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 de Piconio’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 5, 2017

2 Cor 11:19. For you willingly bear with fools, being wise yourselves.
2 Cor 11:20. You bear it, if one reduces you to slavery, if one devours you, if one takes presents from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you in the face.
2 Cor 11:21. I speak to your dishonour, as if we were weak in this respect. What any dares (I speak in folly), I also dare.

I do not deny your wisdom; but it is certain that you do submit, without remonstrance, to the proud and arrogant self-assertion of others, far worse than anything you have had, or will have, to put up with from me; and indeed to absolute outrage and insult at their hands. You allow them to sell you into slavery, probably for money advanced; to seize and appropriate your goods; to exact heavy contributions from you under the name of gifts; to treat you as inferiors ; sometimes to strike you in the face. These are unquestionably allusions to incidents, which the Apostle knew to have occurred at Corinth, in the conduct of the heretical teachers or their influential supporters and allies. Some writers think that the expression, strike you in the face, is metaphorical; but there is no difficulty in supposing that it may, in some case or cases, have occurred literally. Verse 21, Saint Chrysostom says, is obscure, and apparently refers to some occurrence of a still more serious nature, which the writer does not choose to particularise more exactly. Whatever it was, it did not redound to the honour of the Corinthian Christians. And because I do not behave in the same way, you put it down, or are told to put it down, to weakness or cowardice on my part. I must protests foolish as the remark may sound, that I am as bold as others, in cases where boldness is required, or would be honourable and right. Of the truth of this statement he proceeds to give ample proof in the following verses.

It is, however, observed by Cornelius a Lapide, from Lalmeron, that what the Apostle here complains of, is the custom of the world, and has been so in all ages, and will be to the end of time. The servants of God are resisted and defied. On the smallest provocation, or appearance of provocation, men will murmur against them, cry out against them, complain of their measured and moderate severity, reject the very idea or appearance of ecclesiastical discipline; while at the same time they will exhibit the most abject and servile submission to teachers of heresy, give them full license, submit to whatever exactions they lay upon them; as the people of Israel, rejecting the modest and gentle government of the Prophet Samuel, preferred the yoke of a haughty and tyrannical king (see 1 Sam 8). And an ecclesiastical superior, who attends to, and discharges faithfully, the duties of his office, if he finds himself despised and looked down upon on that account by his own flock, may comfort himself by the example of the Apostle Saint Paul, to whom the Corinthian Christians preferred the false apostles of their day, although these last tyrannised over
them, robbed and insulted them, and crushed them under the weight of worldly influence and power. Another, who neglected the duties of his office, and the salvation of his flock, might very possibly find himself spoken of with honour, and valued and respected by the selfish and the worldly. If so, he should bestow a thought on these
false teachers of the Corinthians, and consider whether, in partaking their worldly honour, he may not also be
partaker of their guilt. At any rate, he cannot reasonably congratulate himself upon distinction at the hands of the world, which he shares with the ministers of Satan.

2 Cor 11:22. They are Hebrews, and I; they are Israelites, and I; they are the seed of Abraham, and I.

It appears from this verse that his opponents were Jews, or Judaizers. They may, however, possibly have sought to introduce, under the guise of Judaism, heresies, which were of foreign origin. The term Hebrews included originally all the descendants of the patriarch Heber, who lived at the time of the dispersion (Genesis 11:15). I am a Hebrew, and speak the Hebrew language. The Israelites, God’s chosen people, were a branch of the Hebrew race. The seed of Abraham, not converts or proselytes.

2 Cor 11:23. They are ministers of Christ, I speak as one not quite wise; I am more; in labours very many, in prison more often, in stripes beyond measure, in deaths frequently.

