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


Having, in the foregoing chapter, shown how much more deserving of commendation he was than were the false teachers, by reason of the labours, and perils, and persecutions he underwent for the Gospel, the Apostle shows in this, how far he excelled them in the sublime gifts and visions with which lie had been favoured by God. He commences by apologizing for publishing God’s favours. He was forced to it from necessity (verse 1). He next narrates the circumstances of his being caught up to the third heaven: in what wanner this extraordinary rapture or vision occurred, he cannot say. He speaks of himself in the third person, from a feeling of humility; for, in his own name, he wishes to glory only in his infirmities (5). He refrains from mentioning any further favours vouchsafed to him from a fear of being regarded as greater than he really is (6). He relates how he had been afflicted with the sting of the flesh—“an angel of Satan,” lest he might grow proud, on account of the sublime excellence of the revelations accorded to him; and, although he fervently and repeatedly prayed for its removal, he received an answer that it was not expedient that his petition should be heard, because the power of God is perfected in the triumph of human infirmities; hence, the Apostle prefers glorying in his infirmities, to glorying in God’s favours (7–10). He casts the blame of his folly in praising himself on the Corinthians themselves, who should become his defenders and apologists, because among them were exhibited the marks of his Apostleship, and through his ministry they received the greatest favours, with the exception (he adds ironically), of not being burthened with his support; and, if this be an injury, they must excuse him, as he is determined to persist in the same disinterested course (11–14), for, he is solicitous for their salvation and not for possessing their means. As their spiritual father, he should, according to the natural course of things, rather provide for his children, than be provided for by them. On this account, he is prepared to give them not only all that he possesses, but even himself (15). He refutes any implied or latent insinuation to the effect that he craftily, by means of his disciples, received remuneration in private (17, 18), He says all he had spoken in his own commendation was for their good (19); and finally, expresses his fears, that on his arrival among them, he may be forced to act a part opposed to his feelings—viz., the part of a stern judge, and an unsparing corrector of their vices.


1. If I must glory (although, indeed, this of itself and without necessity, is not expedient), I shall proceed to relate the visions and revelations with which Christ the Lord has favoured me.

2. I know of a certain Christian, who, fourteen years ago, was taken up (whether in the body I know not, or without the body I know not, God alone knows), even to the third or empyrean heaven.

3. And I know that this man (whether in the body or out of it, I know not, God alone knows),

4. Was caught up into the celestial Paradise, and heard ineffable things, to which human language is incapable of giving expression.

5. For such a person thus caught up into heaven, I shall glory; but as for myself, I shall only glory in my infirmities, in which I shall appear vile and abject.

6. For even though I should wish to glory in the Divine revelations granted to me, I would not be foolish; for, in relating them, I would tell the truth and act from necessity. But I forbear referring to them, lest any person should consider me deserving of more merit, than the deeds which he sees me perform, or the words he hears me utter, declare me entitled to.

7. And least I should chance to grow proud and elated from the sublime excellence of the revelations with which I was favoured, there was given to me a sting in my flesh, a minister of Satan, to buffet me and fill me with shame.

8. On account of the trouble and uneasiness it occasioned me, I frequently besought the Lord to rid me of it.

9. And he gave me this interior response:—it is not necessary, nor is it expedient for you to be rid of its importunities; since the assistance of my grace is sufficient to preserve you from any injury, that it might cause you; for, my power appears more conspicuous in the triumphs which it brings about, even through the means of human infirmity.

10. On account, therefore, of these advantages resulting to me from them, I feel delight and complacency in my infirmities—viz., in ignominies, in want of the necessaries of life, in persecutions, in the distressing straits to which I am reduced for Christ; for, when I suffer these infirmities for his sake, it is then I am powerful; then, the triumph of his grace and power in me becomes more conspicuous.

11. I am become foolish in thus boasting, and in thus commending myself; but, you forced me to such a course by lending a willing ear to my malingers, against whom I should have been defended and my cause supported by you, as your Apostle. For, with respect to the apostleship, I have not been inferior, I will not say, to these false teachers, but even to the chiefs among the Apostles of Christ, although of myself I am nothing.

12. However, the evident marks of my apostleship and true commission have been exhibited amongst you in my patient endurance of all kinds of evils, in the performance of miracles of all sorts, whether they be termed signs, or prodigies, or mighty deeds.

13. For, how far, whether in doctrine or miracles, have you been inferior to the churches founded by the other Apostles, with the exception, perhaps, that I have not, like the other Apostles, been a burthen to you by receiving the means of support? If this be an injury, you must excuse me for it, for I must decline all temporal remuneration even for the future.

