composed of several members.)

Under an expressive metaphor, derived from the mutual co-operation and dependence of the several members of the human body the Apostle points out the relation which the different members of the mystic body, of which Christ is head, hold towards each other, and inculcates cordial union in contributing mutually to the common advantage of the entire Church, without repining on one side, or pride on the other. “As the body,” i.e., the human body, “is one,” … “and all the members of the body,” (in the common Greek, of that one body, the chief MSS. omit “one,”) “so is also Christ;” i.e., the mystic body of which Christ is head. It is needless to remind the readers of Roman history how successfully this famous apologue of the human body was employed by Menenius Agrippa in reconciling the Roman Plebeians with the Patricians.—(Vide Livy, Book ii. c. xxii.)

1Co 12:13 For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free: and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink.

For that the mystic body of Christ is one, is clear from this fact, that in baptism we all, whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or freemen, are by one Spirit, ingrafted on the one body of Christ. And besides baptism, we have another bond of union, in our having been made partakers of the sacred blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and thus made into one Spirit.

He applies to the mystic body of Christ, the two qualities which he predicated of the natural body in the preceding verse—viz., that it is one; and, secondly, that it is composed of many and different members. Applying the first part in this verse, he proves that the mystic body of Christ is one. “Baptized into one body,” i.e., by baptism ingrafted on the mystic body of Christ. “And in one spirit we have been all made to drink.” The common Greek is, εἰς ἑν πνευμα, into one spirit. The interpretation of the Paraphrase, which refers this to the Adorable Eucharist, seems preferable to any other. In the first ages of the Church, the Eucharist was given to children under the species of wine; or it might have been the general practice to administer it under that species; because, the administering of it under the one species or the other, or under both, is a point of discipline which may vary at different times according to the will of the Church. In this interpretation, the words mean, that having been “made to drink” of the Eucharist, they are formed into one spirit, in the same way, as speaking of the participation of the Eucharist under the species of bread (10:17), he says they are made, “one body.” The words may also mean, that they were filled with and drank plentifully of the grace of the same holy Ghost, which was abundantly poured out upon them.

1Co 12:14 For the body also is not one member, but many.

And that this mystic body has many members follows from the very nature of a body, which is composed not of one, but of many members.

He proves that the Church must be composed of different members. This follows from the very fact of its being a body. The Apostle wishes the Corinthians to learn from the natural body the duties which they owe each other. In this verse, he shows that there must be a variety in the members of the mystic body, and that all, therefore, cannot have the same gifts.

1Co 12:15 If the foot should say: Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body: Is it therefore not of the Body?

And in the natural body were the foot to complain that it is not the hand, would it, therefore, cease to be of the body, or to partake of its honours?

In this verse, the Apostle undertakes to offer consolation to the less favoured members of the Church—“the foot”—and thereby to remove all ground for murmuring on their part. He consoles them by the assurance, that they partake of the honours of the mystic body, no less than the most highly gifted and exalted of their brethren.

1Co 12:16 And if the ear should say: Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body: Is it therefore not of the body?

The same holds for the several inferior members, should they murmur or repine at the place allotted to them respectively in the body—(v.g.), should the ear murmur for not being the eye, would it, therefore cease to belong to the entire body, or to partake of its honour and glory? By no means.

“The ear,” probably refers to the hearers, and to persons requiring instruction. “The eye,” to the learned, and to the teachers among them.

1Co 12:17 If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?

And if the entire body were reduced to an eye, as the repining member would have it (for, the other members might just as well wish to be the eye as the repining one), where would be the ear?—where the sense of smelling?

He shows in this verse, that consistently with the nature of a body, which must be composed of a variety of members (verse 14), all can neither hold the same place, nor enjoy the same privileges. If, in the natural body, all were reduced to an eye, where would be the ear, or sense of hearing?—where the sense of smelling? So it is also with the mystical body of Christ, if all were teachers, where would be the disciples and hearers?

1Co 12:18 But now God hath set the members, every one of them, in the body as it hath pleased him.

But now God has so arranged the different members in the body, that each one should hold its proper place according as it has pleased him.

He shows the ordination of God to be in favour of this diversity of members, as well in the mystical as in the natural body, and to the supreme and adorable will of God all should at once humbly submit.

