BRIEF SYNOPSIS OF CHAPTER 5
I. The Apostle goes on to remind the Corinthians of the glories of heaven, saying that in exile here and in the tabernacle of the flesh he longs for them, and wishes to be absent from the body and present with the Lord.
II. He shows (ver. 9) that it is his endeavour to please not men but Christ alone, who shall come to judgment.
III. He declares (ver. 14) that he is constrained to do this by the love of Christ, who has reconciled us by His death; and therefore that he no longer knows any one according to the flesh, but only him who is a new creature in Christ.
IV. He professes himself (ver. 18) to be a minister and ambassador of Christ, and he prays them to be reconciled to God for Christ’s sake.
2Co 5:14 For the charity of Christ presseth us: judging this, that if one died for all, then all were dead.
For the charity of Christ presseth us. This love of Christ by which He loved us, and gave Himself for us, compels us to follow His example, and give ourselves for all men to save them from death. And hence, as occasion requires, we are at one time beside ourselves, at another, sober. It is better to understand the love of Christ objectively, rather than subjectively.
That if one died for all, then all were dead. The bearing of this verse is explained by the next, which also gives its connection with the preceding. So great was the love of Christ that He died for all. Hence it follows that we were dead, for He died to set us free (by taking it on Himself) from death, bodily and spiritual, which sin had brought on us. Hence plainly appears Christ’s compassion and love; and they constrain us to love Christ in return, and to work in every way for the salvation of our neighbour; to exclude no one, but to labour for all, whether rich or poor, even as Christ did. S. Thomas explains it otherwise. “All ought to be dead to the old life, and account themselves dead, that they may live, not to themselves, but to Christ.” But this is somewhat obscure and far fetched, and is identical with what is said in the next verse, which yet is distinct from this.
All were dead. Except, says S. Anselm, the Blessed Virgin, who never incurred original sin and spiritual death. Secondly and better, all died in Adam because in him all came under the necessity of sin and of death, even the Mother of God herself, so that she and all others without exception needed to be redeemed by the death of Christ. In Adam, therefore, the Blessed Virgin sinned and died, but in herself she incurred neither sin nor spiritual death, because she was kept from them by God’s prevenient grace, as was said in the notes to Rom_5:12.
2Co 5:15 And Christ died for all: that they also who live may not now live to themselves, but unto him who died for them and rose again.
And Christ died for all, &c. We judge also that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live for their own glory, or pleasure, or their desires, but for Christ, who by right of redemption has made us His servants; and as a servant does not labour and live for himself but for his lord, so should each of us be able to say: “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me;” and, “My soul shall live to Him.” Anselm says: “The soul of man should fail in itself to avail in Christ, who died that we should die to our sins, and who rose that we should rise to works of righteousness. What else is ‘living not for themselves but for Him,’ but living not according to the flesh in the hope of earthly vanities, but according to the Spirit, in hope of the resurrection which has already taken place in themselves in Christ?”
2Co 5:16 Wherefore henceforth, we know no man according to the flesh. And if we have known Christ according to the flesh: but now we know him so no longer.
Wherefore henceforth, we know no man according to the flesh. Because the love of Christ for us is so great, and constrains us, therefore we regard carnal things, that is things external and temporal, such as fame, health, friendships, kindred, of no account out of Christ. So Chrysostom takes no one to stand for “nothing,” as does Vatablus; and S. Augustine (contra Faust. lib. ix. c. 7) takes it in the same way. But by the flesh he understands the corruption and mortality of the flesh to be meant; and the sense then would be: We no longer know this carnal and mortal life, because, filled with a sure hope, we meditate on and seek for a future life, that blissful spiritual life awaiting us after the resurrection, in which Christ is even now preparing us a place. This meaning is suitable but somewhat far-fetched, for the Apostle is here setting in opposition to the flesh, or the carnal man, the new creature which is in this life, and which lives through faith and grace in Christ; therefore he adds: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.”
