2Co 11:19 For you gladly suffer the foolish: whereas yourselves are wise.
Irony. You have foolishly suffered the boastings of these vain-glorious false apostles; I hope that you will suffer me to glory wisely and usefully among them that are wise. Theophylact, however, and Anselm think that this is said seriously, in the way of exaggerated rebuke. Since you are wise in Christ, you ought to have exploded the folly of the false apostles. Why, then, do you gladly suffer them?
2Co 11:20 For you suffer if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take from you, if a man be lifted up, if a man strike you on the face.
For you suffer if a man bring you into bondage. This is aimed at the insatiable arrogance, avarice, and tyranny of the false apostles. You suffer false apostles, who imperiously treat you as slaves, who devour you by extorting from you your goods, who are exalted by their self-praise, who smite you in the face, not with the palms of their hands, but with insults. Hence he adds: “I speak as concerning reproach.” These words, therefore, contain a sharp rebuke. These men squander your money, take away your freedom and honour, load you with taunts, as though you were slaves; but 1 have borne myself humbly, have lived at my own expense, have wished to put upon you the easy yoke of Christ. Yet you prefer them to me, as though, when compared with these, your imperious lords, nay, tyrants, I was not sufficiently well-born, or powerful, or eloquent. S. Bernard (de Consid. lib. i. c. 3) says: “When you may be free there is no virtue in the patience which lets you become a slave. Do not conceal the slavery into which you are being daily led, while you know it not. It is the mark of a dull and heavy heart not to feel its own continual trouble. Trouble gives to the hearing understanding, provided it be not excessive. If it is, it gives not understanding, but carelessness.”
Let superiors and prelates console themselves by the example of S. Paul, when they duly do their duty, and are despised by those under them, and see others preferred before them. It has ever been the custom of the world, and ever will be till the end, as Salmeron notices here, to obstinately resist the servants of God, to murmur, and, meeting rebuke, on the least occasion, to complain of even moderate severity; to spurn all discipline; to submit servilely to impostors, libertines, and false apostles; to entrust everything to them; to bear patiently whatever burden they may choose to impose. The Israelites, e.g., despised the holy and gentle Samuel, and preferred to bear the yoke of a self-willed and tyrannical king (1 Sam 8).
2Co 11:21 I seek according to dishonour, as if we had been weak in this part. Wherein if any man dare (I speak foolishly), I dare also.
This belongs to the preceding. The “striking on the face” spoken of (in verse 20) is here explained to be mental, not physical—consisting in the ignominy and revilings cast, as it were, in their faces by the false apostles. This “smiting” is no less wrong than if they had been beaten like slaves. Others, however, interpret these words to mean: “I say this to your shame.” This, however, would require πρὸς instead of κατὰ
As if we had been weak. Refer this to the words, you suffer (verse 20). You suffer these bold and imperious false apostles; me you do not, but rather despise me as weak and timid, as though I could not have acted more imperiously than I have done, I could, indeed, have done so, but I would not, through humility, modesty, and abounding charity (Chrysostom).
Wherein if any man dare. If any one ventures to boast foolishly, I too can do the same.
2Co 11:22 They are Hebrews: so am I. They are Israelites: so am I. They are the seed of Abraham: so am I.
They are Hebrews? so am I. The word Hebrew is derived either (1.) from a Hebrew word denoting “across the stream,” in allusion to their descent from Abraham, who crossed the Euphrates from Chaldæa to dwell in Palestine. Hebrews in this sense would mean (to coin a word) transamnine, as we speak of transmarine or transalpine. Abraham, after crossing the Euphrates, is the first to be called Hebrew (Gen 14:13). The LXX and Aquila render the word here “crosser;” S. Augustine (qu. 29 in Gen.) renders it “transfluvial.” So Chrysostom, Origen, Theodoret understand the word. (2.) Or the Jews were called Hebrews as being descended from Heber, Abraham’s forefather, the only man who with his family, after the confusion of tongues at Babel, retained the primeval Hebrew tongue, together with true faith, religion, and piety. (Cf. Gen 10:21, and Gen 11:1, et seq.) Those, then, are wrong who suppose that Hebræi is derived from Abrahæi. S. Augustine, it is true, at one time held this opinion (de Consens. Evang. lib. 1. c. 14), but in his Retractations (lib. ii. c. 14) he gave it up. The meaning of the Apostle, at all events, is this: These false apostles glory in their birth—in their being, as Hebrews, descendants of Heber, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in their possession of the holy religion of their ancestors, and the primeval tongue. But I also am a Hebrew and descendant of Abraham—like him in stock, tongue, faith, and religion.
2Co 11:23 They are the ministers of Christ (I speak as one less wise): I am more; in many more labours, in prisons more frequently, in stripes above measure, in deaths often.
Ver. 23.—They are ministers of Christ? The Latin version takes this in the indicative, and supposes S. Paul to concede, for the sake of argument, that the false apostles were ministers of Christ. Be it so, but I am much more truly such than they.
In many more labors. Let prelates and doctors take notice from this, that they should base their influence, as S. Paul did, not on external show, but on labours and mode of life. The Fourth Council of Carthage (c. 5) says: “Let a bishop have a sordid dress, a scanty table, and poor living, and let him seek to have his high office revered through his faith and the merits of his life.”
S. Bernard, quoting this passage in his work, De Consideratione, addressed to Pope Eugenius, says, (lib. ii. c. 6): “How excellent a ministry is this! What king holds a more glorious office? If you must needs glory, the life of the Saints is put before your eyes, the glorying of the Apostles is set forth. Seems that to you a little matter? Would that one would give to me to be like the Saints in their glorying! The Apostle exclaims God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Recognise thy heritage in the cross of Christ, in abundant labours. Happy the man who would say: “I have laboured more than they all.’ This is glorying indeed, but there is nothing in it empty, slothful, or effeminate. If labour terrifies, the reward beckons us onward. Though he laboured more than all, yet he did not elaborate the whole work, and yet there is room. Go into the field of the Lord, and notice carefully how the ancient curse holds sway in an abundant crop of thorns and thistles. Go forth, I say, into the world; for the field is the world, and it has been entrusted to you. Go into it, not as a lord but as a steward, who will one day be called on to give an account.”
In stripes above measure. More than can be told or believed. Stripes is a reference to whippings, lashings or, beating with rods (see 2 Cor 4:7-9; 2 Cor 6:5; Acts 16:22-23).
In deaths oft. In dangers of death, when my companions, or others, were wounded or slain, as, e.g., by robbers, or in popular out-breaks. Cf. 2 2 Cor 1:10, and 1 Cor 15:31. See also Rom 8:35-39.
