i. In this and the two next chapters Paul defends his apostleship against the false apostles, who held him up to contempt as vile and despicable, and accused him of over-harshness, audacity, and insolence. Paul here points out that his arms are not carnal but spiritual, and therefore all the more powerful, because it is theirs to cast down all the strongholds, counsels, and wisdom of the world, as well as to inflict punishment on all disobedience.
ii. He contrasts (ver. 12) the boast of the false apostles of the provinces traversed and converted by them with the actual journeyings and conversions wrought by himself.
Observe that these false apostles envied the glory of Paul, and wished to destroy it by their own eloquence, boasting, and calumnies. It appears, from xi. 22, that they were Jews, and were greedy of gain and glory, braggarts, and self-assertive. Fro m xi. 4 it also appears that they preached Christ in appearance, but were endeavouring to gradually subvert the Gospel by Judaism and its errors (xi. 3; xii. 13). Of this class were Cerinthus, Ebion, and other Judaisers, who bitterly persecuted S. Paul as an apostate from their law. 1 Cor. xv. was an exposition of the resurrection against the teaching of Cerinthus.
Ver. 1.—Now I Paul myself beseech you. Hitherto I have pleaded the cause of others, the poor; now I am going to speak for myself. I beseech you to observe my admonitions and the precepts which, as your Apostle, I have given you concerning a true Christian life.
By the gentleness of Christ.He beseeches them, says Theophylact, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, that reverencing them they may lovingly hear, receive, and obey the entreaty of Paul. In the second place, he does it to signify that he imitates the meekness of Christ, not His severity. I do not order you, he seems to say, although by virtue of my apostleship I might, but I beseech you by the gentleness of Christ, which I imitate and ever keep before me. For Christ in rebuking, teaching, and guiding men, showed wondrous patience, kindness, and gentleness, as when He received into grace Matthew, the Magdalene, and other sinners, and most lovingly forgave them all their guilt and punishment without harsh words or blows.
In presence am base among you.When I am with you, I seem in outward appearance mean and base (cf. ver. 10); but when away from you, I am bold and confident. He speaks ironically; for, as the next verse tells us, the false apostles, who held him up to execration, used to say: “Why do you make so much of Paul? He is a base and worthless fellow. Apollos and others have far more grace and eloquence; there is no comparison between them. By the side of them he is ignorant and unpolished. Why, then, does he take upon himself, why does he presume, when away from you, to send you such threatening letters, rebuking you, ordering, scolding, excommunicating you?” S. Paul imitates the false apostles, and repeats their words, as much as to say. “I am not the domineering, insolent, severe, threatening man, when absent, that my detractors make me, but I beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” Cf. vers. 9, 10 (Chrysostom).
Ver. 2.—But I beseech you that I may not be bold. I beseech you to lovingly receive my admonitions, lest when I come to you and see your disobedience, rebellion, and contumacy, I use my boldness and power to inflict excommunication and other spiritual. punishment, which I am thought to have already inflicted arbitrarily (Anselm). The Latin version reads the passive, I am thought, but Theophylact takes it actively—I think, I propose to boldly punish some evil-disposed persons.
Which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.As though we lived a carnal life, or better, as though we used carnal means, such as fleshly, human, and political wisdom, in doing by letter what I dare not do in person.
The Apostle says that they walk, fight, and glory according to the flesh, who, after the manner of carnal and, crafty men, walk and boast in outward gifts, such as birth, prudence, eloquence, good looks, sagacity, and by means of these seek to gain the applause of men, and so win them to their side and overthrow their enemies. That this is his meaning is evident from the contrast drawn between these arms and spiritual arms in ver. 4. So, in xi. 18, he says that the false apostles boast according to the flesh, i.e., of external gifts. In v. 15, 16, again, he says that he knows no one, not even Christ, according to the flesh. In 2 Cor. i., he contrasts the natural and carnal wisdom of philosophers and orators with the spiritual wisdom of Christians, and especially of Apostles. Cf. also Gal. iii. 3.
