Spirit, penance, and perfection : the exegesis of I Corinthians 5:3-5 from A.D. 200-451
McDonald, Bruce A.
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This thesis examines the exegesis of I Corinthians 5:3-5 between the years of 200, when the text is first cited, and 451, by which time the text had been subjected to a variety of exegetical approaches and applied to a number of different situations. A chronological (rather than topical) approach has been adopted; each writer's overall use of the passage is studied, in hope that this will give better insight into his exegesis of the Corinthian text. Although penitential theology was beginning to develop, with one major penance allowed for grievous post-baptismal sin (an idea found in the Shepherd of Hermas), the earliest extant exegesis of I Corinthians 5 :3-5 occurs in the works of Tertullian during his Montanist phase; he cites it to support his argument that certain grave sins are beyond remission by the Church. For Tertullian, the interitum earn is refers to irrevocable excommunication and possible death for a serious offender. The spiritus which is to be saved is that of the Church, since the offender's spirit cannot possibly be saved after a descent into serious sin. Later in the same century, Origen takes a different position; since Paul counseled the church at Corinth to forgive a penitent sinner (II Corinthians 2: 5-11), this was presumably the same man who had so grievously sinned (I Corinthians 5). Therefore, all sins are remissible by the Church. Origen construes the 7tv£uμa to be saved as the offender's spirit. The oA.£0pov -cilc; crapx:oc; refers to the destruction of the cpp6v11μa -cilc; crapx:oc; and may be identified with the sufferings and humiliations which penitents undergo. These approaches to the Corinthian passage are joined by a third in the following century: Basil, although he at times cites I Corinthians 5 :3-5 in a congregational context, also transplants the passage into a monastic setting, deriving support from it for his method of chastising recalcitrant monks. Here xxx is construed as the individualistic, self-asserting human nature. This thesis will show that these three methods of interpreting the Corinthian text remain normative for the period under discussion, although by the end of the period under discussion, writers such as John Chrysostom, Pacian, and Jerome suggest that the punishment may involve more than mere excommunication, although it does include that. By the mid-fifth century, the exegesis of I Corinthians 5 is closely bound to the penitential procedure of the Church, and there is general agreement that the passage's overall character is remedial and restorative; crap~ refers to the carnal nature which must be destroyed in order for a person to become spiritual again, and this is done through penance. The punishment imposed by Paul is seen to be temporary and restorative, not final and destructive. Although the patristic consensus differs from most modem commentators in identifying the offenders of I Corinthians 5 and II Corinthians 2, nevertheless the exegesis of this passage by the Fathers retains its interest and value. Some of the more exceptional interpretations are now echoed in recent commentaries.