2Co 11:24 Of the Jews five times did I receive forty stripes save one.
The Lord had ordered, in Deut. xxv. 3, that the number of stripes should not exceed forty. The Jews, to make sure of obedience to this precept, used to inflict on criminals one less.
2Co 11:25 Thrice was I beaten with rods: once I was stoned: thrice I suffered shipwreck: a night and a day I was in the depth of the sea.
I was in the depth of the sea. The Greek word for the depth may refer to a well or a prison, as well as the sea. Hence (1.) some think, says Theophylact, that that well is meant in which Paul is said to have lain concealed after escaping from the attack made on him by the people of Lystra (Acts 14:18). (2.) Baronius (Annals, A.D. 58), following Bede and Theodoret, thinks that the Cyzicenum, that deep and loathsome dungeon, like the Barathrum at Athens and the Tullianum at Rome, into which Paul was thrown, is here meant. (3.) It is better to understand the deep to be the sea, and to be an explanation of the hardships of his shipwreck: ” A night and a day I have been in the deep.” In other words, he says: I was tossed about by so violent a tempest that I seemed to be days and nights in the depths of the sea (Maldonatus Not. Manusc.). Or it may be that he means to say that after his shipwreck he spent a day and a night tossed by the waves, not in a boat or on a raft, but swimming in the deep, i.e., on the open sea (Theophylact, Ambrose, S. Thomas). Haymo says that this latter explanation of S. Paul’s rescue alive from the belly of the deep, like another Jonah, is the tradition of the Fathers.
Of these scourgings and this shipwreck there is no record in the Acts of the Apostles. The shipwreck at Melita, narrated in Acts xxvii., happened long after this, when Paul was sent a prisoner to Rome. Only one scourging is mentioned, that in Acts xvi., and only one stoning, that in Acts xiv. S. Luke, it is evident, therefore, is silent on many details of S. Paul’s life.
2Co 11:26 In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils from my own nation, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils from false brethren:
In perils from my own nation. Through the plots that the Jews often entered into against him (Anselm).
2Co 11:27 In labour and painfulness, in much watchings, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness:
In painfulness. Ærumna (Latin version), which, says Cicero, is laborious toil, as, e.g., when one that is tired out is forced, for the sake of rest, to undertake fresh toils.
The things in which the Apostle glories are those that not only many Christians now-a-days but many clergy would be ashamed of, as S. Bernard laments when commenting on the words, “Lo, we have left all.” Whither have we drifted? Where has the apostolic Spirit gone? Whither are fled the humility, labours, sufferings, and zeal of the primitive Church? The Apostles, the princes of the Church, Christ’s lieutenants, do not rejoice in their palaces, their carriages, their silken robes, in an attending crowd of noblemen, domestics, soldiers, horses, and hounds; in banquets and dinners; in fat benefices, in an effeminate, luxurious, and sumptuous life; but they exult and glory in hunger, thirst, painfulness, and weariness; cold and nakedness; in continual journeying to barbarous nations; in persecution, preaching, scourgings, beatings, stonings, death, martyrdom, fatigues by day and night; they are made all things to all men; they scorn no one; they are fathers of the poor and the afflicted; those that are barbarous, ignorant, and poor they teach: they preach to them the Gospel, comfort them, give them alms. This was the calling of the Apostles; this was the high dignity of the princes of the Church, of which Paul here boasts; this was the spirit of the early Christians, both clergy and people. Nor has this spirit, God be thanked, died out in this age. Our age has had, and still has its Borroméo, Pius, Xavier, Menesius, Gaspar, Hosius, and others like minded.
Be not ashamed then, 0 Bishop, or prior, or doctor, or pastor, to imitate these men—to visit the poor after their example, to enter hospitals and prisons, to bear the confessions of peasants, to give counsel to the unhappy, to instruct the simple and ignorant, to be made all things to all men, to zealously seek the salvation of all. In these works do not shrink from toil, fatigue, and sorrow, even unto death; in this cause be pleased and delighted to suffer scoffs and even blows. So Christ did and suffered, so did S. Paul, so did the Apostles in general. In this consisted their virtue, holiness, and apostleship. In that last day of the world, when the Chief Shepherd and great Doctor shall sit as judge, to examine the deeds of each one and to pass on each one sentence of an eternity of bliss or an eternity of woe, He will not ask you how many benefices, what wealth, or servants, or knowledge you had, but how you used them—how many by them you converted, how many poor you fed or gave drink to, how many you visited in prison, how far you spread His Gospel and extended His glory; what labours, dangers, ridicule, and persecutions you bore for Him; what hunger, and thirst, and weariness. These things God has done; and, while we have time, let us think on these things, let us do these things, that we may stir up in ourselves and in all men the spirit of the primitive Church and of the Apostles, that we may follow Christ our Leader, and the Apostles His princes, and so by our zeal and burning charity, set on fire a world now growing old and stiffening with cold. Then shall we in due time hear with the Apostles: “Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed Me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, then shall ye also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Listen to what S. Chrysostom has to say of these sufferings and victories, and the courage of S. Paul (Hom. 25, 26): “Paul, as a champion athlete, against the world contends in every kind of contest, and conquers in all. This was his apostolic character, and by these contests he spread the Gospel. Just as a flame of inextinguishable fire, if it falls into the ocean and is swallowed by the waves, emerges again as bright as ever—so too S. Paul, though pressed on all sides, was not oppressed; not knowing how to yield. Suffering but left him the more glorious victor and martyr a thousand times over.”
S. Chrysostom (Hom. 2) says again: “Paul, through the abundance of his devotion, somehow did not feel the sufferings that he underwent in the cause of virtue; nay, he thought virtue itself its own reward. Daily he rose higher and more ardent; in every attack he rejoiced and gained the victory; when suffering under blows and injuries he counted it triumph. He sought death before life, poverty before riches; he longed for toil more than others rest; he counted cities, nations, provinces, and power as of as little account as the sand. He regarded nothing bitter and nothing sweet, as men commonly regard things. He looked on tyrants as moths; on death, tortures, a thousand sufferings as mere child’s play, provided that he might endure something for Christ. He was as adamant, nay, harder and stronger than adamant. Like a bird he flew over the whole world to teach it, and, as though hampered by no body, he despised all sufferings and dangers. So thoroughly did he despise all earthly things that heaven might seem already his.”
2Co 11:28 Besides those things which are without: my daily instance, the solicitude for all the churches.
