Oct 12 2008
What follows is my own rather free translation of the opening of Aquinas’ Commentary on First Corinthians. It should in no way be considered as a scholarly or authoritative translation, for (ammong other reasons) I have also included some of my own reflections, without indicating where I have done so. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is from the Douay-Rheims Version, which I have modified in some cases (i.e., replacing “thee” with “you” and “doth” with “does”).
The opening of the Letter is divided into two sections. In the first section we have his salutation and greeting vv. 1-3), and in the other we have a summary of the main force of his letter (vv 4-9). Concerning the first section, he does three things: A. He identifies the senders of the letter; B. then the recipients of the letter; C. upon whom he wishes grace and peace.
Concerning A. he begins by mentioning himself, indicating that he is the primary sender. He uses the name Paul to identify himself, and since we have dealt with the significance of this name in the letter to the Romans we will here merely note that the name indicates the Apostles humility, for Paul means a small quantity, and it relates to humility. “And Samuel said, ‘Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel?’” (iSam 15:17 RSV). “At that time Jesus answered and said: ‘I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones.’” (Matt 11:25 DRB)
Note: The name Paulus is Latin in origin and means “small”. It is related to parvulus, which is used in the Latin of the two texts quoted by Aquinas. Down through the centuries preachers and spiritual writers have made much of the name, but neither Paul nor the rest of the NT mention the significance of the moniker (Dim Bulb).
After referring to his humble status as man, St Paul speaks of himself in reference to the dignity has has received. He starts by mentioning how any dignity worthy of the name is acquired. His dignity comes as the result of a call, for as we read in Hebrews: “Neither does any man take the honor to himslef, but he is called by God, as Aaron was’ (5:4 DRB, slightly modified).
He then mentions what this dignity is, he has been called to be “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Without a doubt, this is the greatest dignity in the Church, and the word “apostle” means one who is sent. He and others are termed “Apostles” for they have been sent by God to act on his behalf, by his name (authority). Thus we read in Luke 3:16 that “He called unto him his disciples: and he chose twelve of them (whom he also named apostles)”. And in this very letter Paul writes: “And God indeed has sent some in the Church; first apostles…”
Paul then indicates that this dignity comes from, and is caused “by the will of God.” This refers to God’s salvific bounty manifested in the choice of those who have leadership over the Church in varying ways and degrees: “The power of the earth is in the hands of God, and in his time he will raise up a profitable ruler over it.
On occasion, God sets up an authority due to the sins of the people: “Who makes a man that is a hypocrite to reign for the sins of the people” (Job 34:30). In such cases, this is the result, not of his salvific bounty, but of his displeasure: “I will give you a king in my wrath” (Hosea 13:11).
Along with himself, Paul mentions another sender of the letter, saying “and Sosthenes a brother.” Mention is made of him because he was the one who first brought news to Paul of the troubles in Corinth. In referring to him as “a brother” Paul indicates that Sosthenes’ actions were motivated out of charity rather than animosity: “Rebuke not a scorner, lest he hate you. Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you” (Prov 9:8).
B. Having identified himself and Sosthenes as the senders of the letter, Paul goes on to identify the recipients, writing: “To the Church of God that is at Corinth.”
Paul identifies the believers in Corinth in three ways: first, by calling them “The church of God that is at Corinth, meaning the faithful gathered for worship: “I will give thanks to you in the great church; I will praise you in a strong people” (Psalm 34;18). Second, he designates them by the gift of grace they have: “To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus,” for they were sanctified in the faith, by the passion and the sacraments of Christ Jesus: “But you are washed; but you are sanctified” (1 Cor 6:11). “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people y his own blood, suffered outside the gate” (Heb 13:12).
Third, he designates them as “called to be saints,” for they came to sanctity by the grace of God’s call: “Whom he predestined, he also called” (Rom 8:30). “Who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).
Paul then goes on to mention other peoples, “All that invoke the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place of their and ours”: the faithful who were not of the city but lived in its surroundings; that is, “Everyone that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32). “of theirs and ours” means every area subject to the apostles jurisdiction, for the rule of an apostle supersedes that of bishops. Just because a Christian could claim subjection to a bishop was no excuse to try and avoid an apostle’s authority, for the bishops themselves were subject to the Apostles: “In every place of his dominion, bless the Lord, O my soul” (Psalm 102:22).
He ends the greeting by wishing them beneficial gifts. The first is “Grace to you,” which signifies the gift by which we are freed from sin: “Being justified freely by his grace” (Rom 3:24). The second is “Peace”, which comes to fullness in eternal beatitude: “My people shall sit in the beauty of peace” (Isaiah 32:18).
These two gifts, be it noted, contain all others. The source of these gifts is “from God our Father”: “Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). He also writes: “and from the Lord Jesus Christ”, for it is through him that these priceless and abundant promises have come to us: “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).