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13:1-3 THE LAW OF LOVE

OVERVIEW: The tongues of men are human languages (SEVERIAN OF


GABALA). Without love they are like a noisy gong (AMBROSIASTER).
The tongues of angels are perceived by the mind, not the ear
(THEODORET OF CYR). One may have prophetic powers yet be filled
with an evil spirit, as in the case of Saul. Even Balaams ass
prophesied in a human language to demonstrate the majesty of God
(AMBROSIASTER). By faith Paul does not mean common and
universal faith but the spiritual gift of faith (GENNADIUS OF
CONSTANTINOPLE). Love, which fulfills the law (SEVERIAN), is the
head of religion (AMBROSIASTER). Love does not hate anyone
(CAESARIUS OF ARLES). Paul discounts even the most extreme
sacrifices if they are made without love (CHRYSOSTOM). Offering
ones body to be burned is not permission to commit suicide but a
command not to resist suffering if the alternative is being forced to
do wrong (AUGUSTINE).
13:1 Speaking Without Love
A NOISY GONG. AMBROSIASTER: It is a great gift to be able to speak
in different languages. To speak with the tongues of angels is even
greater. But in order to show that none of this can be ascribed to
merit and that every tongue is subject to the glory of God, Paul adds
that a man without love is like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Balaams ass spoke a human language in order to demonstrate
the majesty of God, and children sang the praises of Christ in order
to confound the Jews.2 In fact the Savior went further and declared
that even stones could cry out if necessary. COMMENTARY ON PAULS
EPISTLES.4

A NUISANCE WITHOUT LOVE. CHRYSOSTOM: In other words, says


Paul, if I have no love I am not just useless but a positive nuisance.
HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLES OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS 32.6.
TONGUES OF MEN ARE LANGUAGES. SEVERIAN OF GABALA: The
tongues of angels refer to the different languages spoken on earth
since the destruction of the tower of Babel. As Moses says in
Deuteronomy [32:8]: God has set the boundaries of the nations
according to the number of angels. It is therefore the task of each
angel to defend the distinction of nations. The tongues of men on the
other hand are languages which we learn; they do not come to us
naturally. PAULINE COMMENTARY FROM THE GREEK CHURCH.
TONGUES OF ANGELS NOT PERCEIVED BY THE EAR. THEODORET OF
CYR: Paul chooses speaking in tongues as his example because the
Corinthians thought that it was the greatest of the gifts. This was
because it had been given to the apostles on the day of Pentecost,
before any of the others. The tongues of angels are those which are
perceived by the mind, not by the ear. COMMENTARY ON THE FIRST
EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 251.
13:2 Nothing Without Love
THE LIMITS OF PROPHETIC POWERS. AMBROSIASTER: Balaam
prophesied even though he was not a prophet, and Caiaphas also
prophesied.9 So did Saul when, because of his disobedience, he was
filled with an evil spirit. Judas accompanied the other disciples and
understood all the mysteries and knowledge given to them, but as an
enemy of love he betrayed the Savior.11 Both Tertullian and Novatian
were men of no small learning, but because of their pride they lost
the fellowship of love and falling into schism devised heresies, to
their own damnation. COMMENTARY ON PAULS EPISTLES.
MIRACLES OF WORD AND DEED. CHRYSOSTOM: By naming
prophecy and faith, Paul included every spiritual gift, since miracles

are either in word or in deed. HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLES OF PAUL


