Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

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


In this chapter, the Apostle severely censures the conduct of certain well instructed persons among the Corinthians, who, regardless of the scandal which their weaker brethren might conceive from their conduct, freely partook of Idolothytes, or things offered to idols. And because they did so from a vain confidence in their superior knowledge, the Apostle shows the evil of knowledge unaccompanied by charity (1, 2, 3). In the next place, he combats the principle on which they acted, viz., that an idol was nothing; and hence, as no sacredness was imparted to the things offered to it, there could be no harm in partaking of them. He admits the truth of the principle (4, 5, 6); but he denies the truth of the practical conclusion which they drew from it, viz., that they could lawfully eat of meats offered to idols, when this might prove an occasion of scandal to their weaker brethren, who, in consequence of not being fully instructed on this point, and from an impression that by eating of these things they join in idol worship, sin against their conscience and offend God (7, 8, 9). He shows how calculated the conduct of the well instructed is to mislead their weaker brethren (10), as also the grievousness of the sin of scandal, as being a sin against Christ (11, 12). He proposes himself as a model in this respect.


1. As to the things offered to idols, we know, for we all have knowledge, but knowledge of itself inflates, renders us proud and haughty, whereas charity, or the love of God and of our neighbour, edifies, i.e., promotes our neighbour’s spiritual interest.

2. But if any man merely feels complacency in his own knowledge, regardless of the spiritual interests of his neighbour, such a person knows nothing as he should know it, that is to say, in a way conducive to salvation, the end to which all knowledge should subserve.

3. But he who loves God, the same hath been foreknown by him with a knowledge of approbation and eternal love.

4. As to the things, then, I say, which have been immolated to idols, we know that, in its representative capacity, or as the image of a false god, an idol is nothing in the world, because the thing represented by it does not exist as such, that is to say, invested with divinity, and we also know that there is but one God.

5. For, although there are beings termed celestial gods—viz., the sun, moon, &c., and terrestrial gods, that is to say, men enrolled among the gods, Jupiter, Mars, &c. (for in the minds of the Pagans, there are many gods and supreme lords vested with sovereign power and divinity).

6. Still, we, who have been instructed in the unerring principles of our faith, know, that there is but one God, the Eternal Father, who is the principle and source of all things, and we for his glory; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we also through him in a particular manner, in virtue of our redemption.

7. But although all Christians have faith in the unity of God, still all have not science, that is to say, they have not the powers of reasoning to enable them to apply this truth practically to particular conclusions. Hence, with an erroneous conscience regarding idols, they partake of the things sacrificed to them as sacred, and so their weak and erroneous conscience is polluted.

8. Moreover the partaking of these meats shall not render us more acceptable with God. For by partaking of them we shall not abound more in grace or sanctity, nor shall it take away from our sanctity to abstain from them.

9. But take care lest the liberty which you have to eat of these things, in themselves indifferent, be the occasion of scandal or impediment to your weaker brethren.

10. For should one of your infirm brethren behold a man instructed in the faith, and, probably, possessing some influence, sitting at a table on which are served meats offered to idols, would not his conscience, although weak and erroneous, be confirmed to partake of the things offered?

11. And thus a weak one, nay, even a brother, still more, a weak one and a brother for whose salvation Christ died, will perish on account of your knowledge, which warrants you in eating of these as well as of any other meats.

12. And thus, sinning against your brethren, and wounding their weak consciences, you sin against Christ.

13. Wherefore, should the eating of meat be the cause of scandal to my brother, I should abstain for ever from eating meat sooner than scandalize him.


