2 Corinthians. 3:1-5
1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do,
letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our
letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by
all men; 3 and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us,
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets
of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such is the confidence that we
have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to
claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God.
78. – After presenting his excuse, by which he won the good will of his
hearers, the Apostle continues toward his main intention, namely, to treat
about the ministers of the New Testament. In regard to this he does two
things: first, he commends the dignity of the good ministers; secondly, he
expands on the guilt of the evil ministers (chap. 10ff.). In regard to the
first he does two things: first, he commends the ministry of the New
Testament; secondly, he commends the exercise of this ministry in others by
exhorting them to this (chap. 6). In regard to the first he commends the
ministry of the New Testament from three aspects: first, in this chapter,
from its dignity; secondly, from its exercise (chap. 4); thirdly, from its
reward (chap. 5). In regard to the first he does two things: first, he
removes an objection; secondly, he commends the ministers of the New
Testament (v. 6).
In regard to the first it should be noted that the Apostle intended to
commend the ministers of the New Testament, of which he is one. Therefore,
lest the Corinthians object that in doing this he wishes to commend himself,
he at once removes this, saying, Are we beginning to commend ourselves
again? Here he does two things: he first raises the question and then he
79. –The question is this: I say that we do not adulterate the Word of God
as the false apostles do, but we speak with sincerity as from God. But in
saying this, are we beginning to commend ourselves again?, i.e., are we
saying this because we want to procure our glory and not that of God?
And he says, again, because in the first epistle he had commended himself
enough, when he said (3:10): “Like a skilled master builder I laid a
foundation.” Therefore, we are not saying this to seek our own glory, but
God’s: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not
your own lips” (Prov. 27:2).
80. – He answers this when he says, Or do we need? Here he shows that he is
not happy to commend himself. In regard to this he does two things: first,
he shows that he does not need man’s commendation; secondly, that he does
not require it of them (v. 4). In regard to the first he does two things:
first, he shows that he does not need their commendation; secondly, he
assigns the cause of this (v. 2).
81. – He says, therefore: I say that we do not begin to commend ourselves,
because we do not need commendation. And this is what he says: Do we, the
true ministers, need as some do, namely the false apostles, letters of
recommendation, i.e., praise, to you by others, or from you to others?
But on the other hand, he says in Colossians (4:10): “Mark, the cousin of
Barnabas, greets you.” Even papal legates always carry letters of
recommendation. Therefore it is not an evil.
I answer that to accept such letters from famous persons, who are commended
and honored by reason of them alone, until they become known by their good
works, is not evil: that is what papal legates do. But the Apostle was
already so well known and recommended among them by his works, that he did
not need letters of recommendation.
82. – Therefore he at once gives the reason for this, saying, you yourselves
are our letter of recommendation; as if to say: I have a good letter; I do
not need others. In regard to this, he does two things: first, he shows what
that letter is which he has; secondly, he explains this (v. 3). In regard to
the first he does two things: first he shows what that letter is; secondly,
he shows that it is sufficient for commending him (v. 3b).
He says, therefore, you are our letter, i.e., the letter through which our
dignity is made manifest, by which we are commended, so that we do not need
other letters: “You are our glory” (1 Th. 2:20); “My little children, with
whom I am again in travail, until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19).
But is this letter sufficient? Yes, because it is written on your hearts.
Here he touches on two things causing the sufficiency of such letters. One
is that it should be understood and known by the one for whom it is sent;
the other that he still seeks, and not that he knows himself to have it. As
to this he says, written on our hearts, because we always have you in mind,
having a special care for you: “I hold you in my heart” (Phil. 1:7).
The other is that he to whom it is sent may read and know it; hence, he
says, to be known and read by all men. To be known, I say, because you have
been instructed and converted by us; but it is read, because by our example
even others imitate you: “Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so
he may run who reads it” (Hab. 2:2).
