Sat, 27 December 2008
Chapter 13 of the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians begins with Paul's address to those who speak in tongues. Unless love is the controlling virtue in one's life, a spectacular faith, a powerful prophetic message or even the gift of tongues are of no value (cf. v. 1-3). He infers that love and the peace of Christ are to ever remain the arbiters among disputing peoples.
Characterizing love, he notes how it is "patient and kind," neither jealous or boastful; nor arrogant or rude; and never insisting on its own way (cf. v. 4-6). Further, love "does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things [without ever being wishy-washy], hopes all things, endures all things. [Divine] Love never ends" (v. 7-8). Paul knows that divine love does not come naturally to humans; rather, it is always a gift of purely supernatural grace.
He writes, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up my childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (v. 10-12). Our American connotation of "love" pales in comparison to the love expressed through deeds of self-sacrifice that Paul speaks of in this chapter.
He again addresses the gifts of tongues in Chapter 14. He places the gift of prophesy as more valuable than the gift of tongues, except in instances where the tongue is interpreted, because prophesies edify the whole church (cf. v. 5). If all spiritual gifts are given for the common good, he observes that those who speak in tongues should speak in intelligible tongues and pray for their tongue's interpretation (cf. v. 7-10). Note that the interpretation of tongues does not mean a translation, for interpretations always convey a spiritual message beyond the jots and tittles of any message. When in church, Paul would rather "speak five words with [his] mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue" (v. 19).
He heightens his tone by urging the Corinthians to maturity and wisdom (cf. v. 20). To understand the larger context of his powerful statement in verse 22, "Thus, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers," one must thoroughly digest Isaiah 28. He concludes the chapter by masterfully instructing his wayward church on the proper use of tongues, prophesy and silence in their worship and communal life.
Music: Moritz Moszkowski's 4 Moments Musicaux Op. 84 - Animato ma non troppo, from the album Moments Musicaux, performed by Elizabeth Wolff. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 20 December 2008
Paul addresses spiritual gifts in the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians. He knows the Church does not realize their low level of spiritual maturity; but their arrogant, impatient and factious ways indict them. So misguided is this Church that they act against the teachings of both Paul and the Council of Jerusalem. This chapter showcases him again pleading with the people like they are close family members.
He knows that the Corinthians have a good foundation of catechesis, but that many are either practicing dead-letter religion or are misappropriating their gifts. He addresses this by reiterating that all who are of Christ receive spiritual gifts and they must be exercised for the common good. A variety of gifts among individuals in a community provide the essential elements of Christian life. He lists numerous gifts, but "all [...] are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who appropriations to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ" (v 11-12). Paul's language makes one question whether this factious Church was marginalizing individuals who had particular spiritual gifts as less important than those with other gifts. He stresses the equality of the people of God, for "the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable" (v. 22). Because the members of the Corinthian Church are one body, Paul chastises them for their disunity and urges them to love one another.
A loving, family life is so characteristic of genuine Christian life, as expressed in the thirteenth chapter. Sadly, this type of love is so uncharacteristic of modern Catholicism in America. Paul exhorts the Corinthian Church to this love and what love is and what it is not (cf. v. 4-8). He also makes it clear that they must all love more genuinely.
Music: Moritz Moszkowski's 3 Moments Musicaux Op. 7 - Tranquillo e semplice, from the album Moments Musicaux, performed by Elizabeth Wolff. www.magnatune.com
Mon, 15 December 2008
The character of Paul's language changes distinctly in Chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians as he attempts to reassert his role as an apostle. Some among the brethren of Corinth felt apostles would not need to work to support themselves, and viewed his working to support his ministry as a demerit on his authority. He responds by saying "I [am an apostle] to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (v 2). He continues by asserting the rights of an apostle through a series of rhetorical questions.
Using sound rabbinical arguments, he asserts that God allows the workers to partake of the fruit of their labor (Cf. v. 8-12). These statements are not Paul's attempt to amass material gains, but assert his authority as an apostle. As he continues, his temper begins to reveal itself in the verbiage (Cf. v 14). He hits on the cornerstone of his argument when he states "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" and "What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel" (v 16, 18). Always trying to save as many souls as possible he reflects how he "became all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (v 23). He closes the chapter with a lively exhortation that the Corinthians strive for holiness through self-restraint and exertion like an athlete strives for victory (Cf. v 24-27).