Ver. 4.—For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Carnal weapons are such as serve for carnal and bodily warfare and life, as the honours, pleasures, and power of this world. This the Apostles did not use in their task of subduing the world to Christ. Or rather, as said above, carnal weapons are human arts, sciences, reasonings, systems, eloquence, flatteries, boasting, hypocrisies, affected gravity and prudence, all of which are used by men of the world to gain influence and respect; while true and solid authority, such as Paul and the other Apostles had, is the gift of God, and is not to be obtained by external gifts or by assumed gravity, but rather by the display of virtue, wisdom, and holiness.
But mighty through God.Or, are the power of God. Through them God works powerfully in the minds of the hearers—converts them to the faith, makes them accept our preaching, brings them under subjection to Christ, so that we gain credence to what we say, and obtain what we want. These weapons are, says Anselm, (1.) Vehement spiritual zeal; (2.) Efficacious preaching, through God seeming to lend weight and force to our words; (3.) Wisdom; (4.) Courtesy; (S.) Holiness; (6.) Miracles; (7.) Frequent prayer; (8.) Purity of intention; (9.) Patience; (10.) Charity. When they see us men of the most blameless life, seeking not their wealth or honours, but their salvation only, and that by many labours, sacrifices, afflictions, daily death and martyrdom, and preaching to them with such zeal and ardour that all acknowledge Christ, and glorify Him and His Father—by all these things, as though by a most powerful dart, they are struck and wounded in their consciences, they yield, and believe our words and our doctrines. By these weapons do we Apostles destroy the vices and storm the kingdom of the devil, even the whole world. Hence apostleship and preaching of the Gospel are rightly called a warfare. Cf. 1 Tim. i. 18.
To the pulling down of strong holds.All reasonings, syllogisms, sophisms, eloquence, philosophic virtues, worldly power, grace, friendship, and all that the Gentiles and devils opposed to the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles (Chrysostom and Anselm).
Ver. 5.—Casting down imaginations. Or, with Theophylact reasonings. The Syriac and Erasmus give imaginations; the Latin version, counsels. By our weapons we destroy all the counsels of the prudent of this world, by which they strive to overthrow the Gospel, to strengthen against it their heathenism, and to put their philosophers before Christ and us.
And every high thing.Every height, both of human and philosophic wisdom, as well as of diabolic magic, such as of Simon Magus and others, and of royal and imperial power. Imaginations and heights were the two towers set up by the Gentiles against the Apostles, one of which seemed impregnable through its intricate wiles, and the other by its height and strength. Yet both yielded to the weapons of the Apostles.
That exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.That knowledge of God given to us by Christ, and which we, His Apostles, teach throughout the world; faith, that is, in the Three in One, in the Son of God, in His Incarnation and death, in the Cross and its Redemption.
And bringing into captivity.Every thought, every intellect, however full of resources, however exalted in wisdom, must surrender as a conquered foe, and obey the Gospel of Christ.
When S. Paul says “every thought” or “every intellect” he does not mean to imply that all the philosophers and mighty men of the world who heard the Gospel preached were converted, but that the weapons of the Apostles were so powerful that they were able to subdue to the faith of Christ any thoughts and reasonings of the human intellect, however full of wiles, however highly exalted. As a matter of fact, they did subdue these powers in those who took these weapons, and admitted them into their soul, and so were converted. Many of all classes of philosophers and orators, illustrious for their learning and wisdom, were subdued by the weapons of the Apostles, and brought to believe in Christ. Such were Dionysius the Areopagite, Clement of Rome, Paul the proconsul, Justin the philosopher, Athenagoras, and others.
Ver. 6.—And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience. Paul had said that his weapons were powerful to subdue any Gentiles or heathen wise men. He now goes on to say that this same power is able to punish all disobedience on the part of the faithful, or amongst heretics. I am ready, he says, and it is easy for me, to punish the disobedience of the false Apostles who depreciate me, by excommunicating them.
When your obedience is fulfilled.For I am unwilling to involve you in the same punishment. I would rather that you yourselves correct what needs correction and I am waiting until you fulfil what you have been ordered. Then when you have done that, I will unsheathe the sword of excommunication against those contumacious detractors. From this doctors lay down that this sword should not be drawn except against the disobedient, and those who, after having been warned, are still rebellious and obstinate.