83. – Then he explains how this letter is known, saying, you show that you
are a letter from Christ, and in regard to this he does three things. First,
he explains whose letter it is; secondly, how it was written; thirdly, on
what. He shows whose it is when he says, from Christ. Hence, he says, you
show that you are a letter from Christ, i.e., informed and led by Christ,
principally and authoritatively: “For you have one teacher” (Matt. 23:8),
but by us secondarily and instrumentally. Hence he adds, delivered by us:
“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:1);
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed” (1
He shows how it was written, not with ink, i.e., not mixed with errors, as
the letters of the false apostle; not changeable and imperfect as the Old
Law, which led no one to perfection (cf. Heb. 7:19); for black ink is that
by which error is understood, and delible by which changeableness is
understood. It is written not with ink, I say, but with the Spirit of the
living God, i.e., by the Holy Spirit, by whom you live and by whose teaching
you have been instructed: “In whom you were sealed with the promised Holy
Spirit” (Eph. 1:13).
He suggests where it is written, when he says, not on tablets of stone, as
the Old Law, to exclude hardness; as if to say: not in the stony hearts of
the hard-hearted, as the Jews: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in
heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit” (Ac. 7:51); but on
tablets of human hearts, i.e., hearts opened by charity, and human, i.e.,
made receptive as a result of filling and understanding: “I will take out of
your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez. 36:26).
84. – Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Above,
the Apostle excused himself, that he was not seeking his own glory, because
he did not need it; here he proves that he is not seeking his own glory.
Indeed, everything good he does he attributes not to himself but to God. In
regard to this he does two things: first, he attributes all the good he has
and does to God; secondly, he gives the reason for this.
85. – He says, therefore: I say that we do not need letters of
recommendation and that you are our letter ministered by us. Nor do we seek
our glory, but Christ’s. Such is the confidence, i.e. to say such things,
that we have through Christ toward God, i.e., we refer it to God. Or I have
such confidence in God, by whose power I say these things, because he works
in me, and the confidence we have through Christ, through whom we have
access to the Father, as it says in Romans (5:2), who unites us to God:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord” (Jer.
17:7). And I have this confidence because I am united to God through Christ:
“I will act confidently in him” (Ps. 11:6, Vulgate).
86. – But the cause of this confidence is that whatever I do, I attribute to
the very beginning of the work to God. Therefore, he says, not that we are
competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, much less say
and accomplish. For in the pursuit of any work there is first an assent,
which is done by thinking, then discussion by word, and finally
accomplishment by work. Hence if a person does not have the thinking from
himself but from God, there is no doubt that not only the completion of a
good work is from God, but even the very beginning: “He who began a good
work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil.
1:6). This is contrary to the Pelagians, who say that the beginning of a
good work is from us, but its completion is from God: “O Lord, you have
wrought for us all our works” (Is. 26:12).
But lest this seem to take away free will, he says, of ourselves, i.e., on
our part, and commends divine grace when he says, as coming from us, i.e.,
as though it came from us, rather than God.
87. – The Philosopher also teaches that a man can never do any good through
his free will without God’s help. The reason is that in the things we do it
is necessary to seek that for which we do it. But there can be no infinite
process, for we must come to something which is first, e.g., to counsel.
Thus, therefore, I do good, because there is in me the counsel to do so, and
this is from God. Hence, he says that the counsel of something good is from
something above man, moving him to act well; and this is God, who moves men
and all things that act to their actions; but men are moved in one way, and
other things in another. For since motion of this kind is something received
into the thing moved, it is necessary that this be done according to the
mode of its nature, i.e., of the thing moved. And therefore he moves all
things according to their natures. Therefore, those things whose nature is
to have free will and have dominion over their actions, he moves in such a
way that they act freely, as rational and intellectual creatures. But others
not freely, but according to the mode of their nature.
But although we are not sufficient to think anything of ourselves as coming
from ourselves, yet we have a certain sufficiency, namely that by which we
are able to will the good, and to begin to believe, and this is from God:
“What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
2 Corinthians. 3:6-11
6 He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a
written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit
gives life. 7 Now if the dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone,
came with such splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face
because of its brightness, fading as this was, 8 will not the dispensation
of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor? 9 For if there was splendor
in the dispensation of condemnation, the dispensation of righteousness must
far exceed it in splendor. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had splendor
has come to have no splendor at all, because of the splendor that surpasses
it. 11 For if what faded away came with splendor, what is permanent must
have much more splendor.
88. – Having commended the ministry of the New Testament, the Apostle then
commends its ministers. First, he stipulates two things, which correspond to
the above words. For he had mentioned a gift received from God when he said,
our competence is from God, and the confidence born of this gift when he
said, such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.