Beside those things that are without: my daily instance. The weight of business that daily presses upon me. The Greek word here used denotes, says Budæus, to collect a band, to call together a meeting, as, e.g., when the mob assembles and makes an attack on the aristocracy and the magistrates. So the Apostle here uses the word to denote those manifold cares which, as it were, formed a band and rushed upon him from every side, and almost overwhelmed him, and this not once only but continuously. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Ephrem understand it to mean that factious conspiracies, seditions, tumults, popular outbreaks, and plots were being always set in motion against him. This is, indeed, the literal meaning of the Greek; but S. Paul has already mentioned those troubles in ver. 26. The former meaning is, therefore, the better. Then next clause, “the care of all the churches,” is explanatory of this. Anselm and Theophylact say beautifully: “Everywhere Paul teaches, but he also suffers greatly. He endures his own sufferings, and at the same time bears the sufferings of others. He bears the infirmities of individuals, and at the same time is anxious about the salvation of all.”
S. Chrysostom here (Hom. 18) teaches us beautifully, by his example, that nothing is sweeter than this anxiety, thought, labour, and grief of a good pastor for the Church. “A mother too,” he says, “in the in midst of deep grief for her child has pleasure; in the midst of anxiety she has joy. Though her anxiety be a source of bitterness, yet her devotion gives her great happiness.” Let great men, and those that are ministers of Christ, desire to be ever in motion as the heart is, or like the heavens, and, as Suetonius says of Vespasian, to die standing. Pacatus says, in his Panegyric of Theodosius: “Divine things delight in continual motion, and at the same time eternity feeds itself on movement, and your nature delights too in what we men call labour. As the heavens revolve with unfailing rotation, and the waves of the sea are ever in motion, and the sun never stands still, so are you, 0 Emperor, always engaged in matters of business that seem to return in a regular cycle.”
2Co 11:29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized, and I am not on fire?
Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is weak, or grieves, or is afflicted, and I am not with him weak, grieved, or afflicted? Who is offended and I am not on fire, both with grief, because the evil that my neighbour suffers when he is scandalised is mine, and with zeal also, to remedy his trouble and remove the cause of offence?
S. Gregory (Hom. 12 in Ezek 4:3), on the words, “Take thou unto thee an iron pan,” thinks that by the pan is meant the mind of Ezekiel, who, on seeing the overthrow of Jerusalem, was, as it were, roasted in a pan with compassion. Of this God puts him in mind by ordering him to place a pan between himself and the city. Such, too, was S. Paul when he said: “Who is offended and I burn not?” “Paul had set on fire his heart,” says S. Gregory, “with zeal for souls, and so had made it a pan in which, from love of virtue, he flamed against vice.”
2Co 11:30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my infirmity.
2Co 11:31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for ever, knoweth that I lie not.
Of the things that concern my infirmities. I will glory of the afflictions, blows, persecutions, and sufferings that I have borne for Christ. Through them I seem weak, i.e., despicable, mean, and worthless (Chrysostom). Observe that Paul glories not in his miracles but his infirmities, because in them there shines forth the effectual power of God’s grace, and also because in these he surpassed the false apostles, and thirdly, because they are the tokens of real virtue and of an Apostle.
2Co 11:32 At Damascus, the governor of the nation under Aretas the king, guarded the city of the Damascenes, to apprehend me.
This satrap of King Aretas was, says Theophylact, the father-in-law of Herod. Josephus says that Herod Antipas, who put to death John the Baptist, married the daughter of Aretas.
2Co 11:33 And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall: and so escaped his hands.
This escape of S. Paul from Damascus happened in the year 39 (Acts 9:25), when, as Josephus says, Aretas, King of Arabia and of the country near Damascus, waged war against Herod, because Herod had repudiated his wife, the daughter of Aretas, for the purpose of marrying Herodias. In this war Herod was worsted, and slain by Aretas. This brought on Aretas the vengeance of Tiberius Cæsar, who sent Vitellius, governor of Syria, to take or slay Aretas (Josephus, Ant. lib. x. c. 7). Using the opportunity, the Jews, enraged with S. Paul, seem to have accused him before the prefect of Aretas of disturbing the people under a pretext of preaching the Gospel, and so drawing them away from heathenism, and consequently from Aretas. They wished to show that this would end in his betraying Damascus to the Jews and to Vitellius. Hence the prefect sought to take Paul, but he, being warned, escaped by being let down by the wall in a basket. Cf. Baronius (Annals, vol. i. p. 304).
2Co 12:1 If I must glory (it is not expedient indeed) but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2Co 12:2 I know a man in Christ: above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not: God knoweth), such a one caught up to the third heaven.
I know a man in Christ. A Christian. He thus describes himself, says Theophylact, that it may be clear that Paul was taken up by the grace of Christ, and not, like Simon Magus, by the power of the devil.
Above fourteen years ago. Hence we conclude that this rapture of S. Paul took place about nine years after his conversion, which took place A.D. 36; Paul, therefore, was taken up A.D. 44, which was the ninth year from his conversion. It was in this year that, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, he was ordained, with Barnabas, Apostle and Doctor of the Gentiles (Acts 13:2), that is to say, a little before he began this apostleship. This is evident, because, as I said at the beginning of this Epistle, S. Paul wrote this A.D. 58, in the second year of Nero. This rapture of S. Paul did not take place, therefore, in the year of his conversion (Acts 9:12), i.e., A.D. 36, though some join S. Thomas in assigning it to that year.
Theophylact remarks on the modesty of the Apostle in having kept this silent for fourteen years. Secondly, he points out that Paul, fourteen years before, was privileged to contemplate such deep things, how much more did he merit it now, after the labours of so many years?
Whether in the body…I know not. Although the Apostle says that he knows nothing for certain about this rapture, yet S. Thomas (ii. ii. qu. 175, art. 5), and others think it probable that his soul remained united to his body as its form, otherwise Paul would have died and then risen again. Moreover, it does not beseem God, when He throws men into an ecstasy, to kill them; nay, such a process would not be one of rapture and ecstasy, but a putting to death. This, too, would involve the multiplication of many miracles. But it is a principle that we should not multiply miracles; therefore it is easier and more natural to suppose that, like other Saints, Paul was carried up while remaining in the body.
Caught up. “To be caught up is,” says S. Thomas, “to be raised from what is natural to what is supernatural by the power of the higher nature.” Hence angels and the Blessed are not caught up when they see God. Although they are raised above nature, yet they are not cut off from nature, i.e., from the power man has of naturally having consciousness of objects by means of his bodily senses and his representative powers. But when “caught up,” the soul is deprived of the use of its senses and imagination, and Paul, therefore, was so deprived, or he would have known that he was in the body. Moreover, such abstraction, as S. Thomas says, may take place under the influence of disease, as when a man is delirious, or even by the power of devils, as when they carry off a man. It is not, however, called rapture or ecstasy, unless wrought by Divine power, which withdraws the mind from the senses, and lifts it up to the contemplation of things supernatural.
