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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


In this chapter, the Apostle corrects an abuse prevalent among the Christians of Corinth, viz., that of recurring, in cases of litigation, to Pagan tribunals, when they might have recourse to arbitrators taken from among themselves. With indignant surprise, he refers to the affair, and condemns it on account of the judges selected (verses 1–5), the parties engaged in litigation (6), and the litigation itself (7). He condemns it both in the offending and offended parties, plaintiffs and defendants (8). In order to correct such an abuse he reminds them that the unjust shall never enter on God’s inheritance, and from this he takes occasion to enumerate many of the grievous sins, that exclude from the kingdom of heaven, of which sins, many of the Corinthians were formerly guilty, but from which the grace and mercy of God has now cleansed them (9, 10, 11). In the next place, he answers an objection which might be made against his teaching on the subject of suits at law (12), and adduces one or two other reasons to dissuade Christians from becoming involved in litigation (13). He then proceeds to point out the enormity of the sin of fornication, which was regarded as a matter in itself indifferent among the voluptuous Corinthians; and he shows its grievousness in a Christian, on the ground of the contumely he offers Christ, by transferring the members of Christ, so as to render them members of a harlot, with whom he becomes one flesh, instead of being one spirit with the Lord (14, 19). He, next, points out its enormity, as rendering the body of the Christian, bestial and sordid, and violating the temple of the Holy Ghost; and, again, on the ground, that it makes a transfer of what belongs to another, viz., the body of a Christian, whom Christ purchased with his precious blood (19, 20).


1. Is it possible, that anyone of you, having a matter of complaint against his brother, such as would furnish ground for a suit at law, could bring himself to have the case tried before unbelieving Pagan magistrates, instead of having it settled by arbitrators selected from among your Christian brethren?

2. (By doing so, you derogate from the authority with which God has invested the faithful). Are you not aware, that on the last day the just shall sit as assessors with Christ in judging the world? And if you are by concurrence to judge the world and decide matters of eternal interest, are you unfit to decide matters of trivial importance, such as subjects of litigation generally are?

3. Know you not that we shall judge the apostate angels? How much better qualified are we not to decide on matters connected with the support of a transient life, such as food, clothing, and the like things?

4. If, then, you have cause for litigation about worldly matters, of this sort, matters connected with the sustenance of life, you should appoint as judges even those who are in the least esteem in the Church, if necessary, rather than have recourse to Pagan tribunals.

5. This, I say, not by the way of laying down a rule for your guidance, but rather with a view of causing you shame and confusion, implying as much as that you had no person of judgment amongst yourselves, not even one, to decide the controversies that may arise between Christian brethren.

6. But far from contenting yourselves with the arbitration of some prudent persons taken from amongst yourselves, one Christian brother carries on a lawsuit with another, and that before Pagan tribunals.

7. Now, assuredly it is a fault in you to be engaged in a lawsuit at all; why not rather bear with personal outrage?—why not rather sustain losses in property?

8. But, on the contrary, far from submitting to either one or the other, you offer personal outrage, and inflict losses of property, and that on your very brethren.

9. I need not inform you—for you must already have sufficiently known it—that the unjust shall never enter on the inheritance of God’s heavenly kingdom; be not deceived, and rest firmly assured, that neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers,

10. Nor the unchaste, nor those guilty of the unnatural lust of sodomy—nor those who privately steal, who fraudulently rob, or violently take away their neighbour’s property, nor the drunken, nor railers, shall ever enter on the inheritance of God’s heavenly kingdom.

11. And indeed, some of you were guilty of a portion of the above mentioned crimes, and some of others; but, you have been washed from the stains of these sins in the regenerating laver of baptism; you have received true and interior sanctity; you have received real and inherent justice, by the merits of the redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the sanctifying gifts of the Holy Ghost.

12. But it may be said, are not all things, which are indifferent and not prohibited, lawful for me; and may I not, therefore, lawfully reclaim my just rights in a court of justice? But all things that are lawful are not expedient; that is, they do not contribute to my spiritual advancement in the particular circumstances in which I may be placed. All things indifferent are lawful. Be it so; but I should not bring myself under the power of any one, perhaps to the detriment of my faith.

13. Food is meant for the belly, to appease hunger and sustain life, and the belly is destined for the reception and digestion of food; but God shall soon destroy the use of both one and the other. But you are not to regard fornication as one of the things that are lawful, but inexpedient; the body was not destined for fornication, it was consecrated to the Lord as a part of his members, and the Lord was given to the body, as its everlasting head.