They arc ministers of Christ, or say they are. In verse 13, he calls them ministers of Satan. It may be a foolish thing to say, but I am much more a minister of Christ than they. The proof he adduces of this statement is not, perhaps, exactly what we should have expected, for he does not refer to the cities, provinces, and kingdoms he had evangelised and converted, but the labours, blows, and imprisonment he had suffered for the cause of Christ. I have certainly undergone toil, imprisonment, blows, peril of death, to a much greater degree than they.

2 Cor 11:24. From the Jews five times I received forty less one.

Forty less one (Deut. 25:3). If he who has sinned is found worthy of beating, let them lay him down and beat him in presence of the judges. But the number of blows must be in proportion to the crime, and never exceed forty, lest thy brother go away cruelly torn before thine eyes. Forty was therefore the maximum number of stripes allowed, and the Jews never inflicted more than thirty-nine, lest they should inadvertently exceed it.. There is no record in the Acts of the Apostles of this punishment being inflicted on Saint Paul, nor is it known where it occurred.

2 Cor 11:25. Thrice I have been beaten with a rod, once I was stoned, thrice I have been shipwrecked, I have been a night and day in the deep sea.

Thrice I was beaten with a rod, by the Gentile magis-trates. It may be inferred that the Jews used a whip. Only one of these three beatings is mentioned in the Acts. It occurred at Philippi (Acts 16:22), and on this occasion the magistrates apologised when they learned that he was a Roman citizen. Saint Paul was stoned at Lystra, in Lycaonia (Acts 14:19-20), on which occasion his life seems to have been saved by miracle. Of the three shipwrecks, there is no account in the Acts; the shipwreck at Malta, described in Acts 22, occurred some years later. A night and day in the deep. The word sea is not in the Greek, and Baronius thinks it refers to a deep dungeon at Cyzicus, in Asia Minor, in which he was once immured. But he has already spoken of prisons, the word before is shipwrecked, and the Vulgate is most probably right in saying the deptth of the sea. Theodoret says it was in an unseaworthy boat, in which he was
tossed for a night and a day. The Syriac has: Thrice I have been in shipwreck, a day and night I have been in the midst of the sea without a vessel. It is clear from these verses that many circumstances have been omitted by Saint Luke in his narrative in the Acts, which gives principally those events of which the writer was himself a witness.

2 Cor 11:26. Often in journeys, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in peril from my countrymen, in peril in the city, in peril in the solitude, in pf:ril on the sea, in peril among false brethren.

Theodoret: Everywhere dangers are scattered in his path. Dangers in crossing and navigating rivers, at the hands of robbers, of Jewish conspirators, of Gentile persecutors, in the city, in the desert, by land, by sea. Everywhere plots laid against his life; and this sometimes from false brethren, or pretending believers. For from the beginning the devil has sown the tares. The number of attempts against Saint Paul’s life from the Jews is very remarkable (see Acts 9:23; 13:50; 14:5; 17:5; 20:3; 21:31; 23:10-12, etc.; 25:3).

2 Cor 11:27. In labour and care, in many vigils, in hunger and thirst, in many fasts, in cold and nakedness.

In labour and care, The Greek has toil and misery. Many vigils, for prayer, preaching, labouring. Hunger and thirst for want of food and water in long journeys, in the burning heat of the summer of the south. Fasting voluntarily undertaken for religion. Cold and nakedness, from insufficient clothing in winter.

2 Cor 11:28. Besides those things that are without, my daily preoccupation, the solicitude of all the churches.

Besides these things which arc without, and affect the body, there are the cares and anxieties of the mind. The
Greek word επισυστασις means conspiring or combined assault and tumult; and Saint Chrysostom, taking it
literally, refers it to the frequent conspiracies and seditions which threatened the Apostle’s life. But he has already
spoken of this in verse 26, and from the following words, the solicitude of all the Churches, it is reasonable to suppose lie alludes to the tumult and whirl of business in which he is continually involved, and which is always distressing to a man whose delight is in communion with God. The case of all the Churches, says Erasmus, continually weighed and pressed upon him.