TO THE CORINTHIANS 32.7.
THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF FAITH. GENNADIUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE:
By faith, Paul does not mean the common and universal faith of
believers but the spiritual gift of faith. The two things have the same
name, because when the Holy Spirit comes upon us it is our human
faith which expands to make room for the divine gift. PAULINE
COMMENTARY FROM THE GREEK CHURCH.
13:3a Giving Away All
EXTREME SACRIFICES. CHRYSOSTOM: Paul discounts even the most
extreme sacrifices, if they are made without love. HOMILIES ON THE
EPISTLES OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS 32.8.
GIVING ONES BODY TO BE BURNED. AUGUSTINE: Giving ones body
to be burned is not a license to commit suicide but a command not to
resist suffering if the alternative is being forced to do wrong.
LETTER 173, TO DONATUS.
13:3b Gaining Nothing Without Love
THE HEAD OF RELIGION. AMBROSIASTER: Love is the very head of
religion, and someone who has no head is dead. COMMENTARY ON
PAULS EPISTLES.
LOVE DOES NOT HATE ANYONE. CAESARIUS OF ARLES: Since true
charity loves all, if someone knows that he hates even one other
person he should hasten to vomit up this bitter gall, in order to be
ready to receive the sweetness of charity himself. SERMON 23.4.
LOVE FULFILLS THE LAW. SEVERIAN OF GABALA: The one who loves
fulfills the law. The one who fulfills the law is well respected. The

one who is well respected receives a spiritual gift. PAULINE


COMMENTARY FROM THE GREEK CHURCH.
13:4-7 THE NATURE OF LOVE
OVERVIEW: Love seeks the good of others (CHRYSOSTOM,
CASSIODORUS), hating what is unjust and rejoicing in what is good
(THEODORET OF CYR), discerning its own limitations (BASIL). The
greater the love of God the saints share, the more they learn to
endure all things (GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS, AUGUSTINE).
13:4 Love is Patient and Kind
THE ADORNMENT OF LOVE. CHRYSOSTOM: He next makes an
outline of loves matchless beauty, adorning its image with all
aspects of virtue, as if with many colors brought together with
precision. HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLES OF PAUL TO THE
CORINTHIANS 33.1.
LOVE NOT ENVIOUS. AUGUSTINE: The reason why love does not envy
is because it is not puffed up. For where puffing up precedes, envy
follows, because pride is the mother of envy. LETTER 22, TO
HONORATUS.
13:5 Not Arrogant or Rude
LOVE SEEKS TO DISCERN ITS OWN DEFECTS. BASIL: A person living
in solitary retirement will not readily discern his own defects, since
he has no one to admonish or correct him with mildness and
compassion. In fact, admonition from an enemy often produces in a
prudent man the desire for amendment. THE LONG RULES 7.

REMOVING VICE. CHRYSOSTOM: He adorns love not only for what it


has but also for what it has not. Love both elicits virtue and expels
vice, not permitting it to spring up at all. HOMILIES ON THE
EPISTLES OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS 33.3.
FREE SERVITUDE TRANSCENDING DOMINANCE. CASSIODORUS: So
those who serve the Lord with gladness are they who love him above
all else and show brotherly charity to each other.
What free servitude is this! What service, excelling all forms of
dominance! EXPLANATION OF THE PSALMS 2.
13:6 Rejoicing in the Right
CAST OFF SULLENNESS. BASIL: Cast off the sullenness of an angry
man which you are evincing by your silence, and regain joy in your
heart, peace toward your likeminded brothers and sisters, and zeal
and solicitude for the preservation of the churches of the Lord.
LETTER 65, TO ATARBIUS.
WHAT IS GOOD. THEODORET OF CYR: Love hates what is unjust and
rejoices in what is good and honorable. COMMENTARY ON THE FIRST
EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 253.
13:7 Love Bears All Things
ENDURING ALL THINGS. GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS: Bearing all
things, enduring all things for our love and hope regarding him, let
us give thanks for all things, both favorable and unfavorable alike
I mean the pleasant and the painfulsince reason often knows even
these as arms of salvation. ON HIS BROTHER CAESARIUS 24.
LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR. AMBROSE: A man with this charity fears
nothing, for charity casts out fear. When fear is banished and cast
out, charity endures all things, bears all things. One who bears all