14. But this relation of headship—unlike the relation between the food and the belly—is not of a tem porary character; it is everlasting, because God, who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, will raise us up also by his Omnipotent power, so as to be eternally united with Christ our head.

15. Consider fully the relation in which you stand with regard to Christ, as a motive to avoid fornication; are you not aware that your bodies are members of Christ? Unjustly, then, withdrawing the members of Christ from the service which they owe him, shall I make them the members of a harlot? May God avert such sacrilegious indignity!

16. The Christian who commits fornication is guilty of such indignity; for, he who adheres to a harlot is become one body with her, according to the words of SS. Scripture (Gen. 2). The man and woman by carnal union shall become one flesh.

17. But he who is firmly united to the Lord by faith and charity, is made one spirit with him.

18. Fly, therefore, the sacrilegious crime of fornication; every other sin which men ordinarily commit is outside the body; by them, men do not incur the turpitude of dishonouring their own bodies; but by fornication, they sin against their own bodies, which from being Christian and holy, they render polluted and bestial.

19. Another reason for flying fornication is, that your bodies, as you are well aware, together with being members of Christ, are also the spiritual temples of the Holy Ghost, who, in a special manner, resides in you by his grace, and whom you have received from God; you ought to be aware that you do not belong to yourselves, to dispose of your bodies as you please.

20. You are the ransomed slaves of him who purchased you with the price of his own most precious blood. Glorify God, in your bodies, make them subserve to his glory, and carry him in them by rendering them pure temples in which he may reside, and do not expel him by uncleanness.


1. “Dare any one of you,” i.e., can any one among you endure? τολμᾷ τις ὑμῶν, this strong form of expression conveys that the thing cannot be endured. “Having a matter,” i.e., subject matter for a suit at law, “against another” Christian, since in case of litigation with a Pagan, the rule could not hold, “go to be judged before the unjust,” by whom are meant unbelieving Pagan magistrates, who are destitute of true justice before God. By employing the term “unjust,” to designate Pagan magistrates, the Apostle insinuates how preposterous it is to expect justice at the hands of those who are unjust themselves. “The saints,” the general designation for Christians, who are called to a state of sanctity. The indignant surprise here expressed by the Apostle refers to the plaintiff in the case, because, if cited, the defendant had no alternative but to appear before the Pagan tribunals.

2. After exposing the abuse in the foregoing verse, the Apostle now points out its enormity. The faithful are to act in the capacity of assessors with Christ on the day of judgment, and by concurrence to take a part with him in the judgment which he shall pass on wicked men (“this world,”) and apostate angels, as the Ninevites and Queen of Saba, shall rise in judgment against the Jews.

3. “Know you not that we shall judge angels,” viz., the apostate angels, “who are reserved for the judgment of the great day.”—(St. Jude, verse 6). Some Commentators extend the word to the good angels also, whose sentence of eternal bliss, confirmed at the last judgment, shall be praised and applauded by the just, who, on the other hand, shall triumph over the devils whom they vanquished. The Apostle probably refers here to the passage of the Gospel (Matt. 19). wherein our Redeemer promises his Apostles to sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “How much more the things of this world.” The Greek word for “this world,” βιωτικα, means things connected with the support of life, such as food, clothing, and the other subjects of litigation.

4. The Apostle does not lay this down as a rule for their guidance in their controversies—he speaks comparatively; they should leave matters to the decision, if necessary, of those who are of least consideration in the Church, rather than have recourse to Pagan judges, and thus bring the gospel into disrepute, and prevent its extension among infidels, by an exposure of the vices of Christians.

5. His recommendation regarding the appointment of those who are of least consideration in the Church to decide their disputes, was intended to cause them shame and confusion, as implying that they had no person of prudence amongst them, no persons sufficiently versed in the business of common life to decide between one brother and another. “Between his brethren,” in the Greek, ἀνὰμέσον τοὑ αδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ, between his brother, i.e., between brother and brother.

6. He repeats in this verse what he mentioned with indignant surprise (verse 1). It is clear that both here, and in verse 1, reference is made to the prosecutor or plaintiff, because the defendant was not free to refuse, if cited before a Pagan tribunal. In this verse lawsuits are condemned on account of the persons engaged in them; in the preceding, they are condemned on account of the tribunals before which they were brought; and in the following, on account of the evils intrinsic to them, or, at least, in almost all cases, attendant on, and resulting from them.