First, therefore, he determines the things pertaining to the gift received;
secondly, those pertaining to the confidence born of it (v. 12). In regard
to the first he does three things: first, he discloses the gift received
from God, namely, the ministry of the New Testament; secondly, he describes
the New Testament (v. 6b); thirdly, from the dignity of the New Testament he
shows the dignity of its ministers (v. 9).
89. – He says, therefore: I say that our sufficiency is from God who has
made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant: “Men shall speak of you
as the ministers of our God” (Is. 61:6). And in this we hold the place of
angels: “Who make angels your messengers, fire and flame your ministers”
But he not only made us ministers, but fit ones. For God gives to each being
the things through which it can attain to the perfection of its nature.
Hence, because God constituted ministers of the New Testament, he made them
fit to exercise this office, unless he was impeded on the part of the
receivers: “Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Cor. 2:16), namely, as
are the Apostles instituted by God.
90. – He describes what this New Testament is when he continues, not in a
written code but in the Spirit. He describes it in regard to two things,
namely, as to that in which it consists and as to its cause for which it has
been given: for the written code kills.
In regard to the first it should be noted that the Apostle speaks
profoundly, for it is stated in Jeremiah (31:31): “I will make a new
covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not like the
covenant which I made with their fathers”; and later on (v. 33): “I will put
my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their
God and they shall be my people.” The Old Testament, therefore, is written
in a book, later to be sprinkled with blood, as it says in Hebrews (9:19):
“He took the blood of calves and goats and sprinkled both the book itself
and all the people, saying: ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God
So it is clear that the Old Law is a covenant of words, but the New Covenant
is a covenant of the Holy Spirit, by whom the love of God is poured out in
our hearts [Et sic patet, quod vetus lex est testamentum litterae. Sed Novum
Testamentum est testamentum Spiritus Sancti, quo charitas Dei diffunditur in
cordis nostris], as it says in Rom. 5:5. Consequently, when the Holy Spirit
produces charity in us, which is the fulness of the Law, it is a New
Covenant, not in a written code, i.e., not written down, but in the Spirit,
i.e., through the Spirit who gives life: “The law of the Spirit of life”
(Rom. 8:2), i.e., life-giving.
91. – The reason why the New Testament was given by the Spirit is indicated
when he says, for the written code kills, not as a cause but as an occasion.
For the written Law only gives knowledge of sin: “For through the Law comes
knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). But as a result of merely knowing sin, two
things follow. For the Law, although sin is known by it, does not repress
concupiscence, but is the occasion of increasing it, inasmuch as
concupiscence is enkindled the more by something forbidden. Hence such
knowledge kills, when the cause of concupiscence has not yet been destroyed.
As a result it adds to the sin. For it is more grievous to sin against the
written and natural law than against the natural law only: “But sin, finding
opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of concupiscence”
But although it is the occasion of killing inasmuch as it increases
concupiscence and increases the sin, the Law is not evil, because at least
it forbids evil; nevertheless, it is imperfect, inasmuch as it does not
remove the cause. Therefore, the Law without the Spirit inwardly impressing
the Law on the heart is the occasion of death; hence, it was necessary to
give the Law of the Spirit, who gives life by producing charity in the
heart: “It is the Spirit that gives life” (Jn. 6:63).
92. – From these, therefore, he shows the dignity of his ministry. He does
two things in this regard. First, he shows that the ministry of the New
Testament is preferred to the Old; secondly, that it is not only preferred,
but that in comparison to the Old Testament, the latter has, as it were,
nothing of glory (v. 10). In regard to the first, he does two things. First,
he shows that the ministry of the New Testament is preferred to the Old;
secondly, he assigns the reason for this (v. 9).
93. – In regard to the first, it should be noted that the Apostle argues
from a statement in Exodus (34:24), where our text says that Moses had his
face horned, so that the people of Israel could not come near. Another
version says that his face shone, and this is better. For it should not be
supposed that he literally had horns, as some depict him, but he is
described as horned because of the rays which seemed to be like horns. He
argues from this in the following way: first, by a similarity and by arguing
from the lesser. For it is obvious that if something less has glory, then
much more something which is greater. But the Old Testament is less than the
New: therefore, since the former was in glory, so that the Israelites could
not look at Moses’ face, it seems that the New is much more in glory.
