Tuesday, September 24, 2013

1 Corinthians 14, first look with St Thomas

Chapter 14 of First Corinthians is an extended consideration of two charismata in particular: prophecy and speaking in tongues (and a brief mention of interpretation of tongues). Speaking in tongues is the gift most often associated with the "Charismatic Movement", so it will be helpful to understand that better. And also, since prophecy is a better gift and St Paul wants us all to seek it (Desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy), this too is worth considering.

In the commentary on 12, St Thomas said about these gifts:

  • prophecy is the grace to manifest what is known to God alone (such as future contingents)
  • speaking in tongues allows one to overcome the barrier of language
  • interpretation of tongues allows one to understand the difficult words of Scripture
In Chapter 14, however, St Paul talks about speaking in tongues as not understandable by men and as only edifying oneself, rather than the whole community. Let's see what St Thomas has to say about this... An outline is always a good way to start.

  • Prophecy excels the gift of tongues
    • reasons on account of the nonbelievers
      • More useful in exhortation (5-12)
      • More useful in praying (13-17)
    • reasons on account of the believers
  • How the gifts of prophecy and tongues should be used
Early on, St Thomas says "For the explanation of the entire chapter, three things need to be known beforehand: (1) what is prophecy, (2) how many kinds of prophecy are in Scripture, (3) what is speaking in tongues."
  • Prophecy is the sight or manifestation of future contingents or of things transcending human understanding
  • Four things are required for this
    • An image in the imagination which is the likeness of the thing shown
    • Intellectual light which allows the intellect to know beyond natural knowledge
      • Nebuchadnezzar and Pharoah had dreams but were not prophets; Daniel and Joseph interpreted the dreams and were prophets
    • Courage to announce the things revealed
    • Working of miracles which lends certitude for prophecy
  • Prophets differ inasmuch as they possess these four things differently
  • The prophecy referred to in this chapter belongs to one who "has the intellectual light to explain imaginary visions made to himself or someone else"
  • The gift of tongues is the actual speaking of foreign languages
  • As for this chapter, "When the Apostle mentions here about speaking in a tongue, he means an unknown language not interpreted; as when one might speak German to a Frenchman without an interpreter, he is speaking in a tongues. Hence, all speech neither understood nor explained, no matter what it is, is properly called speaking in a tongue." St Thomas says "whatever speech" because any speech that is truly such (and not just noise) has some meaning, whether it is known or not.
What is meant by speaking in tongues becomes more clear when he comments on verse 5 (I'm paraphrasing):
  • He says that men are sometimes moved by the Holy Spirit to speak something mystical, which they do not understand--this person has the gift of tongues
  • One who speaks in tongues and interpret is better than one who is prophet--because to interpret difficult things is what the prophet does (so St Thomas here seems to identify the prophet and the interpreter of tongues); so such a one is both a prophet and has the gift of tongues
In verse 6, St Paul talks about his own gift to speak in tongues:
  • This can mean either foreign languages or any speech (sign) that is not understood
  • Things about which Paul speaks:
    • revelation, by which the mind is enlightened to know divine things
    • knowledge, that is, about earthly things that leads to building up of faith (Thomas interestingly excludes geometry and astronomy...)
    • prophecy, which is about future events (this is more particular than the sense above)
    • doctrine, which is about moral acts
He finishes his account of verse 11 by exhorting us, "Don't be barbarians to one another."

That's all I'm going to do for now. I'll probably write more on this later.

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