7. “Already indeed there is plainly a fault,” &c. The Greek word for “fault,” ηττημα, means, an inferiority, a failing or defect. Hence, some Commentators interpret this verse to mean, that it is an imperfection in them, or a departure from a counsel of perfection, to have suits of law at all among them. The word, however, more probably means, “a fault,” inasmuch as suits at law are always attended with an almost infinite number of evils, with sins against charity and justice: Lest, however, it might be alleged, that lawsuits are necessary to obtain an indemnity for personal outrage and losses, both of character and property, the Apostle says, they should bear with losses of one kind and the other sooner than engage in litigation: “Why do you not rather take wrong?” &c. From this passage, we are by no means to infer, that it is in all cases wrong to have recourse to the legally constituted tribunnals, with a view of seeking reparation for losses either of character or property. We are allowed to recur to them whenever justice or charity does not prevent it; or, whenever the good, resulting from the assertion of our just rights would outweigh the evils resulting from litigation. The precept here given by the Apostle is similar to those laid down in the gospel: “If a man will contend with thee, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him.”—(Matt. 5:40). “And of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again.”—(Luke 6:30). These precepts of our divine Redeemer according to St. Thomas, are not always to be observed in point of fact, but they are to be always kept in the preparation of mind. Non semper observanda sunt hæc præcepta Domini in executione operæ, sed semper habenda in præparatione animi, viz., as he himself explains it, we should be always prepared to sustain the loss or perform the work here enjoined sooner than offend against fraternal charity. But since suits at law, although not intrinsically bad in themselves, rarely take place without, at least, a violation of charity, and in many instances, of justice also; hence, they are rarely without fault, even in the case of the injured party—for, it is of him the Apostle speaks in this verse.

8. The Apostle, in this verse, addresses the offending party—so far you are from patiently submitting to losses in property, or to personal outrage, that you even offer personal outrage to your neighbour, not excepting your Christian brother, and inflict on him losses of property—the circumstance of inflicting injury on a Christian brother aggravates the offence. “Do wrong,” αδικεῖτε.

9. “Know you not,” as if he said, I need not tell you, what you must already know, “that the unjust.” The Greek for “unjust,” αδικοι, has the same signification as “do wrong” of the preceding verse. The Apostle points out the punishment that awaits such sinners, “shall not possess,” in Greek, οὐ κληρονομησουσιν, shall not inherit. “The kingdom of God” is called an inheritance, because destined for the children of the promise. The Apostle does not say of those who institute suits at law before Pagan tribunals, that they should be excluded from God’s kingdom; although such a proceeding is “a fault” in them, it is only of those who commit injustice he says so. Hence, he insinuates the difference between mortal and venial sins. “Do not err.” The Apostle employs these words to arrest attention, whenever he is about treating of any important point either of doctrine or morality. From them is clearly seen how old the error of justification through faith without good works has been.

10. “Nor thieves,” i.e., such as privately take away their neighbour’s property, without any pretext or colour of justice. “Covetous,” such as fraudulently circumvent him in contracts or usury. “Extortioners.” Such as publicly rob him, and openly rifle his property.

11. “And such some of you were.” In their Pagan, unconverted state, they were guilty of these crimes, not each of them of every one of those sins; but some of them were guilty of a portion of the crimes already enumerated, and some, of others. This is probably added by the Apostle to soften the apparent acerbity of the preceding words; otherwise, it might be imagined that he charged all of them with being guilty of every one of these crimes. The following words are also employed for the same purpose, lest it might be imagined, that they still continued in the same sinful state; “but you are washed,” regards the interior ablution effected in the laver of baptism. “But you are sanctified—justified,” &c. These words prove the inherent nature of sanctifying grace, and also show its effects; it “washes” away the filth and stains of sin; it renders the soul pure and without spot (“sanctified”); and it superadds the beauty of that justice and innocence which man forfeited by sin (“justified”); “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” i.e., through the merits of his redemption. He is the meritorious cause of our redemption, and the Holy Ghost is the author of our sanctification.