Ver. 7.—Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? The Latin version takes this in the indicative. Ye see how openly and manifestly the truth has been set before your eyes, that I am not only a disciple of Christ, but also an Apostle endowed with such spiritual power as you see with your own eyes (Anselm).
Ver. 8.—Of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification. The Council of Trent (sess. xxv. c. 3) lays down from these words that the sword of excommunication should be soberly and cautiously drawn for edification; otherwise we see that it is rather despised than dreaded, and produces ruin rather than salvation, not only to the excommunicated, but also to the whole Church.
Ver. 10.—For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful. My detractors, the false apostles, say that my letters are hard and bitter, severe and threatening, but my appearance is mean, contemptible, and puny. Nicephorus (lib. ii. c. 37) thus describes the stature and form of S. Paul from tradition and early representations. “Paul was small of stature, spare in form, round-shouldered, and somewhat inclined to stoop. His face was pale, and showed the marks of years. His head was small, and his eyes shone with a pleasant light. He had bushy eyebrows, a nose beautifully curved and somewhat long, and a thick and long beard, which, like his hair, was plentifully interspersed with white.” S. Chrysostom (Hom. de Princip. Apost.) says that “Paul was but three cubits high, and yet he touched the heavens.” Lucian again, in his Philopater, laughs at Paul for having a head bald in front.
And his speech contemptible.Unlearned, inelegant, unadorned. Cf. 1 Cor. ii. 1, 2.
Ver. 12.—For we dare not make ourselves of the number. I do not, like the false Apostles, boast of what I do not possess. I measure myself by my own foot, by the gifts of God, and by the things God’s grace has done for me, says Photius, and so I do not arrogate to myself more than God has given me.
Paul speaks ironically. The false Apostles were in the habit of disparaging Paul’s words and deeds, as though in him there was nothing great but his letters, which were high-flown enough, but were not borne out by his presence, than which nothing was more despicable. They would boast that in this they far excelled him. Therefore, says Paul, in scorn of their pride, I, a mere dwarf, do not dare to class myself with these giants, or to compare myself with them. None the less their boast of their greatness is baseless; while whatever I declare is true, and I measure myself by my own greatness, the grace I have received, and the things that I have really done.
The Latin version omits the last clause, “are not wise.” The Syriac, Vatablus and others apply it to the false apostles, not to Paul. They commend themselves, but they do not see that they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves among themselves. They do foolishly in thus exalting themselves and making themselves giants. They act like a man who should measure his height by himself, instead of by a yard-measure, like a pigmy who boasts of his gigantic size; they have no other cause for their boasting than their self-delusion. Photius supplies after “they do not understand,” that they are ridiculous to all, or, as S. Augustine says, in Ps. xxxv., they do not understand what they say and what they boast of.
Ver. 13.—But we will not boast of things without our measure. This is the second charge brought by S. Paul against the false Apostles. They boast so largely that one would think they have preached the Gospel in every part of the world (Theophylact). I, however, boast not falsely, or beyond my measure; I measure myself by the true measure of the gifts and provinces that God has marked out for me. This measure reaches from Judæa through the intervening countries to Corinth. Just as kings glory in having extended their realms far and wide, so do I, as a doctor sent by Christ, glory in having extended His sway, and I hope to extend it still further.
Rulehere denotes the measuring-line used by surveyors to fix the boundaries of fields and other grounds (cf. ver. 16). Measure denotes (1.) that by which anything is measured, as a yard-measure or a foot-measure; (2.) it denotes the quantity of the measuring-line; and (3.) the act of measuring; (4.) it stands for the thing measured, a bushel of wheat or an acre of land; i.e., corn to the amount of a bushel, land to the amount of an acre. In any of these last three senses the word may be used here, but best of all in the second.
Ver. 14.—For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure. This is his third scornful charge against the false apostles. They stretch out themselves and more than that by their boastful words, but let us see what good as a matter of fact they do. Whom have they converted? What cities or countries have they visited? They have never left their own home. Did they bring you into the Church? Ye are not their work, but mine in the Lord. It is I who have taken you and subdued you: you are my lot, the possession assigned me by the Lord. I can triumph over you and other provinces reaching to Judæa that I have subdued. And just as P. Scipio was called Africanus, and L. Scipio, Asiaticus, from the provinces they conquered, so might S. Paul have the agnomen of Corinthiacus, Achaicus, Macedonicus, Thracicus, Asiaticus, &c.