To the third heaven. What is this heaven? 1. S. Basil (Hom. i. in Hexem.) infers from this that there is not merely one heaven, as Chrysostom thought, nor two, as Theophylact held, but at least three. Some add that there are three only, and that the third is the highest. But all the astronomers of olden times will dispute this, for they reckoned eight at least, as will moderns, who count at least eleven.
2. S. Thomas says (ii. ii. qu. 175, art. 3, ad. 4): “By the third heaven may be understood any supernatural vision, and in three ways it may be called the third heaven. First, with relation to man’s cognitive powers. Then the first heaven will be any supernatural, corporal vision, seen by the bodily eye, such as that of the handwriting on the wall, described in Daniel v. The second heaven will be any vision presented to the imagination, such as that of Isaiah, and of S. John in the Apocalypse. The third heaven will be any intellectual vision, such as is explained by S. Augustine (super Gen. ad Litt. 12).
“Secondly, the distinction may be made according to the different orders of the objects of consciousness. Then the first heaven will be the knowledge of celestial bodies; the second, the knowledge of celestial spirits; the third, the knowledge of God Himself.
“Thirdly, the three heavens may be the different steps of the knowledge by which God is seen. The first will then belong to the angels of the lowest hierarchy; the second to the angels of the middle hierarchy; the third to the angels of the highest.” According to this test, S. Paul would have been caught up to the third and highest hierarchy of angels, and standing there with the seraphim, have seen most clearly the essence of God, and from thence have been enkindled with that burning fire of charity with which he afterwards set on fire the whole world.
But I should say that the third heaven is the highest, or the empyrean, where the Blessed dwell. Hence, in ver. 4, it is called Paradise. It is called the third by a Hebraism. The number three denotes completion, being the first number to which the word all may be applied. We do not speak of “all two,” but we may and do say “all three.” Hence the poet says: “Oh, thrice and four times blessed they,” &c., i.e., completely blessed. Again (in Amos 1:3) we read, “for three transgressions of Damascus,” meaning, for all. In ver. 8 of this chapter again, we have, “I besought the Lord thrice,” or, very often, till I could ask no more, until the answer came. “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
3. It is simplest of all to say with S. Thomas, in the passage above quoted, that “the first heaven is the sidereal, the second the crystalline, the third the empyrean;” or, rather, that “the first is the aerial, the second the sidereal, the third the empyrean,” as Theophylact gives them. With him agree Julian Pomerius, and Damascene (de Fide, lib. ii. c. 6), and many others. “The air” in Scripture is commonly called “the heaven;” hence we get “the birds of heaven.” The air, therefore, is the first heaven, and is called the aerial one. All the heavenly orbs are the second heaven, or the etherial, and the third is the empyrean. Hence Cajetan is wrong in rejecting the empyrean, in which the Blessed dwell, and supposing that the third is the crystalline. In this latter are the waters which, in Gen. i. and elsewhere, are said to be above the firmament.
Mystically, S. Bernard says that the three heavens are the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, and also the three virtues and gifts by which we ascend to them and to the highest pinnacle of grace and glory, viz., humility, charity, and perfect union. He says (Tract. de Grad. Humil.): “Those whom, by His word and example the Son has first taught humility, on whom the Holy Spirit has then poured the gift of charity, these the Father at length receives in glory. The Son makes them disciples, the Paraclete comforts them as friends, the Father exalts them as sons. Firstly, He instructs them as a Master; secondly, He comforts them as a Friend or a Brother; thirdly, He embraces them as sons. From the first union of the Word and reason is born humility; from the second union of the Spirit of God with the will of man comes charity; then at last the Father unites to Himself His glorious bride. And thus reason is not suffered to think of itself or of the will of its neighbour, but the beatified soul delights to say this alone: ‘The King hath brought me into His chamber.’ These steps were not surpassed by S. Paul, who declares that he was caught up to the third heaven.”
A second question arises: Was Paul truly and really caught up into the empyrean, so as to be in it as in a place, or was he there only by way of imagination or of understanding, so that he seemed to himself in his imagination to be in heaven, and saw what was being done there, while his body and soul remained on earth? Some think with probability that he was not caught up actually and truly, but only imaginarily, because he includes this rapture in vers. 1 and 7, under the head of visions and revelations of the Lord. God can bring it to pass that I in Belgium can see what is going on in India, and even what is passing in heaven. This may be brought about either through the imagination or the understanding, or even by the eyes of the body; for God can so raise these above themselves, so co-operate with them above nature, so strengthen and extend the visual powers as to make them reach even to heaven. If that power may be increased beyond what is natural by spectacles or medicaments, why may not God extend this power yet further and further? Thus it happened to S. Anselm, that he was able to see through a wall what was going on on the other side, by God imprinting the proper images on his retina. So Bede says that S. Diethelmus and others saw in imagination the pains of purgatory. Why, then, should not Paul have seen in the same way the empyrean, and what was passing in it?
Others, with perhaps greater probability on their side, think that he was actually and truly caught up into the empyrean. They give as their reasons: (1.) That the Greek verb used is not the technical term for casting into an ecstasy, but a word which denotes an actual rapture. (2.) That Paul is doubtful whether his soul was caught up with his body or without his body; therefore he presupposes that his soul was truly and really caught up; for in a vision that is merely imaginary there is no doubt that the soul alone and not the body is caught up by the imagination. (3.) That there be actually heard mysterious words, so that, as the destined teacher of the world, he seemed to go forth from heaven, and to communicate to men what he had there seen and heard as God willed him, and so brought to men as from heaven heavenly wisdom. Cf. ver. 4, note.
Now if the soul was really caught up, and yet remained united to the body (as I said in the opening note on this verse), then the body of Paul seems to have been caught tip into paradise; and indeed this is as easy with God as taking up the soul only. This would be fitting to S. Paul’s office, who was to be the teacher and Apostle, not, like Moses, of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, and so should wholly come forth, like another Moses, from intercourse with God in heaven.
2Co 12:3 And I know such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I know not: God knoweth):
Whether in the body or out of the body, I know not. S. Athanasius (Serm. 4 contra Arian.) thinks that Paul knew the mode in which he was caught up, yet says: “I do not know,” or, “I cannot tell;” because he could not reveal it to others, in the same way that Christ, in S. Mark 13:32, says that He did not know the day of judgment. For though in himself he knew, yet as far as others were concerned he did not know, for he could not explain it. But others do better in understanding him simply to mean. “I do not know,” and his simple recital of the event seems to require this.