2 Cor 11:29. Who is weakened, and I am not weakened? Who is scandalised, and I learn not?
2 Cor 11:30. If I must glory, I will glory of what is my weakness.
2 Cor 11:31. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is blessed for ever, knows I do not lie.
2 Cor 11:32. Saint Damascus, the chief of the people of King Aretas, guarded the city of the Damascenes, to take me.
2 Cor 11:33. And through a window, in a basket, I was let down over the wall, and thus escaped his hands.

If any is weakened in faith or virtue, I am, in a degree, weakened too. Any scandal arising tortures me. I will glory, if I glory, not as my opponents do, in worldly greatness—he had very high prospects of worldly greatness once—but in the suffering and humiliation which I share with Christ. The City of Damascus, with Arabia Petroea, in the division of Syria, made by the Romans among the family of Herod, fell to Aretas, whose daughter was married to Herod Antipas, the King of Galilee. Herod dismissed her to marry Herodias, wife of his brother Philip. Aretas had placed a governor in the town of Damascus. The occurrence related by the Apostle happened in a.d. 31, six-and-twenty years before the Epistle was written. It is recorded m the Acts 9:24, 25.

Corollary of Piety

What a spectacle is exhibited to us in this brief narrative of the labours and sufferings of Saint Paul! The Legate of Jesus Christ beaten with clubs, whips, rods, as if he were a guilty and worthless slave; the herald of God’s message of salvation stoned, almost to death, as a blasphemer; the faithful servant and minister of the Almighty shipwrecked at sea, tossed on the stormy waves, as if he were a wretch whom God’s very providence had abandoned to death and destruction! A sight to cause scandal, if looked at with the eyes of the flesh. Is there knowledge on high? But edifying to the last degree, regarded with the eyes of faith. For we learn from it, not to shrink, as from real evils, from care, suffering, and humiliation, but to esteem these as precious gifts of God, which He has ready for His faithful servants. It is given you, for Christ’s sake, not to believe in Him only, but also to suffer for His sake. And we learn not to shrink from and avoid the ordinary ills of life, but to prefer and choose them, as sources of eternal glory; to rejoice in them as means and principles of true glory. Our life, for the most part, has little resemblance to that of the Apostles.
Theirs was a life of labour, ours of ease; theirs of suffering, ours of softness and indulgence; theirs of poverty, slight, contempt; ours of wealth, consideration, pride. Yet ought we to differ from those of whom we boast as the fathers of our faith? Should we not be ashamed to suffer nothing, for ourselves, of all the Apostles underwent for us? Affliction is the mother of glory. By affliction Christ and the Apostles entered into glory. It is to affliction that God predestined us, as the means of making us like the image of His Son, that He might be the eldest born of many brethren; and the Cross is the inheritance He shares with us, and which it is our privilege to partake with Him.

chapter 12

In this chapter the Apostle refers to the wonderful secret revelations which had been made to him, as a proof of his authority; and announces his intention to pay another visit to Corinth.

2 Cor 12:1. If I must boast, this indeed is not expedient, but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

If I must boast. Under protest, and because you require this proof of my divine commission, I will tell you that I have received this wonderful favour from heaven, although the nature of the revelation made to me is not to be communicated to mortal man. So the Vulgate and the Syriac. The Greek text differs slightly. Boasting is not good for
me; and Theodoret says that as the Greek fathers understand it, he means to say that my relation of this occurrence
is of no advantage to myself, but may be useful to you.

Visions and Revelations. Visions may be granted without revelations, when the meaning is not understood, as to
Pharao, Gen. 41:17, to Nabuchodonosor, Dan, 2:31. The revelation adds to the vision the intelligence of the meaning of what is seen. Of the Lord, not of the devil, who also is able to send visions and revelations. St. Thomas.

2 Cor 12:2. I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body I know not, or out of the body I know not, God knows), such an one caught up to the third heaven.