94. – That the Old Testament is less than the New he proves in three ways.
First, from its effect, because the former is a covenant of death, but the
latter of life, as has been said. In regard to this he says, If the
dispensation of death, i.e., the Old, which is the occasion of death; and
this corresponds to what he said, namely, that the written code kills, but
the Spirit gives life.
Secondly, as to the way it was delivered, for the Old was delivered written
on stone tablets, but the New was impressed by the Spirit on human hearts.
He suggests this when he says, carved in letters, i.e., perfectly formed, on
stone, i.e., on tablets of stone. This corresponds to his statement, not in
a written code but in the Spirit.
Thirdly, as to perfection: for the glory of the Old Testament is without
assurance, because the Law brought no one to perfection. But in the New
there is glory with the hope of a better glory, i.e., eternal: “My salvation
will be forever” (Is. 51:6). This is suggested when he says, fading as this
was: “If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you”
(Gal. 5:2). He states the conclusion when he says, will not the dispensation
of the Spirit be attended with greater glory? which is plain.
95. – Then he assigns the reason for all these when he says, For if there
was glory in the dispensation of condemnation, the dispensation of justice
must far exceed it in glory. This is his reasoning: Glory is owed more to
justice than to condemnation, but the ministry of the New Testament is a
ministry of justice, because it justifies by giving life within. The
ministry of the Old Testament is a ministry of condemnation, as being its
occasion: the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life. Therefore,
since the dispensation of condemnation, i.e., the ministry of the Old
Testament, is the occasional cause of condemnation, as has been said, is in
glory, which appeared on the face of Moses, it is obvious that much more
abundant in glory, i.e., gives an abundance of glory to its ministers, is
the dispensation of justice, i.e., of the New Testament, by which the Spirit
is given through whom is given justice and the fulfillment of the virtues:
“The wise shall possess glory” (Prov. 3:35).
96. – It is customary here to compare Moses and Paul; but if the Apostle’s
words are considered carefully, this is not necessary, because ministries
not persons are being compared.
97. – But because the false apostles could say that even though the ministry
of the New Covenant is greater than that of the Old, it is not much greater.
Therefore, it is good for us to continue in that ministry, which they did,
because they observed the ceremonies of the Law along with the Gospel.
Therefore the Apostle rejects this when he says, indeed, in this case, what
once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that
In regard to this he does two things. First, he shows that the ministry of
the New Testament exceeds that of the Old beyond all comparison. Secondly,
he assigns the reason for this (v. 11).
98. – He says, therefore, I have said that the ministry of justice abounds
in glory to such a degree that the glory of the Old Testament should not be
called glorious, for what once had glory has come to have no glory at all by
reason of the glory that surpasses it. This is explained in two ways.
First, that that glory is nothing in comparison to that of the New
Testament, because such glory was not conferred on all the ministers, but on
Moses alone, and it did not shine on Moses entirely, but in part, i.e., on
his face alone. Therefore, it has come to have no glory at all, i.e., should
not be glorified because of the glory that surpasses it, i.e., in comparison
to the excelling glory of the New Testament, which abounds in grace, so that
men purified by it might not see the glory of a man but of God.
It is explained in a second way by punctuating it thus: that which was
glorious in this part has come to have no glory: as if to say, for in this
part, i.e., in respect to this particular nature, that we are servants, has
come to have no glory, i.e., that was not glorious which shone in the Old
Testament: and this by reason of the glory that surpasses it, which is in
the New, because it is the glory of God the Father.
99. – Then he assigns the cause of this when he says, For if what faded away
came with glory, what is permanent must have much more glory. His reasoning
is thus: that which was given to pass away is nothing in relation to that
which is given to remain always. If, therefore, the Old Testament, which is
rendered void, is done away with: “But when the perfect comes, the imperfect
will pass away” (1 Cor. 13:10). For with glory the ministry of Moses came,
at least with a particular glory.
And it is obvious that the New Testament remains, because it is begun here
and completed in heaven: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words
shall not pass away” (Lk. 21:33). It will be much more in eternal glory, in
which it will be perfected; it will be, I say, for us who are its ministers.