2Co 12:4 That he was caught up into paradise and heard secret words which it is not granted to man to utter.
Into paradise. Ambrose, Œcumenius, Haymo, Anselm, and Theophylact think that Paul was twice caught up: (1.) into the third heaven, and (2.) then higher still into paradise. If so, the third heaven would be the heaven of sun, moon, and stars; but what would Paul have done there? Hence others hold that the events are one and the same, and that the third heaven and paradise are identical.
It may be asked. Why, after saying that he was caught up into the third heaven, does Paul say that he was caught up into paradise, as though it were a place higher still? I reply that of the vast empyrean paradise is one particular part where the Blessed are, and a more glorious part than the rest. S. Paul would imply that not only did he see deepest mysteries by his understanding, but also in his will drank in ineffable happiness. He signifies this by the term paradise, which, both in Greek and Latin, denotes a place of happiness.
Paradise is not a Greek word meaning, as Suidas thinks, a well-watered garden, nor yet a herb-garden, as others suppose, but, as Pollux says, it is a Persian word, or rather Hebrew, denoting a garden planted with pleasant trees and fruits. Cf. Ecc_2:5; Neh_2:8; Son_4:11. It is derived from two Hebrew words, denoting to bring forth myrtles. Then, because myrtle is of a pleasant smell, and does best in gardens, the name has been transferred to pleasure-gardens, plantations, and glades, and then again to any pleasant place. Here the third heaven is called paradise.
Did Paul see there the Divine Essence? S. Augustine (Ep. 112, c. 13), Clement (Stromata, c. 5), Anselm, and S. Thomas (ii. ii. qu. 175, art. 5) say that he did, and their opinion is probable; for he was for this purpose caught up into paradise, or the place where the Blessed see God. Again, he heard secret things of which it is not lawful for man to speak: but men may speak of everything except the Divine Essence.
It may be objected that in that case he ought to have said that he saw things, not heard words. I reply that, by a common Hebraism, “to hear words” means “to see things” (Theodoret); as, e.g., with the prophets vision and hearing are the same, so is it in the minds of the Blessed.
But the contrary seems more probable (1.) For even with a separated soul, to hear does not mean to behold a thing clearly, but to take in the words of God, or of an angel, or of man; otherwise he would have said without ambiguity, I saw ineffable things, even God Himself. (2.) S. Paul says, in 1 Tim 6:16, speaking of God, “Whom no man hath seen.” (3.) If he saw God he must have seen also his own state, whether he was in the body or not. But he says that he did not. (4.) But he gives a scanty account of his visions here, and says that, out of humility, he passes over greater things. Cf. Gregory (Morals, lib. xviii. c. 5), Jerome, Cyril, Chrysostom, and the Fathers and Schoolmen in general, and also Lud. Molina (pt. i. qu. xii. art. 11, dips 2). (5.) Scripture says more plainly of Moses that he saw the Essence of God, and yet I have shown clearly enough, in the notes to Exodus 33., that Moses did not seek to see the Essence of God, and would not have obtained such a request if he had made it. In Ex 33:20 the Lord distinctly replies to him in the negative: “Thou canst not see My face, for no man shall see Me and live.” It was only conceded to him that he should see the back parts of God, that is, the back of the body assumed by the Angel who represented God. Moses, however, sought that God, or the angel, who behind a cloud stood in the place of God, and spoke with him from the cloud, should unfold Himself, that he might see Him clearly and converse with Him face to face. The angel answered him that the eyes of man cannot see His face, but only His back; because the face assumed by the angel was so shining and so gloriously bright and majestic that it shone to a certain extent with the glory of God. It surpassed, therefore, the splendour of the sun, which man cannot look on directly with unveiled eyes, nay, rather man is blinded by the splendour. If follows from this that much less could this far more splendid face of the angel be seen by Moses; nay, he would have been blinded by it. But in the back of the body that the angel had assumed the light was so toned down that Moses could look upon it. Moses looking upon this was so covered as it were with light that his face shone, and seemed to emit two horns of rays of light. This vision of Moses was a bodily vision, for with the eyes of his body he saw the back of the angel’s body. He was, therefore, far from seeing the Divine Essence; and if he did not see it, much less did S. Paul, who speaks more obscurely and more humbly of his vision.
And heard secret words which it is not granted to man to utter. What were these mysteries that Paul heard or saw in paradise? They are related indeed in the book which is styled “the Apocalypse of S. Paul,” but this book is not genuine, and is full of mythical stories, and is scouted by S. Augustine (Tract. 98 in Johan.), Bede, Theophylact. Epiphanius attributes it to the sect of Cainites. I should reply that no certain answer can be given where Paul kept silence. Still it is natural to suppose that Paul saw and heard wonderful things of the nature, gifts, grace, glory, and orders of the angels, as S. Gregory says (in Ezech., Hom. 4). Hence S. Dionysius, in his “Celestial Hierarchy,” so describes the orders of the angels from what he heard from S. Paul, that you might think he saw them with his eyes. Again, he may have heard wondrous things about some Divine attributes not known to us here; he may have seen too the glory of Christ, for he was taught the Gospel by Christ (Gal 1:12). He was caught up that he might receive authority, and not be inferior to the other Apostles, who had seen Christ in the flesh and been taught thoroughly by Him (Chrysostom). Theodoret adds that he saw the beauty of paradise, the choirs and joys of the Saints, and heard the tuneful harmony of the heavenly hymns. This caused his exclamation of admiration: “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”
Secondly, it is better to suppose that he heard the mysteries of the reason, mode, and order of the Divine reprobation and predestination, and the call of men, especially of the heathen provinces to be converted by himself. Of this mystery Paul frequently expresses his admiration, as in Rom 11:33, and it had special reference to his mission (Baronius).
Thirdly, he may have heard mysteries concerning the Gospel of our redemption by Christ; for he says (Gal 1:12) that he had received this Gospel by revelation, viz., when he was caught up. Lastly, he heard, as it might seem, mysteries of the government and progress of the Church in his time and afterwards. This, too, would affect his office, as he had already been singled out as the Church’s teacher and guide. He calls them “unspeakable words,” both because he was forbidden to utter them, and also because we are unable either to speak of them or to understand them.
2Co 12:5 For such an one I will glory: but for myself I will glory nothing but in my infirmities.
For such an one I will glory: but for myself I will glory nothing. He speaks of himself when caught up and in his ordinary state as two different persons, so as not to be thought vain-glorious (Œcumenius).