1Co 12:19 And if they all were one member, where would be the body?

And if, contrary to this ordination of God, all the members were reduced to one, where would be the harmony and order of a body regularly organized and composed of different parts?

In this verse he repeats, in an interrogatory form, the assertion which he already made (verse 14)—viz., that it is of the very nature of an organized body, to be composed, not of one, but of many members.

1Co 12:20 But now there are many members indeed, yet one body.

But now, there are many component members, and but one body, as has been asserted, verse 12.

Here he repeats his assertion (verse 12), to the proof of which the preceding verses are devoted.

1Co 12:21 And the eye cannot say to the hand: I need not thy help. Nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you.

(And as the less favoured members should neither repine at their place in the body, nor envy the more highly favoured, so these latter should not in turn grow proud of their position, nor despise the less favoured members.) The eye cannot say to the hand, I require not your assistance; nor can the head say to the feet, you are not necessary for me.

After addressing himself in the foregoing passage to the less honourable members, the Apostle now points out to the more highly favoured, their duties in regard to the less honoured members—viz., that they should treat them with greater attention and respect in proportion to their wants; for they stand in mutual need of each other. By “the eye” and “head” are meant these who hold an exalted position, analogous to that which the eye and head occupy in the natural body. From this verse the Apostle wishes it to be inferred, that those who hold a more exalted position in the Church cannot dispense with the aid and assistance of their more humble brethren.

1Co 12:22 Yea, much, more those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body are more necessary

Far from undervaluing any member as useless, we should keep in mind, that the very members, which appear to be the most feeble, are the most necessary for the maintenance of life—(v.g.), the brains, intestines, &c.

Not only are the inferior members necessary for the more honourable, but they are indispensable for the existence of the entire body, and the most feeble are the most necessary (v.g.), the brains and intestines &c.

1Co 12:23 And such as we think to be the less houourable members of the body, about these we put more abundant honour: and those that are our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

And on the members which we regard as least honourable, we bestow the greatest honour, by more studiously covering them with raiment, and those that are called the uncomely parts are covered with greater care and decency.

“The less honourable members,” probably refer to the feet and the lower part of the trunk of the body, especially the ducts, by which nature empties herself and discharges what is redundant. “More abundant honour,” by more studiously covering them with raiment. “Our uncomely parts,” probably refer to the pudenda. In the moral body they refer to sinners, who should be particularly attended to; and hence, their failings cloaked and concealed, as much as possible.

1Co 12:24 But our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, giving to that which wanted the more abundant honour.

But our comely parts, viz., the hands, face, &c., require no particular care or honour in having them clothed. But God has so attempered the human body, and nicely balanced all things, as that men bestow more external honour and care on the members that require it.

“But our comely parts,” such as the face, eyes, hands, “have no need” of particular care in having them clothed. This he adds, to conciliate the more highly gifted members of the Church, who might take offence at the foregoing. “But God has tempered the body together.” This he has done by making compensation to the less honoured members for their native unworthiness by adding greater external care and culture, “giving more abundant honour to that which wanted it.”

1Co 12:25 That there might be no schism in the body: but the members might be mutually careful one for another.

In order that there should be no schism or division in the body in consequence of the less favoured members repining at the place allotted to them, but that all might mutually assist and anxiously co-operate with one another in promoting the welfare of the entire body.

The schism of which St. Paul here speaks, is, of course, to be dreaded only in the moral or mystical body. To it, the Apostle wishes to apply all that he has been saying regarding the relations, which the members of the natural body bear to each other.

1Co 12:26 And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it: or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it.

And such is the concord and union established by God, that if one member suffer pain, all the others sympathize with it—if one member rejoice and feel pleasure, the others exult with it.

In the mystical body, the order of charity requires that all the others sympathize with the suffering, and exult with the delighted member.

1Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and members of member.

Now, you are the body of Christ, and fellow-members with each other. (As fellow-members, then, depending on each other, you should afford one another mutual aid and assistance).

