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The Great Commentary Of Cornelius À Lapide Volumes 1 To 8

1 To abstain from meats offered to idols. 8, 9 We must not abuse our Christian liberty, to the offence of our brethren: 11 but must bridle our knowledge with charity.

In this Chapter he treats of the second general question put before him by the Corinthians. It dealt with things offered to idols, and whether it was lawful to eat of them.

              i.              He answers that, taken by itself, such eating was not unlawful, since an idol is nothing.

              ii.              He next says that it is unlawful, if conscience be wounded, or if offence be caused to the weaker brethren. He impresses upon them that this last is by all means to be avoided.

To understand the three following chapters, note that the things spoken of as offered to idols are flesh, bread, wine, &c. It was not sin simply to eat such things, as S. Thomas lays down (i. ii. qu. 103, art. 4, ad. 3). Still it was a sin (1.) if it was out of unbelief, as, e.g., if any idolater ate of such things in honour of the idol, or if it were done out of weakness of faith, as was frequently the case in S. Paul’s time. For many had been but lately converted, and were only half-taught, and so had not wholly cast off their old ideas about idols and idol-offerings, and therefore still regarded them as having something Divine about them. They regarded the food offered to idols as holy and consecrated, although the Christian faith taught them the opposite.

2. It would be sinful if any one who thought it unlawful to eat of such things were to go against his conscience and eat of them, thinking, that is, that so doing was holding communion with the idols and professing idolatry. The same would be the case if he thought that the flesh had been polluted by the idol or devil to whom it had been offered, and that consequently it defiled him that ate of it. The Apostle said the same in Rom. 14.

3. It would be a sin if any one, knowing that an idol is nothing, should yet eat of things offered to idols in the presence of weak brethren, and to show his knowledge and liberty, and so provoke them (ver. 10) to eat of the same things against their conscience, or to think that he, by eating, was sinning against the faith, or returning to the worship of idols, and dragging others with him.

4. It would be against the Apostolic precept, given in Acts 15:19, forbidding the eating of things offered to idols.

5. It would be a sin if eaten in such way and under such circumstances, as, e.g., in the idol-temple, when the idolatrous sacrifice is offered, as to cause others to think that it was done in honour of the idol, and in profession of idolatry, in the same way that any one who participates in a Calvinistic supper is looked upon as professing Calvinism. It is of this case that that S. Augustine speaks (de Bono Conjug. xvi.) when he says, “It is better to die of hunger than to eat of things offered to idols.”

The Emperor Julian, in order to compel the Catholics of Constantinople to some outward compliance with idolatry, forced them all to eat of things offered to idols. The story is related by Nectarius, Bishop of Constantinople, in a sermon delivered by him at the beginning of Lent. He says: “He defiled all the foods that were exposed for sale in the public markets, with sacrifices offered to the gods, that so all might either be compelled to eat of these sacrificial foods or perish of hunger. The faithful inquired at the oracle of the martyr Theodore how they were to act at this crisis; and they were bidden from heaven to use, instead of bread, boiled corn for food. This the rich generously distributed to their poorer brethren for a week, when the Emperor Julian, despairing of being able to accomplish his purpose, and vanquished by the continence and constancy of the Christians, ordered pure and undefiled food to be again sold in the markets”

1. We should observe here the expression, “vanquished by the continency of the Christians.” Their abstinence was constant and spontaneous. For, though they might have eaten of the foods defiled by Julian’s orders, as though common foods, yet they refused out of abhorrence of Julian and his idols. That they might lawfully have eaten of them appears from the fact that Julian was unable to defile ordinary food by bringing it into contact with things offered to idols, or to make it sacred to devils, in such a way that one who ate of them should be regarded as an idol-worshipper. For though this might have been Julian’s intention, yet he was but a single individual, and unable to alter the common judgment of men, which regarded this not as idolatrous but as indifferent. Hence, too, the citizens of Antioch, when Julian had in like manner polluted their food and drink, ate and drank of them freely and without scruple, as Theodoret tells us (Hist. lib. i. c. 14). S. Augustine, too (Ep. 154), says that it is lawful to eat of vegetables grown in an idol’s garden, and to drink from a pitcher or a well in an idol-temple, or into which something offered to idols has fallen. Cf. notes to 10:21.

2. Notice, again, that there were at Corinth some who knew and felt that this was the case, viz., that idols and the things offered to them had no meaning; and so they ate of such things to the scandal of those who were not so strong and not so well informed, in order to show their knowledge and liberty. But others, less well instructed, either had not quite cast off their old feelings about idols and idol-sacrifices, or at all events had a lingering feeling that they were sacred, and hence might easily relapse. This is why the Apostle, fearing danger for such, said, in 10:14, “Flee from idolatry.” It led to the question being put to the Apostle by the Corinthians, whether it was lawful to eat of things offered to idols.