I know a man in Christ. He suppresses his own name, out of modesty, A man in Christ. That is, a Christian.

Fourteen years ago. He had concealed all knowledge of this wonderful event for fourteen years, and would have continued to do so till the end of his life, if the Corinthians had not compelled him to refer to it. St. Thomas thinks the vision here referred to was seen at the time of Saint Paul’s conversion, during the three days when he could neither see nor eat. Act 9:9. Baronius and modern writers calculate more accurately that it must have happened about eight years after his conversion, probably at the time he went to Antioch with Barnabas, Acts 13. Baron. Ann, 44 and 58. See also Estius.

The third heaven is a Hebrew phrase for the highest heaven. We have in the Scriptures mention of three heavens; the aerial heaven, where the clouds float; the sidereal heaven, where are the planets and the stars; and the empyreal heaven, or world of the angels, into which last Saint Paul was rapt. Whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell. The words seem to imply that the Apostle’s own impression was that he had actually been taken up to heaven in the body, but was not absolutely certain. This is the opinion of Saint Chrysostom, Ambrose, Grotius, Fromond, and others. Cornelius a Lapide thinks it the more probable opinion that he was conveyed to heaven in the body, as well as in spirit; and Father George Ambianus is decidedly of that opinion, De conditione raptus. Among modern writers the more general view is that the Apostle was rapt up to heaven only intellectually and in an ecstasy, not physically or corporeally; but that the soul remained still united with the body, as St. Thomas thinks, and was not separated from it by death. As the body is said to be rapt, when violently removed from its place by an external force, so the soul is rapt when taken from the shadows and symbols on which its knowledge of external things depends, and raised to the unclouded vision and clear intelligence of the angels in heaven.

In support of the first opinion it may be observed that the verb used in the Greek is not éξéστη, visited with an ecstasy, but αρπαγεντα, which seems to suit better with the idea of a bodily transportation. And as Saint Chrysostom remarks, it was in a sense due to Saint Paul that he should receive a favour not inferior to that which was granted to the other Apostles, who conversed with Christ in the body. As Saint Peter saw his glory on Mount Thabor, so did Saint Paul in the third heaven. And as Moses conversed with God in the mountain, before he came forth to promulgate the law, so Saint Paul conversed with Christ in heaven before he went forth as the teacher of the nations. But after all, a question with regard to which the Apostle was himself uncertain, must remain uncertain for us.

2 Cor 12:3. And I know such a man (whether in the body or out of the body I know not ; God knows):
2 Cor 12:4. That he was rapt into Paradise, and heard secret words, which man may not speak.
2 Cor 12:5. On behalf of such an one I will boast; but for myself I will not boast but in my infirmities.
2 Cor 12:6. For though I were willing to boast, I shall not be a fool; but I spare, lest any one esteem me above what he sees in me, or hears from me.

Secret words, arcana verba, is in the Greek αρρητα ρηματα , unutterable utterances, things so great that man cannot explain them, and transcending all power of speech. He recurs to this in verse 6. The mention of paradise suggests to some ancient writers, and among them Ambrose, St. Anselm, and Theophylact, that this is a distinct vision from that referred to in verse 2, where he says he was rapt into heaven. But it seems more probable that whereas in the heavenly vision his intellect was enlightened by the knowledge of sublime mysteries of truth, he intends by the use of the word paradise to denote the sweetness and dehght with which his heart was filled and overflowed. Heaven denotes the perfection of knowledge, paradise the perfection of joy. He heard unutterable things, because he was instructed by another, for instruction comes by hearing. St. Thomas. This doctor, as well as St. Chrysostom, St. Anselm, and St. Augustine (xii. 28 de Gen.) consider that Saint Paul beheld the divine essence in this vision; but a contrary opinion is maintained by modern writers. But the Apostle then adds, if I were able, or if I were permitted, to tell what I saw and heard, all doubts would be removed, all cavils silenced. I should not then be a fool. I refrain, lest you should think me an angel, or a god, like the people of Lystra, Acts 14:10, or the people of Malta at a later date, Acts 28. If they offered bulls in sacrifice when he wrought a miracle, what would they not have done, had he revealed all he knew? Theophylact. The example of Saint Paul in concealing this divine favour for fourteen years, is worthy of observation and imitation. When compelled to speak of it he does so as briefly as possible, and in ambiguous and enigmatical terms, and at once proceeds to record the humiliation that followed. God’s gifts are secret. If compelled to speak, say as little as possible, and recur at once to thy own nothingness.

