Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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1 CORINTHIANS - Chapter 13

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1 Corinthians 13

Supplemental Commentary:

V.  THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS  12, 1 -- 14, 40 (continued)

2.  A Digression on Charity  13, 1-13

Charity above all other spiritual gifts, and charity in the use of the spiritual gifts, is the theme of this beautiful hymn.  The charity directly spoken of is the love of one's neighbor, but that this is one with knowledge and love of God, our supernatural life, is clear from 12 f.  Cf. Matt. 22, 38 f.

13, 1-7:  Its Excellence.    1.  Charity is a more excellent gift than the greater gifts of which Paul has been speaking (cf. introduction to this section).  Tongues of men and angels: the gift of tongues was given primarily for the praise of God; hence this deals with the external praise of God in the languages of all men and in the manner of the angels.  As sounding brass: the Greek omits as.  Confused noise from a dead instrument is contrasted with the sweet music of the spirit.    2.  Prophecy . . . faith are the spiritual gifts (cf. introduction to this section).  To remove mountains is proverbial of doing the impossible.    3.  Distribute goods: this is the gift of the almsgiver (see above).  Deliver my body to be burned: instead of to be burned many manuscripts read "that I may glory."  If to be burned is retained, as it probably should be, it refers to heroic self-sacrifice for some good natural motive.  The two acts in this v. are philanthropy but may not be charity, which is one with the love of God.  They may help the beneficiaries but they profit me nothing.    6.  Justice and truth are interchangeable: truth corresponds with what is in our mind, or with reality; justice corresponds with what is in God's mind, and with His law.  So also injustice (wickedness) and falsehood correspond.    7.  Bears with: the Greek means to keep or to cover.  Here it may mean to bear patiently and with self-control; or to cover over with silence, to excuse.  Charity believes the best until evil is evident, then it hopes for reform; but even if the evil remains beyond hope of change, charity endures it with patience.

13, 8-13:  Contrast with Other Gifts.    8.  The spiritual gifts may be removed in this world through no fault of the possessor, and they will certainly not be found in heaven; but charity remains here as long as there is no grievous sin, and remains everlastingly in heaven.    9-12.  Charity enables us to see and love God in our neighbor.  This charity will remain but will be changed in heaven.  Now we are, with grace, in our spiritual childhood.  Even with the highest gifts of knowledge, such as in prophecy, we know God only in part, reflected in His creatures as through a mirror.  The metal mirrors of those days reflected poorly, in an obscure manner.  But when grace turns to glory and we are spiritually mature, our charity shall be based on the direct sight of God, face to face; we shall know Him directly as He now knows us.

Note that throughout this passage charity is not a blind sentimental attraction but a love of esteem and appreciation that is found in the intellect and will.  The Greek word for charity means just this.  Grace is a sharing of the life of God, which consists in knowing and loving Himself.

Confraternity Bible:

Its Excellence  1* And I point out to you a yet more excellent way.  If I speak with the tongues of man and of angels, but do not have charity, I have become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.  2 And if I have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, yet do not have charity, I am nothing.  3 And if I distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, yet do not have charity, it profits me nothing.

4 Charity is patient, is kind; charity does not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up, 5 is not ambitious, is not self-seeking, is not provoked; thinks no evil, 6 does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Contrast with Other Gifts  8 Charity never fails, whereas prophecies will disappear, and tongues will cease, and knowledge will be destroyed.  9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when that which is perfect has come, that which is imperfect will be done away with.  11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child.  Now that I have become a man, I have put away the things of a child.  12* We see now through a mirror in an obscure manner, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I have been known.  13 So there abide faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.


1: Charity: here is meant the supernatural virtue comprising love of God above all things and love of neighbor for God.  The Greek word implies, not a mere sentimental feeling, but a sense of appreciation of the worth of God in Himself and in one's neighbor.

12: Charity is the will's choice of God based on the knowledge of God.  We know Him now indirectly through his reflection in creatures.  This indirect vision is vague and distorted as was the vision seen through the metal mirrors of St. Paul's day.  But when grace becomes the beatific vision through the lifting of the veil, we shall see God directly and know Him as He knows us.