3. The Apostle answers that question by saying (a) that an idol and its sacrifice is nothing; (b) that they should abstain from things offered to idols where there was offence caused; and this is the subject of this chapter.

4. The Apostle here only begins his answer to the question, for he clears it up and fully replies in 10:20, 21. Not only does he not allow them, because of the scandal caused, to eat of such things; but even when there is no scandal he forbids them to eat of them in the temples, at the altars, or tables of idols, as their wont was, and in the presence of those who offered them. For this would be to profess idolatry, and to worship the idol in the feast which consummated the sacrifice offered to it; for this banquet was a part of the sacrifice and its completion. In this sense we must understand Rev. 2:14 and 20, where the angel, i.e., the Bishop of Pergamos and Thyatira, is rebuked for allowing his flock to eat of things offered to idols, as though they were sacred and Divine, and so give honour to idols. For this was the stumbling-block that King Balak, at the instigation of Balaam, put before the children of Israel: by eating of things offered to idols they were enticed into worshiping Baal-Peor. (Num. 25:2). For the same reason it was forbidden by the Council of Gangra (cap. ii.) to eat of idol-sacrifices, and also by the Third Council of Orleans (cap. xix.).

5. The Apostle says nothing of the apostolic precept of Acts 15, which forbade absolutely the eating of things offered to idols, because that precept was directed to the men of Antioch and its neighbourhood alone (ver. 13), where were very many Jews who abhorred idols and idol-sacrifices. These had sent with the Gentiles messengers to Jerusalem to the Apostles, that they might decide the question about the observance of the Law. To them the Apostles replied that the ordinances of the Law were not binding, but that, notwithstanding, they must abstain from the eating of things offered to idols, for the sake of concord between the Jews and Gentiles. Afterwards, however, other heathen living far distant from Antioch, of their own free will obeyed the command, through the reverence they felt for the Apostles. Cf. Baronius (A.D. 51, p. 441).

Ver. 1.—Now as touching things offered unto idols we know that we all have knowledge. We all know, though some of you may think differently, that things offered to idols are the same as other food, and have no greater sanctity or power. All of us who are fairly well instructed in the faith of Christ know that they belong to the class of adiaphora.

Knowledge puffeth up. This knowledge of yours, that idols are nothing, and that consequently it is lawful to eat of things offered to idols, which accordingly you do to the great offence of those who know it not, makes you proud towards the ignorant, and makes you look down on them. The word for puffeth up points to a bladder distended with wind. Such, he says, is this windy knowledge. S. Augustine (Sent. n. 241) says: “It is a virtue of the humble not to boast of their knowledge; because, as all alike share the light, so do they the truth.”

But charity edifieth. The weak and ignorant. It brushes aside such things as the eating of idol-sacrifices, which may be stumbling-blocks to them, so as to keep them in the faith of Christ, and help them forward in it. Windy knowledge, therefore, makes a man proud, if it be not tempered with charity. So Anselm.

It plainly appears that this knowledge, which puffeth up, is contrary to charity, for it induces contempt of one’s neighbours, while charity is anxious to edify them. S. Bernard (Serm. 36 in Cantic.) says appositely: “As food, if not digested, generates unhealthy humours, and harms rather than nourishes the body, so if a mass of knowledge be bolted into the mind’s stomach, which is the memory, and be not assimilated by the fire of Christ, and if it be so passed along through the arteries of the soul, vis., the character and acts, will it not be regarded as sin, being food changed into evil and noxious humours?”

Ver. 2.—And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. He who is puffed up at the thought that he knows something, knows not yet the end, use and measure of knowledge. Knowledge is given to cause humility, to enable us to benefit all that we can, to stand in the way of no one, to cause offence to no one, that so we may be known and loved by God. He is pointing at those who displayed their knowledge about the nature of idol sacrifices, by eating of them, though it were an offence to the untaught.