1. “Now concerning those things that are sacrificed to idols.” It is likely that among the questions submitted to him by the Corinthians, the Apostle was consulted about the lawfulness of partaking of Idolothytes, i.e., meat, bread, wine, &c., offered to idols. Viewed in themselves, these meats, &c., had no more sacredness imparted to them by being offered to idols, than had any other similar things exposed for sale at the market. It might, however, happen, that the partaking of them would be sinful, viz., when it proved a scandal, or an occasion of sin to others, who, from want of instruction and spiritual knowledge, might regard them as in some respect sacred, and influenced by the example of their better instructed brethren, might partake of them contrary to their conscience, under the conviction that they joined in idol worship, and thus would sin mortally. The Apostle, in this chapter, condemns the conduct of those well informed Christians who partook of the Idolothytes, regardless of the consciences of their weaker brethren. “We know”—here the sense is suspended as far as verse 4, where it is resumed;—the intermediate parts are to be included within a parenthesis—“that we all have knowledge.” He identifies himself with the better instructed among them, with a view of rendering his reproof less harsh. “Knowledge puffeth up,” &c. Knowledge, although in itself good, and the gift of God, and necessary for many, is said to puff up, and render us insolent; because, considering the corrupt inclinations of human nature, it gives occasion to pride, unless accompanied with charity. Just as the letter of the law is said to kill (2 Cor. 2), because it is the occasion of sin, although in itself “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good.”—(Rom. 7:12). “But charity,” i.e., the love of God and of our neighbour—and it is under the latter respect that St. Paul here considers it “edifies.” A metaphorical expression well adapted to express Christian perfection; for, Christians are the temples of the Holy Ghost. Every one, therefore, who, by word or example, promotes the spiritual advancement of his brother, builds or conserves the edifice of sanctity founded by the Holy Ghost, which the man who gives scandal pulls down. The words, “knowledge puffs up,” and “charity edifies,” together with the other words included in the parenthesis, are allusive to the scandal of which the Apostle is about to treat, and which resulted from knowledge unaccompanied with fraternal charity.

2. “And if any man,” &c., i.e., if any man thinking that he possesses knowledge, is, therefore, inflated, “he hath not yet known as he ought to know”—viz., with humility and charity. The common Greek text has, οὐδέπω οὐδεν ἔγνωκε, “he has yet known nothing.” Nothing, is wanting in the chief MSS., which are read thus: οὔπω ε͂γνω, as in our Vulgate. As the rich are not the proprietors, but the depositaries of riches, so it is with the learned, in regard to knowledge. They ought to communicate it for the edification of others, and not appropriate it to themselves, or pervert it to the scandal of their brethren. There are persons who acquire knowledge for the purpose of having knowledge; and this is curiosity. Others, to have the reputation of being learned; and this is vanity. Some, to vend it; and this is the spirit of filthy lucre. Others, to be edified; and it is prudence. Others, to give edification; and it is charity.—Saint Thomas quoting St. Bernard, in hunc locum. O God! what account will they have one day to render, who, filled with all knowledge, and bound by the laws of God and his Church to impart instruction to others over whom they have assumed charge, still suffer them to remain in spiritual ignorance, in many instances not knowing the Father, who created them, nor the Son, who redeemed them, nor the Holy Ghost, who sanctified them. To such men does the reproach of the Apostle literally apply—“qui veritatem Dei in injustitia detinent.”—(Rom. chap. 1).

3. If any one have the love of God, and, consequently the love of his neighbour—for both are inseparably united—“the same is known by him.” These words are expressed in the past tense in Greek, ἔγνωσται ὑπʼ αυτοῦ, to express that the love of God for us has preceded our love for him. It was he that first enabled us to love him, by having first loved us from eternity.

4. In this verse the Apostle resumes the subject from which he digressed at verse 1. “But as for the meats (I say) that are sacrificed to idols, we know that an idol,” although viewed materially, it is something (v.g.), a block of wood or stone, still, viewed formally, or in a representative capacity, ratione signi, as the representation of a false god, it “is nothing in this world,” because the thing of which it is a representation does not exist; and although there exist demons—“all the gods of the Gentiles are devils”—still, they do not exist as represented by idols, that is, as invested with divinity; for, “there is but one (true) God.” In the Greek we have this reading, περὶ τῆς Βρώρεως οὖν τῶν εἰδολοθύτων. “As to the eating, then, of the meats that are sanctified to idols.” However, the sense is conveyed in the Vulgate, de escis autem quæ idolis immolantur. “No God but one,” in the common Greek text, we have, “no other God but one;” other, is wanting in the chief MSS. and versions.

5. “And lords many.” From the opposition instituted between these and the “one Lord Jesus Christ,” in verse 6, it is clear that they are understood of such as were vested with Divine power in the opinion of the Pagans.