Ver. 15.—Without our measure. The provinces not assigned us by God. This is again a blow aimed at the false apostles, who were in the habit of boasting, groundlessly of the many regions they had visited and converted.
Not boasting . . . of other men’s labours.A fourth charge against the false apostles, who had entered into his labours at Corinth, where he had laid the foundations of the faith (Chrysostom). Doctors remark that heretics never go to unbelievers from zeal for the Gospel and for martyrdom, and convert them first of all to Christianity, but content themselves with endeavouring to attract the faithful. It may be said: Surely the Emperor Valens, when the Goths were anxious to be converted to Christianity, sent Arian Bishops, who made them Arians (Freculphus, lib. iv. c. 20). I reply. This is true; but the Arians did not themselves take the initiative and go to the barbarous Goths from zeal for the faith, to plant among them the true faith, after the Apostolic manner, in hunger, thirst, persecutions, and deaths. The Goths invited them, and Valens consented. There is no difficulty in instilling poison into those who wish for it. Moreover, most of the Goths had previously been of the orthodox faith; but Ulphilas their Apostle, having been deceived by the Arians, deceived them in his turn and made them Arians, as Theodoret expressly says (Hist. lib. iv. cap. ult. ).
But having hope when your faith is increased.I hope that when your faith is increased you will have no need of me; then I shall be able to go on to other nations to preach the Gospel (Chrysostom).
That we shall be enlarged by you. Or magnified in you. (1.) I hope that in those more distant regions I shall preach and bring back great glory. The teacher, says Theophylact, is magnified when his disciples grow in wisdom. (2.) It is better to refer the words magnified in you to what follows—according to our rule abundantly. I hope, as you increase in the faith, to be magnified through you according to our rule, i.e., to extend our rule, the bounds of my apostolate, to the regions beyond you, so that they, seeing your faith, holiness, and grace, may be provoked by your example, and eagerly await me and receive the Gospel.
As the Holy Land was divided by lot among the twelve tribes by fixed boundaries (Ps. lxxviii. 54), so was the whole earth divided as by a measuring-line among their antitypes, the twelve Apostles, that they might bring it under subjection to Christ. Thomas, e.g., evangelised India; Andrew, Achaia; John, Asia.
Abundantly.That my lot may be increased and spread further and further. I have not yet fixed any certain bounds to my province, nor has God, but I am always looking for and striving after its extension.
Ver. 16.—Not to boast in another man’s line. I do not meddle with the bounds, the provinces, and districts measured out and assigned, or occupied by other Apostles, so as to enter into things got ready by others, and to boast of other men’s labours as if they were mine. He calls “made ready to his hand” those regions which had already received the Gospel from others; he refuses to seize upon the tilled fields of others, but rather chooses to be the first to plant the faith in any place he goes to. Cf. Rom. xv. 20.
The Greek κανώνdenotes the measuring-line of surveyors. Here the Apostle calls all those regions measured out to him, as it were, by God his rule. This “rule” he was daily extending, from his desire to preach everywhere; “as though,” says Chrysostom, “he had come into possession of the earth and a fat inheritance.” “Paul was,” says Theophylact, “like a builder of the world, measuring it by his rule and building accordingly.” The Greek κανών stands also for the builder’s measuring-rod, but seems by S. Paul to be referred rather to the surveyor’s.
Ver. 17.—But he that glorieth let him glory in the Lord. Let him glory in truth as before the Lord. Secondly, and better, to glory in the Lord is to glory with the glory given by the Lord, which alone commends a man, and vouches for him by the wonders which it works through him. This is the genuine meaning, for S. Paul contrasts glorying in one’s self with glorying in the Lord. To glory in self is to commend self; to glory in the Lord is to be commanded by the Lord, and to glory in that commendation. Still it follows from this, thirdly, that he who truly glories should glory not in himself but in the Lord, by referring all that has been received to Him, whose gifts they are, by giving to Him all the glory, and directing everything to His praise and glory (Chrysostom).