2 Cor 12:7. And lest the greatness of the revelations should lift me up, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan to buffet me.
2 Cor 12:8. On account of which I thrice besought the Lord, that it might depart from me.
2 Cor 12:9. And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for virtue is perfected in infirmity.

The Apostle here changes the person, and shews that he has been speaking of himself. Should lift me up. For he also was human. Theophylact. The sting is in the Vulgate stimulus, in the Greek σκόλοψ, which, according to Grotius, signifies a thorn, according to Erasmus a sharp stake. A stimulus is properly a stake shod with iron to drive oxen when at work. This affliction Saint Paul ascribes to Satan, but nevertheless says it was given to him by the overruling
goodness of God. The verb rendered buffet, or bruise, might either infer pain or humilation, or both together. As to the nature of this infliction, there is great variety of conjecture among ecclesiastical writers. The Greek fathers.
Saint Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Theophylact, and Ambrose among the Latins, think it signifies persecution from enemies of the faith, urged on by the Devil. This is also the opinion of Erasmus. F. George Ambianus, quoted by Grotius, thinks it was an acute pain in the head or ears. Saint Thomas, that it was a painful disorder of the intestines.
Some of the authorities cited by Cornelius a Lapide consider that it was a weakness of the stomach ; others that the devils assailed him literally with blows and violence, as in the case of Saint Antony. The modern opinion now most commonly received is that it was a motion of concupiscence suggesting impure ideas to the imagination, and exciting rebellion and tumult in the flesh. In support of this latter view there is urged, 1, the metaphorical terms in which the Apostle describes it; 2, he says it was in his flesh, which hardly agrees with persecution from without; 3, it was occasioned by an angel of Satan, which would scarcely have been said of any ordinary form of disease; 4, the word colaphizat seems to imply humiliation; whereas persecution for God’s sake brings glory, and disease inflicts pain, not shame; and 5, if it had been persecution or disease, he would not so earnestly have prayed for deliverance from it. Erasmus rejects the idea altogether, as unworthy of so great a man, and one so far advanced in age. (Hammond, in loc. suggests that the affection referred to by Saint Paul was an affection of the eyes, which impaired his sight, and from which there are other grounds for believing that he suffered. He dictated all his epistles to an amanuensis, adding only a few words in his own handwriting at the end, for identification, and these written in very large characters. You see in what large letters I write in my own hand. Gal. 6:11. In support of this conjecture it may be observed that he refers to his infirmity as if it were already well known; and if it were of the kind suggested above, and known only to himself, it seems hardly likely that he would have alluded to it at all; while the urgency with which he prayed for deliverance would imply that it was something he thought likely to occasion hindrance to the exercise of his ministry).

I besought the Lord thrice. Doubtless at these different oblations of the Holy Sacrifice. But Saint Chrysostom thinks that thrice means simply often. That it, that is the angel of Satan, might leave me. The prayers of the just are often heard, when not heard; heard for their good, unheard for their wishes. God is good, and often withholds what we
want, to give what we want still more. St. Jerome. The patient under the knife will call out for mercy, but the operator does not listen. St. Augustine. Virtue is made perfect in weakness. Virtue is not here opposed to vice, but to
weakness. The Greek has my power. The power of God is shown forth most conspicuously through the infirmity of
man.

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