14. Behold, this is the third time that I have determined on coming to you, and on this occasion I shall not be a burthen to you. For, in the discharge of my ministry, I seek not your substance, but yourselves and your salvation. Since it is not the children that ought to lay up treasures for their parents, but the parents for their children.

15. I, therefore, as your spiritual parent, will, most cheerfully, not only expend all I have, but also myself and my life for your salvation; although, for my ardent love, I receive but a poor, inadequate return of affection at your hands.

16. But some person may say, granted; your your self receive nothing from us, but being a cunning, crafty man, you privately circumvented us, receiving pay through your associates, who artfully extorted it in secret.

17. But have I done so through any of those whom I sent to you?

18. I encouraged Titus to go to you; and with him I associated another brother. Has Titus circumvented you by receiving the smallest sum? Have not he and I shown the same mind in this respect? Have we not walked in the same footsteps?

19. Heretofore, being seduced by the false teachers, you imagined that we did not act in a straightforward, single-minded manner towards you, and that we say these things now by way of apology. Believe me—and I speak in the presence of God, and in the spirit of Christ, that is to say, with truth and sincerity—that in all things I have said in my own commendation, I have had in view your spiritual edification and salvation.

20. But I fear much, lest, when I may come to you, as I have resolved upon, I find you not such as I would wish, that is, corrected and free from your vices; and, you in turn may meet in me, not what you would wish to find me to be, a stern judge, instead of a kind father. I fear I may find reigning in the midst of you, the vices animadverted upon in my former Epistle, viz.: contentions, altercations, envyings, animosities, dissensions, detractions, whisperings, swellings, seditions, and the rest.

21. These things I fear, for this reason, lest when I come to you again, God may humble and contristate me amongst you; and that I may be forced to mourn, and sorrowfully inflict punishment on many who have heretofore sinned, and have not yet done penance for the different sins of uncleanness which they have committed.


1. “If I must glory,” &c. The common Greek reading is, It is not profitable for me doubtless to glory. The reading of the Codex Vaticanus is, καυχασθαι δει; ου συμφερον μεν must I glory? indead it is not expedient. (“It is not expedient”), unless it be forced upon us by necessity. “I will come to (relate) the visions and revelations of the Lord.” Vision does not suppose that the person favoured with it understands the meaning of what is shown him, as we find in the case of Pharaoh (Gen. 11:17), Nabuchodonozor (Daniel 2:31). “Revelation” superadds to vision, the comprehending of the thing seen. St. Paul was favoured with the knowledge or understanding of the things he saw.

2. The great humility of the Apostle appears from the preceding verse, in which he gives us to understand, that it is from sheer necessity, and a desire to serve the Corinthians, he feels forced to refer to his heavenly favours at all. The same appears also from his referring to only one out of the many, and this after the lapse of fourteen years. With how many more must he not have been favoured during that period? It is likely he would have kept this also concealed to the end of his life, if edification did not require of him to publish it. His speaking of the occurrence in the third person—although happening to himself (verse 7), also shows the great humility of the Apostle.

When, did this occurrence happen? Most probably, about the eighth year after his conversion, when, with Barnabas, he was sent to preach to Antioch (Acts, 13:2); although others say it occurred during the three days he was at Damascus, immediately alter his conversion. “Neither eating or drinking.”—(Acts, 4).

“Caught up to the third heaven.” The Hebrews distinguished three heavens. The first comprises the air, clouds, and space, as far as the fixed stars; the second, the starry heavens, including the stars and planets, with their orbs; the third, the empyrean or highest heaven, the abode of the Angels and Saints. To this last St. Paul was caught up.