things through love cannot fear martyrdom. LETTER 49, TO


HORONATIANUS.
BELIEVING ALL THINGS. AUGUSTINE: For what is it to hear about
oneself from you but to know oneself? Who, then, can know himself
and say It is false, unless he himself lies? But because charity
believes all things, certainly among those whom it makes one, in
intimate union with each other, I, also, O Lord, do even confess to
you in such a way that men may hear, though I cannot prove to
them the things I confess are true. But those whose ears charity
opens to me, they believe. CONFESSIONS 10.3.
EVEN DEATH. CHRYSOSTOM: Out of long suffering love bears all
things, whether they are burdensome or grievous, whether insults,
lashes or even death. HOMILY ON THE EPISTLES OF PAUL TO THE
CORINTHIANS 33.4.
LOVE ENDURES ALL THINGS. AUGUSTINE: The greater the love of
God that the saints possess, the more they endure all things for him.
ON PATIENCE 17.
13:8-13 THE FUTURE OF LOVE
OVERVIEW: In this life we are children, compared with what we
shall become in the next life (AMBROSIASTER, CHRYSOSTOM). Our
knowledge now is imperfect (BASIL), but it is proximately reliable
within its limits (AUGUSTINE). If now we see as if in a mirror only
dimly (CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, ORIGEN, PELAGIUS), after the
resurrection we shall understand fully (DIDYMUS THE BLIND). We
shall know as we are known (GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS), as if face to
face (CHRYSOSTOM, AUGUSTINE). We shall know everything we
know now, but much more as well (CHRYSOSTOM). Tongues cease as
in this sentence (ORIGEN), but love never fails by falling
irremediably into sin (SEVERIAN OF GABALA). Final judgment
occurs by making the imperfect perfect. Faith embraces, hope

envisions, love reigns (AMBROSIASTER). Love, which will never cease


(CYPRIAN, MACRINA, CHRYSOSTOM), is the greatest of these
(THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA, SEVERIAN, THEODORET OF CYR).
13:8a Love Never Ends
LOVE ALONE PERSEVERES. MACRINA (THE SISTER OF GREGORY OF
NYSSA): Love is first among all the activities connected with virtue
and all the commandments of the law. If, therefore, the soul ever
attains this love, it will need none of the others, having reached the
fullness of its being. It seems that love alone preserves in itself the
character of the divine blessedness. And knowledge becomes love
because what is known is by nature beautiful. [THE TEACHING OF
MACRINA] ON THE SOUL AND THE RESURRECTION.
LOVE NEVER FAILS. SEVERIAN OF GABALA: Love never fails, which
means that it never falls into sin. PAULINE COMMENTARY FROM THE
GREEK CHURCH.
UNCHANGING LOVE. THEODORET OF CYR: Love always remains
firm and stable, unchanged and unchanging. COMMENTARY ON THE
FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 254.
13:8b Tongues and Knowledge Will End
TONGUES WILL CEASE. ORIGEN: Tongues will cease when I
express what I want to say with my mind. COMMENTARY ON 1
CORINTHIANS 4.52.
KNOWLEDGE WILL PASS AWAY. CHRYSOSTOM: What about our
enemies and the heathen? Should we not hate them? No, we do not
hate them but their teaching; not the person but the wicked conduct
and the corrupt mind. It is no surprise to discover that prophecies
and tongues will pass away, but what about knowledge? Paul goes

on to explain why he includes that as well. HOMILIES ON THE


EPISTLES OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS 35.2.
USE KNOWLEDGE TO BUILD UP LOVE. AUGUSTINE: Use your
knowledge as a sort of tool to build the edifice of charity, which
remains forever, even when knowledge passes away. For
knowledge which is used to promote love is useful, but in itself and
separated from love it turns out to be not only useless but even
harmful. LETTER 55.
13:9 Knowledge and Prophecy Imperfect
OUR KNOWLEDGE IS IMPERFECT. AUGUSTINE: Our knowledge in
this life remains imperfect, but it is reliable within its limits.
Believers trust the witness of their senses, which are subservient to
their intelligence. They may occasionally be deceived, but even so
they are still better off than those who maintain that the senses can
never be trusted. CITY OF GOD 19.18.
13:10 The Imperfect Will Pass Away
THE PARTIAL AND THE COMPLETE. BASIL: Even though more
knowledge is always being acquired by everyone, it will ever fall
short in all things of its rightful completeness until the time when
that which is perfect being comes, that which is in part will be done
away. CONCERNING FAITH.
WHEN THE PERFECT COMES. AMBROSIASTER: Everything which is
imperfect will be destroyed. But destruction occurs by making the
imperfect perfect, not by removing it altogether. COMMENTARY ON
PAULS EPISTLES.
IMPERFECTION SEEN AS LIMITED. CHRYSOSTOM: What is implied
from this is not that our knowledge will disappear altogether, but

