[1.] As Corinth is now the first city of Greece, so of old it prided itself on many temporal advantages, and more than all the rest, on excess of wealth. And on this account one of the heathen writers entitled the place “the rich 2 .” For it lies on the isthmus of the Peloponnesus, and had great facilities for traffic. The city was also full of numerous orators, and philosophers, and one, 3 I think, of the seven called wise men, was of this city. Now these things we have mentioned, not for ostentations sake, nor to make, a display of great learning: (for indeed what is there in knowing these things?) but they are of use to us in the argument of the Epistle.
Paul also himself suffered many things in this city; and Christ, too, in this city appears to him and says, (Acts xviii. 10), “Be not silent, but speak; for I have much people in this city:” and he remained there two years. In this city [Acts xix. 16. Corinth put here, by lapse of memory, for Ephesus.] also the devil went out, whom the Jews endeavoring to exorcise, suffered so grievously. In this city did those of the magicians, who repented, collect together their books and burn them, and there appeared to be fifty thousand. (Acts xix. 18. ἀργυρίου omitted.) In this city also, in the time of Gallio the Proconsul, Paul was beaten before the judgment seat. 4
[2.] The devil, therefore, seeing that a great and populous city had laid hold of the truth, a city admired for wealth and wisdom, and the head of Greece; (for Athens and Lacedæmon were then and since in a miserable state, the dominion having long ago fallen away from them;) and seeing that with great readiness they had received the word of God; what doth he? He divides the men. For he knew that even the strongest kingdom of all, divided against itself, shall not stand. He had a vantage ground too, for this device in the wealth, the wisdom of the inhabitants. Hence certain men, having made parties of their own, and having become self-elected made themselves leaders of the people, and some sided with these, and some with those; with one sort, as being rich; with another, as wise and able to teach something out of the common. Who on their part, receiving them, set themselves up forsooth to teach more than the Apostle did: 5 at which he was hinting, when he said, “I was not able to speak unto you as unto spiritual” (1 Cor. 3.1.); evidently not his inability, but their infirmity, was the cause of their not having been abundantly instructed. And this, (1 Cor. 4.8.) “Ye are become rich without us,” is the remark of one pointing that way. And this was no small matter, but of all things most pernicious; that the Church should be torn asunder.
p. 2 And another sin, too, besides these, was openly committed there: namely, a person who had had intercourse with his step-mother not only escaped rebuke, but was even a leader of the multitude, and gave occasion to his followers to be conceited. Wherefore he saith, (1 Cor. 5.2.) “And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned.” And after this again, certain of those who as they pretended were of the more perfect sort, and who for gluttonys sake used to eat of things offered unto idols, and sit at meat in the temples, were bringing all to ruin. Others again, having contentions and strifes about money, committed unto the heathen courts (τοῖς ἔξωθεν σικαδτηρίοις) all matters of that kind. Many persons also wearing long hair used to go about among them; whom he ordereth to be shorn. There was another fault besides, no trifling one; their eating in the churches apart by themselves, and giving no share to the needy.
And again, they were erring in another point, being puffed up with the gifts; and hence jealous of one another; which was also the chief cause of the distraction of the Church. The doctrine of the Resurrection, too, was lame (ἐχώλευε) among them: for some of them had no strong belief that there is any resurrection of bodies, having still on them the disease of Grecian foolishness. For indeed all these things were the progeny of the madness which belongs to Heathen Philosophy, and she was the mother of all mischief. Hence, likewise, they had become divided; in this respect also having learned of the philosophers. For these latter were no less at mutual variance, always, through love of rule and vain glory contradicting one anothers opinions, and bent upon making some new discovery in addition to all that was before. And the cause of this was, their having begun to trust themselves to reasonings.
[3.] They had written accordingly to him by the hand of Fortunatus and Stephanas and Achaicus, by whom also he himself writes; and this he has indicated in the end of the Epistle: not however upon all these subjects, but about marriage and virginity; wherefore also he said, (1 Cor. 7.1.) “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote” &c. And he proceeds to give injunctions, both on the points about which they had written, and those about which they had not written; having learnt with accuracy all their failings. Timothy, too, he sends with the letters, knowing that letters indeed have great force, yet that not a little would be added to them by the presence of the disciple also.
Now whereas those who had divided the Church among themselves, from a feeling of shame lest they should seem to have done so for ambitions sake, contrived cloaks for what had happened, their teaching (forsooth) more perfect doctrines, and being wiser than all others; Paul sets himself first against the disease itself, plucking up the root of the evils, and its offshoot, the spirit of separation. And he uses great boldness of speech: for these were his own disciples, more than all others. Wherefore he saith (1 Cor. 9.2.) “If to others I be not an Apostle, yet at least I am unto you; for the seal of my apostleship are ye.” Moreover they were in a weaker condition (to say the least of it) than the others. Wherefore he saith, (1 Cor. 3:1, 2. οὐδὲ for οὔτε). “For I have not spoken unto you as unto spiritual; for hitherto ye were not able, neither yet even now are ye able.” (This he saith, that they might not suppose that he speaks thus in regard of the time past alone.)
However, it was utterly improbable that all should have been corrupted; rather there were some among them who were very holy. And this he signified 6 in the middle of the Epistle, where he says, (1 Cor. 4:3, 6.) “To me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you:” and adds, “these things I have in a figure transferred unto myself and Apollos.”
This is said of Sosthenes, Acts xviii. 17. But the context makes it probable that St. Paul was beaten also. [Hardly.]1:5
St. Irenæus, Adv. Hær. iii. v. 1, points out this as a main topic of heretical teaching. “These most futile of Sophisters affirm that the Apostles taught feignedly, after the capacity of the hearers, and gave answer after the prejudices of those who enquired of them, discoursing with the blind blindly according to their blindness, with the feeble according to their feebleness, and with the erring according to their error.”2:6
It appears by the subsequent commentary on these verses, that S. Chrysostom understood the Apostle to be alluding in them to persons among the Corinthians, who had suffered from unjust censure and party spirit. See Hom. ii. §. 1; xi. near the end; and the opening of Hom. xii.
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