By these words the Apostle shows where, when, and in what we should glory, and at the same time clears himself of all charge of ostentation and desire of vain-glory. He says implicitly: These great and fine things I say about myself, not because I wish to glory in myself, but because I wish to give the praise to the Lord, from whom I have received all my glory, and the ground of my glorying. Cf. 1 Cor. i. 31, note.
Learn from this that true praise and glory come from God alone, and far excel all human glory; for, (1.) man’s praise is but small and poor, men being but worms of earth; but God’s glory is, as He is, boundless. (2.) Man’s glory is outward and apparent only—within it is empty and ready to vanish away; but God’s glory is inward and substantial; hence it fills and satisfies the soul. (3.) Man’s glory is untrustworthy, feigned, and hypocritical—many laugh at you behind your back while praising you to your face; but God’s glory is faithful and true. (4.) Man’s glory is unstable, and, like a reed, is shaken by the slightest breath of rumour—they who praise you to-day will rail at you to-morrow; but God’s glory is stable and constant. (5.) Man’s glory is short-lived: mortals to die to-morrow praise you, and your praise will die with them. Where now are the praises of Cæsar, Pompey, Augustus? They have passed away—they are gone like smoke; but the praise of God is eternal. God will praise thee for ever before the angels and blessed ones, because thou didst despise the worlds glory, and sought for that true glory which lasts for ever with God. (6.) Man’s glory is imperfect, maimed, and alloyed; a man is praised by some, blamed by others; as many men as there are, so many opinions and judgments are there. God’s glory is entire and perfect, for whoever God praises is praised also by the inhabitants of heaven. (7.) Man’s glory is erroneous and groundless. Men glorify the high-born, the rich, the powerful, even if they be villains, crime-stained, and tyrants. God’s glory is most true and most certain, for He praises none but those endowed with virtue and true wisdom. Again, men glory in themselves, in their sagacity, virtue, fortitude—all things of naught; and therefore they glory in what is false, in nothing, in what is not. God’s glory is to glory in God, of whom is all good and from whom flow all things to us, and to say, “Not unto us, not unto us, 0 Lord, but unto Thy name give the praise.” (8.) Man’s glory stands in the mouth of them that praise, confers no benefit on thee, impresses on thee no good. Therefore it is not in thee, but in Him that glorifies thee; just as honour is not in him that is honoured, but in him that confers it. But God’s glory is both in God and in thee, for it is efficacious and fruitful. God does not merely beatify thee in thy soul with the light of glory, and in thy body with glorious gifts, but He communicates to the Blessed His own very Divine and uncreated glory, to be possessed and enjoyed. Oh, blind and insensate children of Adam, by nature greedy of praise, created and born to glory! Why do ye not seek after glory instead of its smoke and shadows? Why strive for what is false and fallacious and leave the true? Why seek for glory where it is not? You seek it on earth: it is not there, but in heaven. You seek it among men: it dwells among the angels and before God. You seek it in time: it is found in eternity. Thou, then, 0 Lord, art my glory; Thou art the joy of my heart. In thee will I glory and exalt all the day long. For myself I will glory in nothing save my infirmities. Let Jews, let worldly men seek glory from one another. I will require that which is from God alone. All human glory, all worldly honour, all temporal heights, when compared with Thy eternal glory are but vanity, foolishness, and reproach. 0 my Truth, my Mercy, my Glory, my God, 0 Blessed Trinity, to Thee alone be praise, honour, and glory; to Thee alone be blessing, wisdom, and thanksgiving; to Thee, our God, be honour, virtue, and strength for ever and ever. Amen.
Ver. 18.—For not he that commendeth himself is approved. How is it, then, that Saints have sometimes commended themselves, as, e.g., Hezekiah, in Isa. xxxviii. 3, and S. Paul in the next chapter, and in 2 Tim. iv.? I answer, They do indeed commend themselves, but at the same time they tacitly refer all their praise to God’s grace as its first cause, and say: “By the grace of God I am what I am.” Again, this self-commendation came not from themselves, but was inspired into them by the Holy Spirit, who spoke by their mouth. The Holy Spirit suggested to each writer of the Holy Scriptures what he should write.