that its imperfections will be seen as very limited. We shall know


everything we know now imperfectly, but so much more as well. For
example, we know now that God is everywhere, but we do not know
how this is possible. We know that he made the creation out of
nothing, but we have no idea how. We know that Christ was born of
a virgin, but we do not know how. And so on. HOMILIES ON THE
EPISTLES OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS 36.2.
THEN WE SHALL KNOW. AMBROSE: For now we know in part and
understand in part. But then we shall be able to comprehend what is
perfect, when not the shadow but the reality of the majesty and
eternity of God shall begin to shine and to reveal itself unveiled
before our eyes. ON HIS BROTHER SATYRUS 2.32.
FAITH AND SIGHT. AUGUSTINE: But, as this faith, which works by
love, begins to penetrate the soul, it tends, through the vital power of
goodness, to change into sight, so that the holy and perfect in heart
catch glimpses of that ineffable beauty whose full vision is our
highest happiness . We begin in faith, we are perfected in sight.
ENCHIRIDION 1.5.
13:11a Like a Child
WHEN I WAS A CHILD. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: This is a figure
of speech for the way Paul lived under the law, when he persecuted
the Word and was still senseless and childish, blaspheming God.
CHRIST THE EDUCATOR 1.6.33.
13:11b Giving Up Childish Ways
CHILDISH WAYS. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: He is not referring to
the growing stature that comes with age, nor to any definite period
of time, nor even to any secret teaching reserved only for mature
adults, when he claims that he left and put away all childishness.

Rather he means to say that those who live by the law are childish in
the sense that they are subject to fear, like children afraid of ghosts,
while those who are obedient to the Word and are completely free
are in his opinion mature. CHRIST THE EDUCATOR 1.6.33.
FROM CHILD TO ADULT. BASIL: When I was a childthat is, fresh
from committing to memory the first elements of the divine Word
I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child.
But now that I have become a manthat is, and am hastening to
attain the measure of the age of the fullness of ChristI have put
away the things of a child. CONCERNING FAITH.
THIS LIFE AND THE NEXT. AMBROSIASTER: In this life we are
children, compared with what we shall become in the next life. For
everything in this life is imperfect, including knowledge.
COMMENTARY ON PAULS EPISTLES.
WHAT WE SHALL KNOW. CHRYSOSTOM: Here Paul points out just
how great the difference is between what we know now and what we
shall know in the future. HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLES OF PAUL TO
THE CORINTHIANS 34.2.
13:12a Seeing in a Mirror
SELF-KNOWLEDGE BY REFLECTION. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: We
know ourselves by reflection, as in a mirror. We contemplate, as far
as we may, the creative cause on the basis of the divine element in
us. STROMATEIS 1.94.
IN A MIRROR DIMLY. ORIGEN: If the knowledge manifested to those
worthy of it comes through a mirror and is an enigma in the present
age and will be fully revealed only then, it is foolish to suppose
that it will not be the same for the other virtues as well. ON PRAYER
11.2.