But in my infirmities. My calamities, my sufferings. By a common Hebrew metonymy “infirmity” is here put for “grief.” They are related as cause and effect or effect and cause. Cf. ver. 9; Mic 4:10. In Isa 53:3, we read of Christ that He should be “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity” (Vulg.). Cf. also Ps 16:4 (Vulg.)
2Co 12:6 For though I should have a mind to glory, I shall not be foolish: for I will say the truth. But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me, or any thing he heareth from me.
But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me. Lest he should think me an angel or some god, as the Lycaonians did (Acts 14:10). He could have related more wonderful things about himself, but modesty and humility cause him to conceal them. “All the Saints,” says Anselm, “not only do not seek at all for glory above their measure, but they even shrink from that which they have merited.” S. Bernard says beautifully (Ep. 18 ad Pet.): “We praise others hypocritically, and delight in vanity ourselves; and thus they who are praised are vain, and those who praise are false. Some flatter and are crafty; others praise as they think and are false; others glory in the words of both and are vain. He alone is wise who says with the Apostle, ‘I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.'”
2Co 12:7 And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me.
And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me. From this it appears that Paul, as the heavenly teacher of the world, had many great revelations, and was accustomed to them, and, as it were, at home among them. Some of these are narrated by S. Luke. Cf. Acts 9:3; Acts 18:9; Acts 22:17; Acts 27:23. S. Augustine (Enarr. in Ps. lxxviii. 69, Vulg.), on the words, “Benjamin in the excess of his mind,” understands S. Paul to be referred to as being of the tribe of Benjamin.
There was given me a sting in the flesh. Not by the devil, but by God. Not that God is the author of temptation, but He allowed the devil, who was ready beforehand, to tempt Paul, and that only in appearance, and in the matter of lust to humble him. Cf. Augustine (de Nat. et Grat. c. 21). “This monitor,” says Jerome (Ep. 25 ad Paulam, on the death of Blesilla), “was given to Paul to repress pride, just as in the car of the victor, as he enjoys his triumph, there stands a monitor whispering to him, ‘Recollect that you are a man.'” So, too, at the installation of a Pontiff, tow is lighted and extinguished, while the words are sung: “Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world.” Hence the best preservative against the temptations of the flesh is humility. If you are rooted and grounded so deeply in that as God exalts you by His gifts and graces, there will be no need for Him to apply this thorn to keep you humble. Cf. Rom 1:24, note.
What was this thorn, and how did it buffet S. Paul? How was it a messenger of Satan? Augustine (de Nat. et Grat. c.16) replies that he does not know what it was. But two things are certain: (1.) that he was vexed by Satan, and (2.) that this vexation was like a thorn fixed in his flesh, and continually paining him.
But it is not certain what its particular nature was. Anselm, Bede, Sedulius, and Jerome (in Gal. iv. 13) think it was bodily illness, as constant headache (S. Jerome), or colic (S. Thomas), or costiveness, or gout (Nicetas, commenting on Orat. 30 of S. Gregory Nazianzen), or some internal disorder. S. Basil (in Reg. cap. ult.) and S. Augustine (in Ps. cxxxi.) think that this goad was some disease sent upon Paul, just as on job, by the devil. The Apostle, however, nowhere else complains of any diseases. Moreover, they would have been a great hindrance to him in the preaching of the Gospel.
Secondly, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Theodoret, Œcumenius, Ambrose, Erasmus think that this thorn refers to the persecutions Paul endured from his adversaries, and of which he speaks in ver. 10. But these were external goads, not thorns in the flesh, and of these he is wont to boast, not complain.
Thirdly, others, with more probability, think that this thorn in the flesh consisted in blows and beatings, often given to Paul by Satan, as to Antony and others, so that pain remained in his body, as a thorn, from the blows he had received. This is the literal meaning of the words used no doubt; but if this be so, Paul would surely have said more plainly: “There was given me the messenger of Satan to buffet me.” Nor would the generous mind of S. Paul have complained of this: he was but raised higher by the attacks of devils and men, and found in them matter for glorying.
Secondly, it is proved, from Rom. vii., that this concupiscence was in S. Paul, for there he bewails it more than he does here. Hence, too, as he said (1 Cor 9:27), he was in the habit of castigating his body.
Thirdly, had it been anything else he would have said so clearly; but as it is, modesty and shame bid him conceal it, and call it metaphorically a thorn.
Fourthly, this thorn was given him to humiliate him. But nothing so humiliates those who are chaste and lovers of virtue, as this temptation of the flesh, and nothing is so great a check on them, and makes them so work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Through the frailty of their flesh they are always in fear of lapsing in the midst of temptations so dangerous and well calculated to make them yield consent. And, therefore, they rather glory in illness, blows, persecutions, and other evils, especially if, like S. Paul, they suffer for Christ and His faith.
Fifthly, these temptations of the flesh, properly speaking, do not hurt the Saints, but buffet them, that is strike them with shame and sorrow. A man, when struck by his friend, is suffused with shame rather than overcome with pain.
Sixthly, Paul prays repeatedly and earnestly to be set free from this thorn; in other things he would have sought not liberation, but fortitude and constancy. But concupiscence is overcome, not so much by courageous endurance as by instant flight. He asks, therefore, to be set free from it, and hears, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” It is this grace which in this case is especially necessary, and should be always sought for by those that are tempted, that they may resist and overcome this civil foe lurking within and always striving to stir up war.
Lastly, this is the opinion of S. Augustine (Enarr. 2 in Ps. lix.), S. Jerome (ad Eustoch. de Custod. Virgin.), Salvianus (Serm. de Circumcis., wrongly attributed to Cyprian), Haymo, Theophylact, Anselm, Bede, S. Thomas, Lyranus, and others. It seems, too, the common belief of the faithful, who from this passage speak of the temptation of lust as a thorn in the flesh. The voice of the people is the voice of God.
But, what Cardinal Hugo adds, viz., that this temptation found a place in Paul, owing to his familiar converse with a beautiful virgin, S. Thecla, whom he had baptized, and afterwards kept with him in his journeyings, is false, and merely conjecture. Paul took no woman about with him, as he says in 1 Cor 9:5. And even if he had, he would have been bound, under penalty of incurring guilt, to send her away if he found her to be an occasion of so much troublous temptation. Moreover, what need would there have been for S. Paul to pray to God so instantly that this thorn might be taken from him, when he might easily have got rid of it himself? Add to this that this story is taken from a book entitled, “The journeys of Paul and Thecla,” which is rejected as apocryphal by S. Jerome, Tertullian, and Gelasius.