12. Some Commentators say, that the Apostle, in this verse, refers to the prohibition of meats offered to idols, of which, although lawful in themselves, it is inexpedient to partake, as they by no means contribute to our spiritual advancement, particularly when they are the cause of scandal to others. It is more probable, however, that he refers to the subject of litigation, and in reference to it, he proposes a twofold objection, giving a reply to each. In verse 7, the Apostle said it was a fault in them to have lawsuits at all, to which it might be objected. “Is it not lawful to demand our just rights?” To which he replies, certainly: but still, everything not prohibited is not always expedient; and it is only in this sense, and not as bad in themselves, that lawsuits are to be condemned. Secondly, in reply to this indignant censure (verse 1), “dare any of you,” &c., it might be objected: “Is it not allowed, even in the presence of Pagan magistrates, to reclaim our just rights?” Admitted. But still you should never bring yourselves under their power, thus endangering your faith. “The power of any,” ἐξουσιασθήσομαι ὑπὸ τίνος, may mean, “the power of any thing.” The Greek admits of this rendering; and, then, the meaning would be; I should not make myself the slave of any inordinate attachment to the things of this life, by prosecuting my claims to them beyond the limits of Christian detachment and forbearance.

13. “Meat (in Greek, τὰ βρώματα, meats), for the belly,” &c. This verse contains additional reasons for not engaging in litigation. The subjects which afford matter for litigation, are, of their own nature, only of trivial value; they are, ordinarily, but matters connected with food and bodily aliments destined for the maintenance of human life. They are, in the next place, but of short duration; hence, Christians destined for a glorious immortality should undervalue them, and be detached from them. “But the body is not for fornication.” They should not regard fornication as one of the things which are indifferent, but inexpedient; they should not class it with lawsuits and the like. The Pagans, particularly at Corinth, did not hold fornication in any abhorrence. Their philosophers regarded it as a matter of indifference; on which account, the Apostle cautions the Corinthians against classing it with the things of which he spoke (verse 12), of themselves not unlawful; but rendered unlawful only from peculiar circumstances. “But for the Lord,” &c., has reference to the mutual relations of head and members, subsisting between Christ and the faithful. He is the head; they, the members of his mystical body.

14. The Apostle points out the difference, in point of duration, between the relation which the food bears the belly, and that which Christ bears his members. The latter is to last for ever. Hence, we should serve our everlasting head in all purity and sanctity, and hold in horror all uncleanness.

15. The Apostle having merely alluded, in verse 13, to the relation which subsists between Christ and every member of the Church, “the Lord for the body,” fully enlarges on the subject in this verse, in order to induce them to avoid fornication and the sacrilegious treatment of Christ, which it involves. “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?” Christ is the head of the entire Church, which is his mystic body, and also the head of each individual among the faithful, who is in turn a member of Christ’s body, not only as to soul, to which He communicates, as head, faith, grace, spiritual and divine life; but also, as to body, which is the instrument of the soul, and to which He imparts the faculty and power of more easily obeying the soul. Christ, then, is the mystic head of the Christian, both as to soul and body; for, he assumed the entire nature of man, soul and body, corporeal and spiritual. The Apostle addresses, in these words, “your bodies are members of Christ,” many who had defiled their bodies by fornication. Hence, sinners as well as the just, are members of Christ, and members of the Church, which is his mystic body. “Shall I then take members of Christ?” &c. The Apostle does not mean to say, that by fornication a man ceases to be a member of Christ’s body, although he ceases to be a living member. “Shall I take,” i.e., unjustly withdraw my members from the service they owe Christ: “Shall I make them the members of a harlot?” These words express the affront which the fornicator offers Christ, by prostituting the holy members of Christ so as to become the members of a harlot. St. Chrysostom observes, “that nothing is more awful than this expression.” They are not made the members of a harlot in the same sense in which they were members of Christ as head, but in quite a different way, as is explained in the next verse.

16. By carnal union, the fornicator and harlot become one body, “for they shall be two in one flesh.”—(Genesis, 2). Although the words of Genesis were spoken in allusion to the lawful carnal union of man and wife; they are also verified in regard to the illicit intercourse with a harlot; for, as St. Thomas remarks: Secundum speciem naturæ nou differunt actus externi fornicantium et conjugum, that is, physically speaking, there is no difference between both unions, although in point of morality, they differ essentially.

17. He who adheres to the Lord by the spiritual union of faith and charity is become one spirit with him; he shares of God’s spirit; he breathes it; he lives in it; he is become one spirit with God. We commonly say of intimate friends, they are but one soul. The fornicator is not thus united to the Lord.