THEN FACE TO FACE. CHRYSOSTOM: God does not have a face, of


course. Paul uses this image to denote greater clarity and
perspicuity. Someone sitting in the darkness at night will not run
after the light of the sun as long as he cannot see it. But when the
dawn comes and the suns brightness begins to shine on him, he will
eventually follow after its light. HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLES OF
PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS 34.2.
AS THE ANGELS SEE GOD. AUGUSTINE: Face to facethis is how the
holy angels, who are called our angels, already see. They are our
angels in the sense that once we have been delivered from the power
of darkness, have received the pledge of the spirit and have been
translated to the kingdom of Christ, we shall have begun to belong
to the angels. CITY OF GOD 22.29.
AS TYPES AND SHADOWS. PELAGIUS: The dim mirror is the law of
Moses, which contains everything in types and shadows.
COMMENTARY ON THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 13.
13:12b Understanding Fully
THEN I SHALL UNDERSTAND FULLY. DIDYMUS THE BLIND: This
means that the things which we now hear on the authority of the
Scriptures we believe to be so. After the resurrection we shall see
them with our eyes and know them in reality, when partial
knowledge has ceased, for the knowledge which depends on hearing
is part of the knowledge of an eyewitness and of experience.
MONTANIST ORACLES, ON THE TRINITY 103.2.
WE SHALL KNOW AS WE ARE KNOWN. GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS:
No one has yet discovered or shall ever discover what God is in his
nature and essence. As for a discovery some time in the future, let
those who have a mind for it research and speculate. The discovery
will take place, so my reason tells me, when this Godlike, divine
thing, I mean our mind and reason, mingles with its kin, when the

copy returns to the pattern it now longs after. This seems to me to be


the meaning of the great dictum that we shall, in time to come, know
even as we are known. THEOLOGICAL ORATION 28.17.
SEEING WITHOUT SPATIAL LIMITATIONS. AUGUSTINE: But when we
begin to have a spiritual body as we are promised in the
resurrection, let us see it even in the body, either by an intellectual
vision or in some miraculous manner, since the grace of the spiritual
body is indescribable. We shall then see it according to our capacity,
without limitations of space, not larger in one part and smaller in
another, since it is not a body, and it is wholly present everywhere.
LETTER 120, TO CONSENTIUS.
13:13a Faith, Hope, Love Abide
LOVE ABIDES. CYPRIAN: There will always be love in the kingdom, it
will abide forever in the unity of a harmonious brotherhood. Discord
cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. One who has violated the love
of Christ by faithless dissension cannot attain to the reward of
Christ. UNITY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH 14.
LOVE REIGNS. AMBROSIASTER: Love is the greatest because while
faith is preached and hope pertains to the future life, love reigns. As
1 John [3:16] says: By this we know his love, that he laid down his
life for us. Love is therefore the greatest of the three, because by it
the human race has been renewed. COMMENTARY ON PAULS
EPISTLES.
LOVE WILL NEVER CEASE. CHRYSOSTOM: Faith and hope will cease
when the things believed in and hoped for appear. But love then
becomes even greater and more ardent. HOMILIES ON THE EPISTLES
OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS 34.5.
13:13b The Greatest of These is Love

LOVE ABIDES ETERNALLY. CYPRIAN: Charity is the bond of


brotherhood, the foundation of peace, the steadfastness and
firmness of unity. It is greater than both hope and faith. It excels
both good works and suffering of the faith. As an eternal virtue, it
will abide with us forever in the kingdom of heaven. THE GOOD OF
PATIENCE 15.
OVERCOMING STRIFE. THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA: Paul tells the
Corinthians that love is the greatest of all because there was jealousy
and strife among them, and the church was in danger of being
divided. PAULINE COMMENTARY FROM THE GREEK CHURCH.
FULFILLING THE LAW. SEVERIAN OF GABALA: Love is the greatest
because it is the fulfilling of the law. PAULINE COMMENTARY FROM
THE GREEK CHURCH.
LOVE IS THE GREATEST. THEODORET OF CYR: If faith is the
substance of things hoped for, as Hebrews [11:1] tells us, it will be
superfluous once these things have arrived. Similarly with hope. But
love is greater than these, because when our troubles are over and
our bodies have been changed in the resurrection, our minds will be
steadied by it, so that they will no longer desire now one thing, now
another. COMMENTARY ON THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS
25556.1

1 Bray, G. L. (1999). 1-2 Corinthians. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT


7 (130137). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.