Love never faileth; but
whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues,
they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall
vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that
which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought
as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now
we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as also I am known. I Corinthians 13:8-12.
Paul speaks in the famous words of our
text, of things which are in part, or, as we should say today, fragmentary
things, and of the things which are perfect, or complete. The fragmentary
things shall vanish away; the complete things shall abide. The former are
temporal; the latter are eternal. The fragmentary, temporal things are
not merely material; they are some of the highest gifts of the Divine Spirit:
prophecy, which is the interpretation of our time and history, tongues,
which are our ecstatic feeling and speaking; and knowledge, which is the
understanding of our existence.
Even those spiritual goods shall disappear
with all the material and intellectual goods. They are all fragmentary,
temporal, transitory. Love alone does not disappear; it endures forever.
For God Himself is love, according to John who carries through the thought
But there is another consideration in our
text which seems to contradict the words about love. Paul singles out knowledge,
and points to the difference between our fragmentary, indirect and darkened
knowledge, and the full, direct and total knowledge to come. He compares
the childish imaginations with the mature insights of the adult. He speaks
of something which, besides love, is perfect and eternal, namely, the seeing
of the truth, face to face; the knowledge which is as full as God's knowledge
How are these two considerations united?
Did Paul forget that he had just predicted the perfection and eternity
of love alone? No, he did not forget; for he closes this part of his letter
by re-emphasizing the abiding character of love as the greatest thing of
all. Or are the words about knowledge inserted without thought of a definite
connection with the rest of the passage? They are not merely inserted;
for there is a link, one of the most profound phrases in this great chapter:
"even as also I am fully known" -- fully known, that is, by God.
But there is only one way to know a personality -- to become united with
that personality through love. Full knowledge presupposes full love. God
knows me, because He loves me; and I shall know Him face to face through
a similar uniting, which is love and knowledge at the same time. Love lasts;
love alone endures, and nothing else besides love, nothing independent
Yet, in love, the seeing face to face and
the knowledge of the centre of the other are implied. It is not blind love
that is the enduring love, the love that God Himself is. It is a
seeing love, a knowing love, a love that looks through into the depth of
the Heart of God, and into the depth of our hearts. There is no strangeness
to love; love knows; it is the only power of complete and lasting knowledge.
There is a Greek word which can designate both knowledge and sensual love.
It can designate both, because both meanings express an act of union, an
overcoming of the cleavage between beings. Knowledge shall be done away
with in so far as it is different from love; knowledge shall become eternal
in so far as it is one with love. Therefore, the standard of knowledge
is the standard of love. For Paul, the difference between knowledge and
love, between seeing and acting, between theory and practice, exists only
when fragmentary knowledge is our concern. Full knowledge does not admit
a difference between itself and love, or between theory and practice. Love
overcomes the seeming opposition between theory and practice; it is knowing
and doing at the same time. Therefore, it is the greatest thing of all;
therefore, God Himself is love; therefore, the Christ, as the manifestation
of the Divine Love, is full of grace and of truth. That is what
Paul means; and that is the standard of knowledge he gives.
And now let us consider our existence,
and the knowledge that we possess. Paul says that all our present knowledge
is like the perception of things in a mirror, that it therefore
concerns enigmas and riddles. This is only another way of expressing the
fragmentary character of our knowledge. For fragments out of the context
of the whole are only riddles to us. We may surmise the nature of the whole;
we may approach the whole indirectly; but we do not see the whole itself;
we do not grasp it directly face to face. A little light and much darkness;
a few fragments and never the whole; many problems and never a solution;
only reflections in the mirrors of our souls, without the source of truth
itself: that is the situation of our knowledge. And it is the situation
of our love. Because the love which is perfect and lasting lies not within
us, perfect knowledge is denied us. Since, as beings, we are separated
from each other, and therefore from this ultimate unity, the community
of knowledge among single beings is made impossible, as it is also, then,
between beings and the Ground of Being Itself. A great philosopher has
said that our knowledge reaches as far as our creative will reaches. That
is true for a certain realm of life. But it is not true for the whole of
our life. The fact that our knowledge reaches as far as our uniting love
reaches is valid for the whole of human existence.
Mankind has always tried to decipher the
puzzling fragments of life. That attempt is not just a matter for the philosophers
or priests or prophets or wise men in all periods of history. It is a matter
for everyone. For every man is a fragment himself. He is a riddle to himself;
and the individual life of everyone else is an enigma to him, dark, puzzling,
embarrassing, exciting, and very being is a continuous asking for the meaning
of our being, a continuous attempt to decipher the enigma of our world
and our heart. Before children are adjusted to the conventional reactions
of adults and have grown out of their creative individuality, they show
the continuous asking, the urgent desire to decipher the riddles they see
in the primitive mirror of their experience. The creative man, in all realms
of life, is like a child, who dares to inquire beyond the limits of conventional
answers. He discovers the fragmentary character of all these answers, a
character darkly and subconsciously felt by all men. He may destroy, by
means of one fundamental question, a whole, well-organized system of life
and society, of ethics and religion. He may show that what people believed
to be a whole is nothing but a fragment of a fragment. He may shake the
certainty on which centuries lived, by unearthing a riddle or an enigma
in its very foundation. The misery of man lies in the fragmentary character
of his life and knowledge; the greatness of man lies in his ability to
know that his being is fragmentary and enigmatic. For man is able to be
puzzled and to ask, to go beyond the fragments, seeking the perfect. Yet,
in being able to do so, he feels at the same time the tragedy implicit
in his being, the tragedy of the riddle and the fragment. Man is subject,
with all beings, to the law of vanity. But man alone is conscious of that
law. He is therefore infinitely more miserable than all other beings in
the servitude to that law; on the other hand, he is infinitely superior,
because he alone knows that there is something beyond vanity and decay,
beyond riddles and enigmas. This is felt by Paul, when he says that the
creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of decay into the liberty
of the glory of the children of God.
Man is a fragment and a riddle to himself.
The more he experiences and knows that fact, the more he is really man.
Paul experienced the breakdown of a system of life and thought which he
believed to be a whole, a perfect truth without riddle or gaps. He then
found himself buried under the pieces of his knowledge and his morals.
But Paul never tried again to build up a new, comfortable house out of
the pieces. He dwelt with the pieces. He realized always that fragments
remain fragments. even if one attempts to reorganize them. The unity to
which they belong lies beyond them; it s grasped through hope, but not
face to face.
How could Paul endure life, as it lay in
fragments? He endured it because the fragments bore a new meaning to him.
The pictures in the mirror pointed to something new for him: they anticipated
the perfect, the reality of love. Through the pieces of his knowledge and
morality, love appeared to him. And the power of love transformed the tormenting
riddles into symbols of truth, the tragic fragments into symbols of the