6. “Of whom are all things.” God the Father is the principle of everything; of creatures, whom he brought out of nothing, and of the two other Adorable Persons of the Trinity, because, he is the principle and fountain of the Divinity. “Of whom,” in reference to creatures, is, by appropriation, attributed to the Father, although it might be equally attributed to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. “By whom,” is, by appropriation, attributed to the Son, being the Word “by whom all things were made.” (John, chapter 1). This passage does not furnish the Arians with even the shadow of an argument against the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; because, when it is said of the Father that he is “one God,” those persons only are excluded who possess not the same divine nature. Moreover, if their argument held good, from it would follow that the Father was not “Lord,” since the Son is here termed the “one Lord.” The passage is even more favourable to the divinity of the Son than to that of the Father, because the epithet of “Lord” applied to Jesus Christ, is the same as the Hebrew Jehovah, the incommunicable name of God; whereas, “God,” or Elohim, is sometimes applied to creatures (v.g.), in the passage, “Ego dixi, dii estis et filii excelsi omnes.” And that the Lordship here mentioned does not merely refer to his dominion over us, as man, in consequence of having purchased us with his blood, may be clearly seen by comparing this passage with the text of the gospel of St. John, “omnia per ipsum facta sunt,” the sense of which is clearly identical with that of the words under consideration.

7. “Knowledge,” in Greek, ἡ γνῶσις, “the knowledge.” The article denotes the special science of reasoning and drawing practical conclusions: “and their conscience being weak is defiled.” Because, by partaking of the Idolothytes, to partake of which they erroneously consider to be sinful, although, in point of fact, lawful; they act against conscience, and so commit sin, and incur moral defilement.

8. There is not the slightest ground here for objection against the law of abstinence enforced and practised in the Catholic Church. The Apostle utters not a single word in depreciation of the merits of abstinence from meats. He only says, that by such abstinence, we shall not lose in point of sanctity; he says not a word in praise of the contrary. It is also to be kept in mind, that St. Paul here views Idolothytes as things indifferent, affected by no law. And this subject of Idolothytes suggests a positive proof in favour of the Catholic discipline. For, some years before this, the Apostles assembled in the first Council of Jerusalem (Acts, 16:30), prohibited the use of such meats to the people of Antioch and the surrounding country. This prohibition did not reach Corinth; otherwise, the Apostle could not permit the eating of them as a matter of indifference. From this decree of the Apostles in the Council of Jerusalem, we can infer the power of the Church to prohibit the use of things in themselves indifferent. St. Paul here considers Idolothytes as affected by no prohibition.

10. “See him that hath knowledge.” In the common Greek text, ἴδῃ σὲ τὸν ἕχοντα γνῶσιν, which is elegantly rendered in the Protestant version, “see thee, which hath knowledge.” The chief MSS. have the Vulgate reading ἴδῃ τὸν ἕχοντα γνῶσιν. “The idol’s temple.” What this refers to is disputed. Many, with Estius, are of opinion, that, although the word sometimes refers to the temple of idols, still, here it only means a table on which were served up meats, &c. (see Paraphrase), and not the temple itself; because the eating of these meats in the very temple of idols, would be denounced by St. Paul in the strongest language, and could not be regarded by him, as he appears to view it here, as something indifferent; for he merely calls the conscience wounded by such an act “weak” (verse 12). If the word be taken to refer to the temple of idols, then, the Apostle must regard the scandal as aggravated by the very sinfulness of the act itself, which is denounced by him (chap. 10) as equivalent to a virtual renunciation of the faith.

11. This verse renders the interptetation of Estius more probable, because the sinfulness of the act referred to is grounded on the weakness, i.e., the ignorance of the uninstructed Christian. Hence, Christ died for more than the predestined. Hence, grace is not inamissible. Hence, acting against an erroneous conscience is sometimes a mortal sin. The rendering of this verse 11, in our English text, does not accurately convey the Greek or Vulgate reading, ἀπόλλυται γὰρ ὁ ἀσθενῶν εν τῇ γνώσει, ὁ ἀδελφός δἰ ὅν Χριστος, &c. The Vulgate, “et peribit infirmus in tua scientia, frater propter quem Christus,” &c., which should be rendered thus: “and the weak one will perish through thy knowledge, the brother for whom Christ died.” The aggravating circumstances are mentioned; a weak one is ruined, a brother is ruined, one for whom Christ died is ruined. From this verse may be seen the enormity of the sin of scandal, owing to which the soul perishes “for which Christ died.” The common Greek text has ὁ ασθενων αδελφος, the former is the reading of the chief MSS.

12. “Sin against Christ,” inasmuch as the injury inflicted on the members redounds to the head, and that offered to the ransomed slave redounds to his master.

13. The Apostle points to his own example, for the purpose of dissuading them from giving scandal. A person is, therefore, bound to abstain in certain circumstances from indifferent things, when such matters may prove the cause of scandal. And from this entire chapter it is clear that in certain circumstances, matters in themselves purely indifferent, may be the occasion of the grievous sin of scandal, and may cause the spiritual ruin of our neighbour, particularly where there is question of the scandalum infirmorum.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com