In this verse, the Apostle tells the Corinthians and all Christians, that they should apply to themselves, as the mystical body of Christ, what he had been saying of the natural or human body; it was for the purpose of pointing out their relative duties towards one another, that he introduced the comparison between them and the natural body. “You are the body of Christ,” from which they should infer that all which has been said of the relations and duties of the several members of the natural body should be understood to apply to them, and fulfilled by them towards one another.

“And members of member,” i.e., fellow-members of the same body, mutually connected with, and depending on each other. The words are probably allusive to the passage in the Book of Genesis (2:23). “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” which is mystically understood of Christ and his Church. The words, as containing this allusion, might also mean, members of Christ, because they are members of the body of which he is head, or chief member—hence, “members of member,” μελη εκ μελους. The Greek reading runs thus: μελη εκ μερους, members in part. The Greek reading, followed by the Vulgate, and still found in the manuscripts of St. Germain and Clermont, was, εκ μελους. The meaning of the words, according to the present Greek, is, that they are particular members of Christ’s mystic body, and all, therefore, cannot have the same gifts. This interpretation accords well with the Syriac reading of the words—you are members in your proper places.

1Co 12:28 And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors: after that miracles: then the graces of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches.

And as the natural body is composed of different members; so it is also the case with the mystical body, or Church of Christ: God has placed in it different members destined for different purposes. First, Apostles, his own legates. Secondly, Prophets, to explain the truths of faith by a sudden inspiration. Thirdly, Doctors, having the faculty of explaining the doctrines of faith in a plain, intelligible way to the people. After these, men gifted with the divine power of working miracles. Next, those gifted with the power of curing diseases. After them, those who have the gift of consoling the miserable, and such as are in pain and sorrow. Next, those who are gifted with peculiar prudence in managing the temporalities of the Church; then those who have the gift of strange and unknown tongues; and, finally, those who have the gift of interpreting those tongues in the vernacular of the country.

The Apostle adopts in this verse the similitude of the natural body to the Church; and by recounting part of the gifts and offices conferred on her, he shows that God has set the different members as he thought proper, conformably to what is said (verse 18). He places these gifts and offices in their order of dignity.

“First, Apostles.”—(See Gal. 1:1). These may be regarded as the visible head of the body, as being Christ’s representatives and vicegerents. “Secondly, Prophets.” They were gifted with the “words of wisdom” (verse 8). They may be regarded as the eyes of the body. “Thirdly, Teachers,” who had the faculty of explaining the truths of faith in a plain, simple way. They had the “word of knowledge” (verse 8); the tongue of the body. It is observed by Commentators, that these teachers of the gospel are preferred by the Apostle to those who had the gifts of miracles and of tongues, so much prized by the Corinthians. “After that, miracles.” The workers of miracles—the hands of the body. In the latter part of this verse, the Apostle employs the abstract for the concrete term. “Then, the graces of healings.” Those who are divinely endowed with the gift of healing bodily diseases. “Helps.” Those who assisted their brethren in distress, not by any miraculous operation, but by the performance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. “Governments,” are understood by some to refer to the directors of souls. The interpretation of the Paraphrase seems preferable. “Kinds of tongues.”—(See verse 10). St. Chrysostom remarks, that almost the last place is given by the Apostle to this gift, so highly prized by the Corinthians. “Interpretation of speeches.” These words are wanting in the Greek copies. But as all Greek manuscripts give the same words in an interrogatory form, next verse—“do all interpret?” it is likely, that the Greek copy from which the Vulgate was taken, was the correct one. The Vulgate is preferred by Beza.

1Co 12:29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors?
1Co 12:30 Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

29. Are all favoured with these gifts? Are all Apostles?—Prophets?—Doctors? as explained above.
30. Are all gifted with the faculty of working miracles?—or with the faculty of healing diseases?—or, with the faculty of speaking in unknown tongues?—or, with the faculty of explaining these tongues in the vernacular of the country? (By no means; for, if so, where would be the variety of members necessary to constitute an organized body?—verse 19. This diversity of gifts in the Church has been arranged by God for the greater beauty and harmony of the entire mystical body).

The several questions are equivalent to so many negations. By them the Apostle intends to assert, that in the mystical, as well as in the natural body, a variety of functions and offices is necessary, in order to consult for the beauty and harmony of the entire body. Each one, therefore, should rest content with whatever place it may please Providence to assign him in the Church.


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