How, was this catching up of the Apostle effected? Was he taken up body and soul, or was his soul taken up without his body? The common opinion of modern Expositors, following St. Thomas, is, that there is question of an ecstasy, in which the soul of the Apostle, remaining united to his body (otherwise he would have been dead during the time), but still abstracted from the senses, was, by Divine power, and independently of phantasy, elevated to a supernatural knowledge of the sublime mysteries of God, as happens to the Angels and Saints in heaven. According to this opinion, the rapture or catching up of St. Paul, was an intellectual, ecstatic one. “Whether in the body,” &c. The doubt in the mind of the Apostle appeared to be, whether he was caught up to heaven, both body and soul together, or in soul only; for, he appears to have no doubt whatever of his being caught up, at least, in soul. Hence, the opinion of others who maintain that he was caught up by a real physical translation, both as to soul and body, appears very probable, and in perfect accordance with the words of the text. St. Paul himself could say nothing for certain on the subject, and, therefore, all knowledge regarding it must be purely conjectural. The Greek for “caught up.” ἁρπαγεντα, evidently signifies real physical motion. That his soul, at least, was translated really, of this the Apostle appears to entertain no doubt, and that his body was not separated from his soul appears exceedingly probable, as he would be otherwise dead, and we are not needlessly to multiply miracles in his resuscitation. It was as easy for God to translate him soul and body, as in soul only; and it would seem congruous, that as the other Apostles conversed with our Lord, so would he also. Peter, James, and John saw his glory on Thabor; Moses, on Sinai; and, most likely, Paul, the doctor of the nations was similarly favoured.

3, 4. In this there is, most likely, reference made to the same vision, recorded in verse 2, and the Apostle uses the word “Paradise,” to convey an idea of the delights which he enjoyed in this rapture, while the words “third heaven,” give us an idea of the exalted knowledge of divine truths imparted to him. “Paradise,” means a garden of delight and pleasure. “And heard secret words.” He says “heard,” because the understanding of things may be called the seeing and hearing of the soul, and he uses “heard” rather than, saw, because he refers to instruction imparted to him, which “comes through hearing.” “Secret words,” in Greek, ἄῤῥητα ῥηματα, ineffable words, or ineffable things, which human language is incapable of describing. What these things are, it is idle to conjecture, as St. Paul could not explain them. He may refer to the joy of the blessed, of which he says, “neither eye hath seen,” &c.—(1 Cor. chap. 2).

5. He regards himself, when favoured with these heavenly revelations, as different from himself when subject to human infirmities.

6. If he were to glory in other favours and revelations conferred on him, he would not be acting foolishly, as he would be acting from necessity, and only stating the truth. He forbears, however, from any reference to them, lest, as happened to him at Lystra, he might be considered greater than his acts or words would warrant them in regarding him. How admirable is the humility of the Apostle: he conceals these heavenly favours for fourteen years; and after that, speaks of them only from necessity, and in the most obscure manner, and at the same time, mentions something tending to his humiliation.

7. The Greek adds to the end of this verse the words, ἴνα μη ὑπεραιρωμαι, lest I should be elated. What this “sting of my flesh,” or as the Greek has it, σκολοψ τῇ σαρκὶ, “sting in the flesh,” refers to, is a matter much disputed among Commentators. The more probable opinion appears to be, that it refers to carnal concupiscence, the motions of which were excited in the flesh of St. Paul by the devil, whose ministers or instruments they are; being employed by him to extend the kingdom of sin. They were sent by Divine permission, however, in the Apostle’s case, for the purpose of humiliating him, and of causing him shame, by their repeated buffetings. The Greek for “sting,” σκολοψ, signifies either a sharp stake, or a thorn. This was in the “flesh” of St. Paul. It was such a thing as he feels ashamed to express in clearer terms, than simply by calling it “a sting.” It was “an angel or (minister) of Satan.” The effect God intended to produce was, to “buffet” and cause him shame, lest the magnitude of his revelations should puff him up. It was such a thing as St. Paul earnestly and repeatedly prayed to be delivered from. Now, there is nothing else which these different characters appear to designate so clearly as the shameful motions of carnal conscupiscence. St. Paul longed to be delivered from them (Rom. 6), and he warred against them manfully, by chastising his body (1 Cor. 10). What a contrast! St. Paul, enjoying the delights of Paradise, and St. Paul, fighting against the concupiscence of the flesh.

8. “Thrice.” i.e., frequently. The number, three, expressed an indefinite number among the Jews.

9. “And he said to me,” interiorly. Here another revelation is insinuated by St. Paul. The power of my grace is sufficient to guard you against all its attacks. These attacks were the occasion of merit for the Apostle, as they were to all who, aided by God’s grace, contend manfully against them; and they were attended with the good effect of preserving them in holy humility, without which his divine revelations might be the source of his damnation. “For power,” in Greek, “my power,” i.e., the power of God—my, is wanting in the chief MSS.—“is made perfect in infirmity,” since by achieving a triumph of strength, through means absolutely weak, the power of God is rendered more conspicious, and its operations more visibly recognised. Similar is the idea conveyed, 1 Ep. chap. 1, “Christ crucified, the power of God.” “That the power of Christ,” triumphing through human weakness, “may dwell in me,” i.e., fix in me its constant and permanent habitation.