S. Bernard, in explaining this passage (Serm. 36 in Cantic.), says beautifully: “You see that he gives no praise to him that knoweth many things, if he is ignorant of the measure of knowing. That measure is to know the order, the zeal, and the end with which we should seek knowledge. The order is to seek that first which is more conducive to salvation. The zeal we should show is in seeking that more eagerly which makes us love more vehemently. The end of knowledge is not for vain glory, curiosity, or any like thing, but only for our own edification or that of our neighbour. For there are some who wish to know only that they may know, and this is vile curiosity. There are some who wish to know that they may be known themselves, and this is contemptible vanity: such do not escape the scoff of the satirist, ‘To know your own is nothing, unless another knows that you know yourself.’ There are some again who wish to know, that they may see their knowledge, and this is despicable chaffering. But there are also some who wish to know that they may edify, and this is charity; and some who wish to know that they may be edified, and this is prudence. Of all these the last two only are not found to abuse knowledge, for they wish to gain understanding that they may do good.” Again (de Conscientia, c. ii.) he says: “Many seek for knowledge, few conscience. If as much care and zeal were devoted to couscience as is given to the pursuit of empty and worldly knowledge, it would be laid hold of more quickly and retained to greater advantage.”

Ver. 3.—But if any man love God, the same is known of Him. If any, for God’s sake, love his neighbour, so as not to make him stumble at seeing him eat of idol sacrifices, &c., but seeks instead to edify him, then that man is approved of and beloved by God, and in His knowledge God is well pleased.

Note that he that loves God loves also his neighbour; for the love of God bids us love our neighbour for God’s sake; and the love of God is exhibited and seen in the love of our neighbour (1 S. John 4:20).

Ver. 4.—We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but One. An idol is not what it is commonly supposed to be, not what it stands for, is not God. It has no Divine power; materially it is of wood, formally it is nothing. It is an image of a falsehood, or of a non-existent God. Consequently that which is offered to idols is as such nothing, has no Divinity or sanctity derived from the idol to which it was offered.

The word “idol” itself is derived from the Greek ειδος, which Tertullian says denotes appearance; and from it the diminutive, εἴδωλον, was formed (de Idolol. ciii.). An “idol” among the earlier Greek writers denoted any empty and untrustworthy image, such as hollow phantasms, spectres, the shades of the dead, and the like. In the same way Holy Scripture and Church writers have limited the term idol to an image of God which is regarded as God, and is not really so, as is evident from this verse. The LXX., too, throughout the Old Testament, apply the same term to the statues and gods of the heathen.

Hence Henry Stephen and John Scapula are deceived and deceive, when they lay down in their lexicons that the term idol is applied by ecclesiastical writers to any image representing some deity to which honour and worship are paid. It is not every statue or image of every god that is an idol, but only the image of a false god. Cf. Cyprian (de Exhort. Mart. c. i.), Tertullian (de Idolol.), Athanasius (contra Idola).

The Protestant fraud, therefore, must be guarded against which confounds idol with image, and concludes that all images are forbidden by those passages of Scripture which condemn idolatry. Cf. Bellarmine (de Imagin. lib. ii. c. 5), who shows unanswerably that an idol is the representation of what is false, an image of what is true.

Vers. 5, 6.—For though there be that are called gods, … to us there is but one God, &c. The pagans have gods many and lords many, as the sun, moon, and stars, or terrestrial gods, as Jupiter, Apollo, Hercules; but we have only one God, for whose glory and honour we were created.

Notice that Scripture speaks of the Father as He of whom are all things, as their first principle; and of the Son as He by whom are all things, as the archetype and word by whom all things were made; and of the Holy Spirit as in whom are all things, inasmuch as He is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. Cf. notes to Rom. 11:36.

Notice also against the Arians that, when S. Paul says One God, he is only excluding false gods, not the Son and the Holy Spirit. When he says One Lord Jesus Christ, he is only excluding false lords, not the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Ver. 7.—Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge. I.e., that an idol and what is offered to it are nothing.

For some with conscience of the idol unto this hour cat it as a thing offered unto an idol. They eat what is offered to an idol with reverence, thinking that the idol has something that is Divine, and that the offering was made to the deity lurking behind the idol. So Anselm.

Theophylact explains this verse differently, thus: “Some eat of what has been offered to the idol, under the false supposition that it has been changed by the idol and physically breathed upon by a devil, and so in some way affected by him, or, at all events, morally defiled by him, so as to be regarded to be now his property and food, with power to change and pollute him that eateth of it. In this way they eat of idol sacrifices under the mistaken belief that they are polluted by them.” This sense also is suitable and likely; for there can be no doubt that, among the Corinthians lately converted, were some who were over-scrupulous and some over-superstitious.

And their conscience being weak is defiled. Being not fully instructed in the faith about these matters, they go against their conscience in following the example of others, and eating of idol sacrifices. So Chrysostom.