In the third place, then, we may more simply and properly explain the verse thus: We henceforth know none of those outward relation-ships of kindred, friendship, nationality, rank, breeding, or learning, for we are dead to these natural affections, and having been regenerated in Christ, we live to Him alone, and love Him alone, and all others in Him, according to the spirit of charity, and not according to the flesh. In other words, we seek not to please men, or the praise and glory of men, but of God only. S. Paul’s rivals, the Judaising false apostles, as we shall see in chapter 11., were wont to boast that they were Hebrews and of the seed of Abraham, and this boasting he calls, in 11:18, “glorying after the flesh.” Hence this verse is a tacit rebuke to them, where he says that he knows no one in the way of earthly love or boasting, or because of relationship and friendship according to the flesh, not even in Abraham himself. Similarly, in Phil 3:3, he says, “We rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh;” i.e., we once rejoiced that we were Hebrews and nobly born according to the flesh, but now we are dead to those affections, for all our praise and rejoicing is Christ. So Gagneius.
And if we have known Christ according to the flesh. If at any time we, whether I, Paul, myself, or the other Apostles, regarded and saw Christ present with us in a mortal body and subject, like us, to bodily sufferings, such as hunger and thirst and cold, now we know Him not save as immortal and passible. So Chrysostom, Theodoret, and the Seventh General Synod. This interpretation too is supported by what follows.
Secondly, and better, Gagneius takes the meaning to be: If we formerly knew, i.e., thought of great account, and made our boast of Christ after the flesh, that Christ by birth was a Jew and of our nation, so that we Hebrews were relations of Christ after the flesh, as the false apostles boast; and if we were proud of having lived with Christ on terms of intimacy, then are we now dead to all such feelings, and, being re-created by Christ, we think more highly of Him, and now know Him only according to the Spirit, i.e., as the God-man, the Redeemer of the world, our Teacher, the Author of grace and salvation; and as we live and labour for such an one, so do we preach Him throughout the whole world.
Thirdly, others with great probability think that Paul is referring to that time in his own life when he was a persecutor of Christ. Although once, he would seem to say, I had an unworthy opinion of Christ, thinking that He was to be a mere temporal king, such as the Jews expect the Messiah to be, yet I no longer know Him or regard Him as such.
Hence, fourthly, we may see the error of Faustus the Manichean, in explaining S. Paul to mean that in the beginning he thought Christ to have had a real body, but afterwards saw his error, and that he means the same in Phi_2:7, when he says that Christ was made in the likeness of men, as if He had a fantastical and apparent body, but not one that was real and substantial. Eutyches again twisted this passage to suit his heresy. He said that “we know not Christ according to the flesh” means that, by the Incarnation the flesh and human nature of Christ were swallowed up by His Divinity; and he laid down that in Christ was one nature as well as one person, and that that one was Divine.
We may see here how heretics twist and wrest aside the Scripture to suit their own fancies, just as if it were a nose of wax. So did the Iconoclasts of olden times, and lately Calvin (de Reliquiis) twist these words of the Apostle against the veneration of relics and of images of Christ and the Saints, just as though the Apostle had said: Now after the resurrection we know not Christ after the flesh; whatever in Him was carnal must be consigned to oblivion and sent about its business, that we may devote all our energies to seeking Him and possessing Him according to the spirit. But it is most evident that this is not the Apostle’s meaning; for if it were, he would have us forget the flesh, the death, and Passion of Christ, and be unmindful of it and unthankful for it, the very opposite of which Christ commanded when He instituted the Eucharist as the perpetual memorial of His death. Whence S. Paul himself says (1Cor 11:26): “As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do show the Lord’s death till He come.” Therefore the Apostle’s meaning here is not Calvin’s, but the one I have given above. Cf. Second Council of Nice, act 6, following Epiphanius and Cyril.
2Co 5:17 If then any be in Christ a new creature, the old things are passed away. Behold all things are made new.
If then any be in Christ a new creature. If any one is with me regenerate in Christ, and recreated and changed, as it were, into a new creature, even as I am not what I was, Saul being changed into Paul, then the old rites of Judaism, the old former affections and judgments, such as knowing any one according to the flesh, have all passed away. In such an one all is made new: he has new affections, new thoughts about the realities and hopes of Christianity, a new life, a new hope of the resurrection, new grace, sanctification, and justification. On this newness, cf. S. Anselm and S. Augustine (de Cantic. Novo. vol. ix.).
S. Bernard (de Assumpt. B. Mariæ) assigns its cause He says: “All things are made new, i.e., the old fortress is overturned, a new one raised. Lust having been banished, the heart expands with a mighty longing; and after its arrival the mind yearns far more for heavenly things than it had ever before longed for earthly. Now is the wall of continence raised up, the bulwark of patience. But this work rises on the foundation of faith, and grows by 1ove of one’s neighbour till it reaches even to the love of God.”