Erasmus and Faber object to this, firstly, that the thorn of lust was unbecoming and unworthy of so great an Apostle, and he now an old man. I answer that in our lapsed state it is not only not unworthy, but is also beneficial. See S. Gregory (Moral. lib. xix., c. 5 and 6) and Anselm, who point out how useful it is to the Elect to be now caught up into ecstasy, and now depressed by weakness, so that they may never be puffed up with pride or cast down into despair, but may always keep the narrow way that lies midway between the two, and which leads to heaven. Rom_7:23 shows that this concupiscence existed in S. Paul, and experience tells us that it has been, and now is, in the Saints, even when they are old men. S. Gregory Nazianzen, for instance, often complains of the evils of his flesh, as in Ep. 96, and in his hymn on his flesh and the burden of his soul. Moreover, Paul was not an old man, for he was a young man when converted—perhaps twenty-five or twenty-seven (Act_7:58). This Epistle was written twenty-two years after his conversion, when he would, therefore, be about fifty years old.
Secondly, the objection is raised that the Apostle immediately adds. “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities.” But we may not glory in concupiscence, and therefore he must mean some other infirmity and thorn. To this I reply that the Apostle is not referring in these words to the thorn in the flesh that he had just mentioned, but also, and more properly, to all the sufferings that he had borne for the faith, and which he had recounted in the last chapter. In them, he says, he glories always. He uses the word infirmity in its widest meaning, and plays on it, as I will point out at ver. 10. Moreover, it is lawful to glory in this temptation of the flesh, not in itself, so far as it excites to evil, but as it is an affliction put upon us by the devil, and as in it the strength of Christ is made perfect. In this way Julius Cæsar used to glory, and desire most powerful foes, that he might show against them his power and warlike courage. So, too, many Saints have prayed to God, and asked to have temptations, and have gloried in them. Hence, S. James says (1:2): “My brethren, count it all joy ,when ye fall into divers temptations.” Cf. also S. James 1:12.
Morally, it should be observed that temptation is not to the righteous a cause of falling, but a spur to virtue. For, as high-spirited horses, when urged by the spur, quicken their pace, and show their spirit more, so are Saints spurred on by temptation to walk more diligently in virtue, lest they give way and perish. Hence, some of the Saints of great earnestness were not saddened, but gladdened, by temptations. In the “Lives of the Fathers” (lib. iii. c. 8) we read of an aged man who, on seeing one of his disciples grievously tempted to commit fornication, said to him: “If you wish it, my son, I will pray the Lord to remove this attack from you.” The disciple replied: “I see, my father, that I am undergoing a laborious task, yet I feel that it will bring forth in me good fruit; because, through this temptation I fast the more, and spend more time in vigils and prayers. But I beseech you to pray God of His mercy to give me strength, that I may be able to bear it, and fight lawfully.” Then the old man rejoined: “Now I perceive, my son, that you faithfully understand that this spiritual struggle may, through patience, help on your soul towards eternal salvation. For so said the Apostle, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.'”
Fourthly, others think, therefore, that this thorn in the flesh was the motions of concupiscence and the temptations of lust. This concupiscence, like a thorn or a dart, is so deeply fixed in the flesh that while life lasts it cannot be taken out. Hence it is called in Greek, σκόλοψ, a stake, a sharpened stick, a thorn, a javelin, or sting.
It may be asked: “Why, then, does he call this thorn ‘the messenger of Satan,’ or the minister of Lucifer?” I reply that he means by the messenger of Satan, Satan himself, as the exciting cause of this thorn of concupiscence; or even he calls the thorn sent by Satan, the adversary of his chastity, by the name of Satan. This would be a metonymy, where the cause is put for the effect, the agent for his work. For the devil, by stirring up the humours, by kindling the blood, by inflaming the feelings that subserve generation, by putting foul images before S. Paul’s mind, gave life to that concupiscence which had been as it were put to sleep, and mortified by his numerous labours, fastings, and troubles. Thus he stirred up S. Paul to obey the foul motions of lust.
S. Dorotheus relates of a certain holy monk that he grieved at being freed from temptation, and exclaimed: “Am I not then worthy, 0 Lord, of suffering, and being a little afflicted for Thy love?” Climacus (Grad. 29) relates of S. Ephrem, that seeing himself possessed of deep peace and tranquillity, which he himself calls impassibility, and an earthly heaven, he besought God to restore to him his former temptations and struggles, so that he might not lose the material for meriting and adding to his crown. Palladius relates that Abbot Pastor, on some one saying to him, “I have prayed to God, and He has set me free from all temptation,” replied “Pray God to restore you your temptations, lest you become slothful and careless.”
2Co 12:8 For which thing, thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me.
Three is the number symbolic of multitude and universality. The answer meant that though he was weak in himself, yet in God he might be strong enough to overcome this temptation. It, hence appears that Paul was not heard, and was not freed from his thorn. S. Augustine gives the reason (Enarr. in Ps. cxxxi.). He says: “As when some disagreeable medicine is brought to one that is sick, and he asks the physician to take it away; whereupon the physician comforts him and urges him to have patience, because he knows that the medicine is good for him, so does God here deal with Paul.” As a physician from vipers’ flesh makes a conserve against vipers’ poison, so does God, out of our weakness, form a medicine against weakness, and makes one lust of the flesh a remedy against another, as, e.g., this thorn of the flesh was a preservative against pride.
2Co 12:9 And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
For power is made perfect in infirmities. This is a general proposition, a moral axiom applying to any weakness, but properly and primarily to that thorn of concupiscence just mentioned. These are the words of God in answer to the prayers of S. Paul. The greater the temptation of the flesh is, the greater is the strength supplied by Christ. This explains the paradox that follows: “When I am weak then am I strong.”
The strength is both Paul’s and God’s—Paul’s as the receiver, God’s as the Giver. Therefore, the Divine power is best manifested in weakness when, (1.) in those that are weak it works fortitude, patience, and other superhuman works. (2.) When he by whom anything is done, conscious of his own weakness, claims nothing for himself, but gives all the praise to God. Observe here the difference between the power of God and the power of the world. One is seen in force and violence, the other in endurance. (3.) Infirmity is the object of patience, fortitude, and temperance, in the same way that those who are infirm are more sober when they are ill. (4.) Infirm people keep the most careful watch over themselves, and prudently refuse whatever is noxious, and so become more self-controlled by habit (S. Thomas). Certainly, virtue feeds on opposition, and, therefore, by temptation, chastity becomes constant, and every virtue more robust, as we see in the lives of Joseph, Susannah, Paul, and others. (5.) S. Augustine says mystically (de Gratia Christ. c. 12), as does Anselm: “Fortitude is a true knowledge and humble confession of our infirmity.” And S. Jerome says, writing, to Ctesiphon: “The one perfection to be found in this life is to recognise our imperfection.” By this you learn not to trust to your own strength, but to cast yourself wholly with perfect confidence on the power of God, who strengthens the humble and those that hope in Him, and makes them as it were almighty, as S. Bernard says (Serm. 85 in Cantic.), able to pass unscathed through all temptations, labours, and dangers.