10. On account of these advantages resulting from my infirmities, I not only patiently endure them, but I also feel complacency and delight in them, looking to their effects. He enumerates the infirmities to which he alludes, namely, the different trials which he was forced to undergo for Christ. “For when I am weak,” i.e., actually enduring these trials, “then I am powerful.” Then it is the power of Christ dwells in me, and more conspicuously manifests itself, as achieving prodigies of strength by means of absolute weakness.

11. “I am become foolish,” to which is added in the Greek, in boasting; these two words are wanting in the chief MSS., and rejected by critics generally. But they themselves are to blame for this folly, as they forced the Apostle to such an apparently foolish course, by lending a willing ear to the false and seductive words of his enemies, when they should have spared him the painful necessity of self-defence, by espousing his cause against misrepresentations. They should have come to his defence, since, although of himself nothing—still, in quality of Apostle, to which dignity he was raised by the grace of God, he was not inferior even to the chiefs among the Apostles of Christ.

12. “Yet the signs of my apostleship.” In Greek, τὰ μὲν σημεῖα τοῦ ἀποστόλου, yet the signs of the Apostle. Miracles, as well in number, as in magnitude, truly apostolical—truly marks of an apostolic commission—“have been wrought on you;” i.e., by me in your presence. Hence, he is not inferior to the other Apostles. The first mark of an apostolic commission is “patience;” or the patient endurance of all kinds of persecutions and sufferings for the faith. This is the meaning of “patience,” as appears from the Greek word, υπομονη. The next, is the performance of miracles of all kinds, and wrought in various ways. It is difficult to see the difference between the three kinds of miracles—“signs,” “wonders,” “mighty deeds.”

13. “Another reason” why he is not inferior to the other Apostles, and why the Corinthians should undertake his defence is, that the church of Corinth, and the other churches founded by him, were not less favoured with true doctrine and miracles, and the several gifts of the Holy Ghost, than were the churches founded by the other Apostles. The only exception being, that the other Apostles received the necessary means of subsistence from the several churches, which they founded; whereas, he received nothing from them. He says, in a tone of irony—“pardon me this injury.” That is to say, if this be an injury, they must pardon it, although he is determined on the same course in future.

14. “Behold, now this third time I am ready to come to you.” The common Greek, has “the third time.” The Vulgate has, tertio hoc, which is supported by the Codex Vaticanus, τριτον τουτο. It is much controverted, whether the Apostle actually came a third time to Corinth or not. St. Luke mentions only two of his visits to Corinth: the first (Acts, 18); the second, at least implicitly, and indirectly (Acts, 20). Baronius maintains, that he came three times. St. Thomas asserts that he came only twice. He says that on the second occasion, the Apostle was prepared to go, but did not actually go to Corinth. It was for not going on that occasion, that he excuses himself, in the first chapter of this Epistle. It was on the occasion of his second visit, he wrote his Epistle to the Romans.

“For neither ought children to lay up for their parents,” &c. Following the natural order of things, parents, according to the flesh, lay up treasures to provide for their children. But in the spiritual generation, the parents have a right to support from their children, as in the case of the other Apostles.—(1 Ep. chap. 9). St. Paul, to show his great affection for the Corinthians, foregoes his right to support, and imitates the affection, which nature has taught parents according to the flesh, to entertain for their children.

16. He replies to an objection, which his enemies might propose against him—viz., that, although he himself received nothing from them in public; still, he secretly suborned his associates to receive some recompense in private, and thus he was acting a deceitful part.

17, 18. He denies having done anything of the kind.

19. The reading in the common Greek text for “of old,” is, παλιν, again; thus: do you think that we are again pleading an excuse with you? The meaning of the Vulgate reading, olim, which is supported by the chief MSS., παλαι, is given in the Paraphrase. “We speak before God and in Christ,” i.e., sincerely and undisguisedly. All he has hitherto said in self-commendation had for object, that he might advance their spiritual good, for which, as their loving father, he was so solicitous.

20. He shows the cause of his solicitude for them. “Contentions,” verbal wranglings and disputation for mere superiority, without any regard for truth. “Envyings,” the sorrow arising from the spiritual or temporal advantages of their neighbour. “Animosities,” refer to sallies of passionate revenge. “Be among you.” These words were added by the Vulgate translator. They are not in the original Greek reading.

21. “God humble me.” In Greek, ὁ θεός μου; “my God humble me.”

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