Libertines do but rave when they lay down from this passage that neither fornication, nor drunkenness, nor anything else is sin, if the conscience has no scruples. This is to advise men to get rid of conscience, so as to sin at pleasure. Libertines therefore have no conscience; and they would appear therefore to have put aside their manhood, their reason, and all virtue. But what folly is it to ascribe such sentiments to the Apostle! For who is there that sees not that the Apostle is here speaking, not of sins or of forbidden things, but of things indifferent, such as the eating of idol offerings?

Ver. 8.—But meat commendeth us not to God. The eating of idol sacrifices or of any other food is in itself no help towards piety, which makes us acceptable to God. Therefore, we that are strong ought not, under the pretext of piety, to wish to use all things as alike indifferent. The Apostle here turns to the more advanced, and warns them to avoid giving offence to the weak.

It is foolish, therefore, as well as wrong, for heretics to wrest this passage into an argument against the choice of food and the fasts of the Church. Food, indeed, does not commend us to God, for it is not a virtue; but abstinence from forbidden food is an act of temperance, obedience, and religion, and does therefore commend us to God, as it commended Daniel and his companions, the Rechabites, John Baptist, and others. Cf. notes to Rom. 14:17.

For neither if we eat are we the better. If we eat of idol offerings, we do not on that account abound the more in virtue, merit, and grace, which commend us before God, and therefore we ought not to have any desire so to eat. So Chrysostom.

Secondly, it is more simple to take this as a fresh reason to dissuade them from eating idol-sacrifices. Whether we eat of these things, we shall not abound any the more with pleasant food and other good things; or whether we eat not, we shall not be deprived of them, for we may eat of other things. So it is often said that, whether we be invited to a banquet or not, we shall not on that account be full or be hungry, be fatter or leaner, richer or poorer. He is pointing out that food is a thing of little account, and may therefore be put aside if scandal arise, and be subordinated to the edification of our neighbours. So Anselm.

Ver. 10.—Sit at meat in the idol’s temple. Erasmus takes the word which we have idol’s temple to mean idol’s feast. The text, however, gives the better translation. S. Paul speaks of their sitting at meat in an idol’s temple, or at a table consecrated to idols. Those who were about to partake of the idol-sacrifices were wont to have tables set out in the temple, as Herodotus says in Clio, and Virgil (Æn. viii. 283), in his description of the sacrifice of Evander and the subsequent feast with the Trojans. So too did the Jews eat of the peace-offerings in the court of the Temple (Deut. 16:2).

It hence follows that to eat of things offered to idols in an idol temple is not only an evil because of the scandal it causes, but also is an evil in itself, because it is a profession of idolatry, as will be said at chap. 10.

Anselm says tropologically: “The knowledge of idol-offerings is the knowledge of the vanity of heathen philosophy, poetry, and rhetoric. This must be guarded against. Far be it from a Christian mouth to say, ‘By Jove,’ or ‘By Hercules,’ or ‘By Castor,’ or to use other expressions that have more to do with monsters than with Divine beings.”

Emboldened here is either (1.) provoked to eat of things offered to idols, as though they were sacred and the channels of grace, and so he will be led to sacrifice to some deity and return to idolatry; or (2.) he will be provoked to act against his conscience, which tells him that food offered to an idol has been breathed upon by it and polluted, and that therefore he will be polluted if he eat. Cf. note to ver. 7.

Ver. 12.—But when ye sin so against the brethren … ye sin against Christ. For Christ reckons as done to Himself whatever is done to one of the least of His brethren (S. Matt. 25:40). Moreover, those who cause their neighbour to stumble, sin against Christ, for by their evil example they destroy and overturn the building of Christ, viz., their neighbour’s righteousness and salvation, which Christ has built up at the cost of His own blood.

Ver. 13.—Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth. S. Chrysostom says: “It is the mark of a good teacher to teach by example as well as precept. The Apostle does not qualify what he says by adding ‘justly’ or ‘unjustly,’ but he says absolutely, ‘If meat make my brother to offend.’ He does not speak of idol-offerings as being prohibited for other reasons, but he says that if what is lawful causes his brother to offend, he will abstain from it, not for one or two days, but for his whole life. Nor does he say, ‘Lest I destroy my brother,’ but ‘Lest I make my brother to offend.’ It would be the height of folly in us to regard those things, which are so dear to Christ that He refused not to die for them, as so worthless that we will not for their sake abstain from certain food.”

On the subject of offence, see S. Basil (Reg. Brevior. 64), where, towards the end, he says that the offence is greater in proportion to the knowledge or rank of him who gives it; and he adds that at his hand God will require the blood of those sinners who follow his bad example.

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