18. “Fly fornication.” Spiritual writers remark, that it is only by flight, by avoiding the occasions, by shunning the society of such as may prove an occasion of sin, that the temptations against purity in particular can be overcome. It matters not what may have been our past firmness, what may be our present sanctity, our resolves in regard to the future, let us but frequent the occasion of sin—the oracle of God is pledged for it, and no exception made—most undoubtedly, we shall fall. “He who loves the danger shall perish in it.” We cannot pretend to be holier than David, “the man after God’s own heart;” we cannot claim to be wiser than Solomon, on whom the fulness of wisdom was poured forth from above; nor can we be more exalted than Peter, the immovable rock of God’s Church; and yet they all fell, and fell shamefully, for want of due caution in avoiding the occasion of sin. Let us not be deceived—all moments are not seasons of grace; and we may rest thoroughly assured, that there are moments of passion and circumstances of life, as regards time, and place, and persons, and if we possessed the highest degree of sanctity, if the occasion be present, we shall most undoubtedly fall. The greatest saints have trembled and fled from before the face of danger; and yet we, with a full consciousness of our frailty, recklessly cast ourselves into these appalling circumstances of temptation from which they recoiled with a sacred horror. “Every sin that a man doeth is without the body,” &c. These words may be connected with the preceding, and may be regarded as a reason for flying fornication, and then, they mean: fly fornication, because by this loathsome sin, the body of the Christian, which was pure and holy, is rendered sordid and bestial; or, they may be connected with the following (verse 19), and regarded as an antecedent to the proof contained in verse 19. According to this interpretation, the reasoning of the Apostle would proceed in this way: every other sin that a man commits is outside his body; but by fornication he defiles and sacrilegiously pollutes his body (verse 18), because the body of the Christian is the temple of the Holy Ghost (verse 19), and hence, by fornication he profanes that which, like a temple, was dedicated to sacred purposes.

The words, then, mean, no sin involves such turpitude, no sin so deeply buries the body in the mire and sink of passion as fornication, and the indulgence of lust; since, it excites the most violent motions of concupiscence, so that this base passion of lust absorbs the entire man, makes him “like the horse and the mule, who have no understanding” (Psalm 31:9), blinds him to everything else save the foul and filthy gratification. Spiritual writers assure us that such is the blindness induced by this foul passion, that the impure man would commit sin, even though hell were thrown open before his eyes, and he were certain of being precipitated into it after the commission of sin. Spiritual writers also assure us, that ninety-nine out of every hundred of the damned in hell are damned for the foul sin of impurity. How earnestly, then, should we not pray for “a clean heart and a right spirit within our bowels.”—(Psalm 1).

19. “Know you not that your members are the temple,” &c. (In Greek, ὅτι τὸ σῶμα ὑμῶν ναος, &c., “that your body is the temple,” &c.) This is another reason for avoiding fornication. They have contracted a new relation of sanctity, by being the temples of the Holy Ghost, who resides in a special manner in the souls of the faithful. And this Holy Ghost they have received as a gift from God. Hence, by fornication, they, in a special manner, offend God the Son, whose members they are; God the Holy Ghost, whose temple they violate; and God the Father, whose gifts they despise; for they received the Holy Ghost from God. “And you are not your own.” This is another reason why they should fly fornication; because, they cannot dispose of their own members.

20. For, they are the purchased slaves of another, who paid for them a great price, no less than the last drop of his own most precious blood. “For you are bought with a great price.” “Great” is not in the Greek, which simply is, ἠγοράσθητε γὰρ τιμῆς, for you are bought with a price. “Glorify and bear God,” &c. “Bear” is not in the Greek. The words convey an exhortation to the Corinthians, to glorify God in his temple, by preserving their bodies pure from uncleanness of every sort, and thus “bear him,” by representing him in the purity of their lives.

“In your body,” to which is added in the common Greek text, and in your spirit which are God’s. These latter words, although found in St. Chrysostom, are rejected by the best critics, being wanting in some of the chief manuscripts and ancient versions. From the impassioned denunciation of it by the Apostle in this chapter, we can see the hideous deformity of the foul sin of impurity, so opposed to the sanctity of the Christian profession—a sin which deluged the original world, and caused an Immutable God to exclaim: “It repenteth me that I have made man” (Gen. 6:7)—a sin which domineers over the human race, and daily peoples hell. Spiritual writers assure us, that the greater portion of the reprobate are damned for this foul sin. O God of purity, lover of pure souls! preserve us from defiling our bodies, whose temples which thou hast frequently chosen to reside in, as God of the Eucharist, by these illicit indulgences, in punishment of which thy virginal flesh has been furrowed with scourges. O Mary, ever Virgin, conceived, without stain! pray for us.

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