S. Augustine gives us an instance of this in his own life (cf. lib. viii. c. 11). He says. “When habit that seemed to me irresistible said to me, ‘Can you live without them?'” (the concubines that he had been accustomed to have), “there appeared to me in the direction to which I had turned my face, while shrinking from setting out that way, the pure dignity of continence, with dignified mien, inviting me to come without hesitation, holding out, to welcome and embrace me, holy hands filled with hosts of good examples. There were multitudes of boys and girls, and many a youth; all ages were there, sober widows and aged virgins. She smiled encouragingly upon me, as much as to say, ‘Can you not do what these men and women have done? They did it not in their own strength, but in the Lord their God. He gave me to them. Why do you stand in yourself and fall? Cast yourself upon Him; fear not. He will not withdraw and cause you to fall. Boldly trust yourself to Him . He will receive you and will heal you.'”
Lastly, virtue is made perfect in weakness, because, as S. Bernard (Ep. 254) says, in a robust and vigorous body the mind lies effeminate and lukewarm, and again in a weak and sickly body the spirit grows stronger and more vigilant. As one to whom nature has denied strength excels in intellect, so where God withholds health He gives robustness and vigour of mind, so that the mind afflicted with a feeble body sighs after its resurrection and after heaven; spurns whatever is transient, troubled, and exposed to decay; lives for the future life, not the present; thinks with Plato that this life is death’s mediator; in short, gives itself wholly to God and heavenly things. “The mind that is allied to disease is close to God,” says Nazianzen. Listen to what a famous old man said to one of his disciples who enjoyed bad health (Vita. Patrum, lib. iii. n. 157). “Be not sad, my son, at your sickness and bodily ills. It is the highest duty of religion to give God thanks in weakness. If you are iron you lose your rust by fire; if you are gold you are tried by the fire and, proceed from great to greater. Be not distressed, then, my brother. If God wishes you to be tormented in the body, who are you that you should be angry with Him? Bear up then, and ask Him to give you what He sees fit.”
S. Theophanes, Abbot of Sigrianum, a man who never had good health, A.D. 816, gave the following answer to the iconoclastic emperor, Leo the Armenian, who threatened him with dreadful tortures if he did not condemn the veneration of images: “If you hope to terrify me with your threatenings, a man already worn out with disease and old age, as teachers threaten with a beating boys of no generous spirit, then let the pyre be kindled, let the instruments of torture be got ready, together with every engine of malicious cruelty, that you may know most clearly that the strength of Christ is made perfect in my weaknesses. I, who cannot walk on the ground, shall find my weakness changed into strength, and will leap upon the fire.” And he was as good as his word; for after many temptations he was shut up in prison, and all access to him was forbidden; and so, being gradually weakened by hunger, filth, and disease, he offered up his soul in two years’ time to God, as a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and after his death became illustrious for his miracles. The Church commemorates him on March 12th Cf. Baronius (Annals, A.D. 816). Cf. also S. Thomas and S. Chrysostom (Hom. 26), on the benefit of infirmities and tribulations.
Lastly, S. Bernard (Tract. de Grad. Humil.) says: “‘Virtue is made perfect in weakness.’ What virtue? Let the Apostle tell us: ‘Gladly will I glory in my infirmities, that the virtue of Christ may rest upon me.’ But perhaps you do not yet understand what special virtue he meant, since Christ had all virtues. But though all were found in Him, yet one in particular shone above all, viz., humility. This He commended to us in the words, ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.’ Gladly, then, 0 Lord Jesu, will I glory if I can in my infirmity, in my bodies illness, that Thy virtue, humility, may be made perfect in me; for when any virtue fails, Thy grace avails.”
Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Humility makes him glory not in his strength but in his infirmity; and so he calls upon Christ to give him strength, and tacitly says that he throws himself upon Him. Hence, by infirmity he means every kind of suffering, tribulation, temptation, humiliation, as is explained in the next verse. Infirmity, then, is a generic term, including anything that causes pain to mind or body. Hence (1.) it may embrace sicknesses, which, S. Basil says, formed Paul’s thorn in the flesh; (2.) labours, such as are described in the preceding chapter; (3.) temptations of the flesh (ver. 7), or any other temptations; (4.) watchings, fastings, and other acts of mortification of the body, by which the body is weakened and made subject to the spirit; (5.) insults, persecutions, dangers, blows, and all afflictions borne for the sake of the faith of the Gospel.
Let them that are infirm console themselves amidst their infirmities by the thought that the power of Christ tabernacles in them as in its proper home. The power of God shows itself most where there is most need for it, and gives the greatest help when necessity is greatest. “To Thee,” says the prophet “the poor is left: Thou wilt be a helper of the fatherless.” For although naturally “bodily weakness involves also mental,” as S. Jerome says (Pref. lib. ii. Comment. in Amos), and “the body which is corrupted weighs down the soul” (Wis 9:15), yet supernaturally it is otherwise; for the soul that is strengthened with grace strengthens also the body. S. Francis, for instance, increased in mental vigour as his body grew more feeble, so much so that in giving thanks to God he prayed that his sicknesses might be increased a hundredfold. “To fulfil Thy will, 0 Lord,” he said, “is my exceeding comfort.” See his Life by S. Bonaventura.
S. Bernard (Serm. 34 in Cantic.) says: “He does not say that he bears his infirmities patiently, but that he glories in them, and glories in them most gladly, proving that it was good for him to be humbled; for God loveth a cheerful giver. Humility alone which is joyous and unconstrained merits the grace which it receives.” Again, in Sermon 25, he says: “We should wish for infirmity, which is supplemented by the power of Christ. Would that I might be not only weak, but destitute, and wholly wanting in anything of my own, that I might be strengthened by the might of the Lord of might; for strength is made perfect in weakness. And since this is the case, the bride beautifully turns it to her glory that she is held up to scorn by her rivals, and she glories, not only that she is comely but also that she is black. She thinks nothing more glorious than to bear the reproach of Christ. The ignominy of the Cross is pleasing to him who is not unpleasing to the Crucified.”