Returning to his previous language-style in Chapter 10, he uses the example of their Jewish forefathers to instruct the troubled church. After illustrating the sacramental gifts that the Israelites received from God he warns the people not to partake unworthily or without gratitude, lest they die like many of the Israelites. He ever attempting to bring the conceited Corinthians to greater holiness, he provides hope against temptation by stating "God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (v 13).
Returning to his railing against idolatry, he asks "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?" so that he may come to his eucharistic theology "The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (v 16). This is to establish that one cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons, and that meat sacrificed to idols is inherently demonic.
He instructs the Judaizers by saying "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful" (v 23). He also allows that "if one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question" except it becomes clear that this meat was sacrificed to an idol (v 27).
Finally, in the beginning of Chapter 11, Paul addresses the issue of women's head coverings.
Music: Sergei Rachmaninoff's 6 Moments Musicaux Op. 16 - Adagio sostenuto from the album Moments Musicaux, performed by Elizabeth Wolff. www.magnatune.com
Tue, 9 December 2008
The beginning of an extremely challenging portion of Scriptures, 1 Corinthians 8 edges towards discussing liberty and constraints. Chapters 8-11 showcase Paul's pastoral nature, for rather than writing a polemic list of do's and don't's to a church of diverse believers with questionable devotion, he has devised an all-embracing construct for Christian life, worship and the spiritual realm. The implications of these chapters are more radical than the sexual ideals put forth in chapters 6-7.
The issues of enforcing ecclesial norms plagued the Corinthian Church just as it plagues the Catholic Church in America. One central issue emerges: eating meat sacrificed to idols. Rather than burn or discard meat used for ritual purposes, pagan temples and local markets sold vast supplies of cheap, edible meat. It was common in Corinthian culture for one to eat his meal right at the temple, and the vast quantity of meat made these temples a sort of banquet hall for trade guilds; in either case these affairs were tainted with pagan idolatry.
Paul prepares the groundwork for his argument by beginning chapter 8 very carefully; writing across the Aegean Sea to a church with which he has a deep spiritual bond, he is like a careful parent not trying to lose control of rebellious teenagers. As an Old Testament scholar, he knows the need to eradicate idolatry among God's people. Certain Corinthian Christians had long argued it was licit to eat meat sacrificed to idols, since they knew there was only one true God, but the early Church's harsh treatment of those who burned incense to the Roman gods provides a proper precedent against such a practice. Nevertheless, the Corinthian Church was in turmoil over this issue, dividing families and splitting the church.
For a bit of history, the Christian faith came to Corinth after the Council of Jerusalem which insisted that uncircumcised Gentiles refrain from eating meat with blood in it or that had been strangled, avoiding all things associated with idols and all forms of sexual immorality. Blood was so stringently avoided primarily because of God's commandment to Noah and his sons, not Israelites, of whom we are all descendants. Now, the Corinthians bristle at Paul's authority and perceived "legalism" in regards to meat sacrificed to idols.
He offers a valuable lesson, "'all of us possess knowledge'. 'Knowledge [without love] puffs up, but love builds up'" (8:1). After discussing love and knowledge, he concedes that "although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many 'gods' and many 'lords' -- yet, for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ" (v 5-6). He follows with "not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol" (v 7). The mature Christians must bear patiently with their co-religionists who do not possess the knowledge in verses 5 and 6; the alternative is to sin against Christ (Cf. v. 12). He then finishes the chapter by edging up to a prohibition on eating meat sacrificed to idols which he will state definitively in chapter 10.
As an aside, when Paul says "all things are lawful," he is not being an antinomian [law-abolisher], but instead referring to those who have the full life of Christ and never act except in accord God's perfect will. This statement is also an attempt to warm those who respond negatively to legalism to his pastoring.
Music: La Cornara from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com