Sting of the flesh
12:7 Et ne magnitudo revelationum extollat me, datus est mihi stimulus carnis meae angelus Satanae, qui me colaphizet. [n. 471]
12:7 And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given to me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. [n. 471]
12:8 Propter quod ter Dominum rogavi ut discederet a me: [n. 475]
12:8 On account of this, I besought the Lord three times that it might depart from me. [n. 475]
12:9 et dixit mihi: sufficit tibi gratia mea: nam virtus in infirmitate perficitur. Libenter igitur gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis, ut inhabitet in me virtus Christi. [n. 476]
12:9 And he said to me: my grace is sufficient for you: for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. [n. 476]
12:10 Propter quod placeo mihi in infirmitatibus meis, in contumeliis, in necessitatibus, in persecutionibus, in angustiis pro Christo: cum enim infirmor, tunc potens sum. [n. 481]
12:10 Because of this, I am pleased in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful. [n. 481]
471. Hic agit de remedio adhibito contra superbiam. Et
471. Here he speaks of the remedy against pride.
circa hoc tria facit.
In regard to this he does three things.
Primo enim ponit remedium adhibitum;
First, he mentions the remedy applied;
secundo manifestat suam orationem de remedio removendo, ibi propter quod ter Dominum, etc.;
second, he discloses his prayer to have the remedy removed, at on account of this;
tertio insinuat Domini responsionem assignantis rationem de adhibito remedio, ibi et dixit mihi Dominus, et cetera.
third, he tells the Lord’s answer giving the reason for the remedy applied, at and he said to me.
472. Circa primum sciendum est quod plerumque sapiens medicus procurat et permittit supervenire infirmo minorem morbum, ut maiorem curet, vel vitet, sicut ut curet spasmum, procurat febrem; hoc evidenter in se beatus Apostolus a medico animarum Domino nostro Iesu Christo factum ostendit. Christus enim, velut medicus animarum summus, ad curandum graves animae morbos permittit plurimos electos suos et magnos in morbis corporum graviter affligi, et, quod plus est, ad curandum maiora crimina, permittit incidere in minora etiam mortalia.
472. In regard to the first it should be noted that very often a wise physician procures and permits a lesser disease to come over a person in order to cure or avoid a greater one. Thus, to cure a spasm he procures a fever. This the Apostle shows was done to him by the physician of souls, our Lord Jesus Christ. For Christ, as the supreme physician of souls, in order to cure grave sins, permits many of his elect to be afflicted gravely in diseases of the body, and which is more, for curing greater sins, permits them to fall into lesser, and even mortal sins.
Inter omnia vero peccata gravius peccatum est superbia. Nam sicut caritas est radix et initium virtutum, sic superbia est radix et initium omnium vitiorum. Eccli. X, 15: initium omnis peccati superbia. Quod sic patet: caritas enim ideo dicitur radix omnium virtutum, quia coniungit Deo, qui est ultimus finis. Unde sicut finis est principium omnium operabilium, ita caritas est principium omnium virtutum. Superbia autem avertit a Deo. Superbia enim est appetitus inordinatus propriae excellentiae. Si enim aliquis appetit aliquam excellentiam sub Deo, si moderate quidem appetit, et propter bonum, sustineri potest; si vero non debito ordine, potest quidem alia vitia incurrere, scilicet ambitionis, avaritiae, seu inanis gloriae, et huiusmodi, tamen non est proprie superbia, nisi quando quis appetit excellentiam, non ordinando illam ad Deum. Et ideo superbia proprie dicta separat a Deo, et est radix omnium vitiorum, et pessimum omnium; propter quod Deus resistit superbis, ut dicitur Iac. IV, 6.
But among all the sins the gravest is pride, for just as charity is the root and beginning of the virtues, so pride is the root and beginning of all vices: pride is the beginning of all sin (Sir 10:15). This is made clear in the following way. Charity is called the root of all the virtues, because it unites one to God, who is the ultimate end. Hence, just as the end is the beginning of all actions to be performed, so charity is the beginning of all the virtues. But pride turns away from God, for pride is an inordinate desire for one’s own excellence. For if a person seeks some excellence under God, if he seeks it moderately and for a good end, it can be endured. But if it is not done with due order, he can even fall into other vices, such as ambition, avarice, vainglory and the like. Yet it is not, properly speaking, pride, unless a person seeks excellence without ordaining it to God. Therefore pride, properly called, separates from God and is the root of all vices and the worst of them. This is why God resists the proud (Jas 4:6).
Quia ergo in bonis est maxime materia huius vitii, scilicet superbiae, quia eius materia est bonum, permittit aliquando electos suos impediri, ex aliqua sui parte, ut per infirmitatem, vel per aliquem defectum, et aliquando etiam per peccatum mortale, ab huiusmodi bono, ut sic ex hac parte humilientur, quod ex illa non superbiant, et homo sic humiliatus recognoscat se suis viribus stare non posse. Unde dicitur Rom. VIII, 28: diligentibus Deum omnia, etc., non quidem ex eorum peccato, sed ex ordinatione Dei.
Therefore, because the matter of this vice, that is, pride, is mainly found in things that are good, because its matter is something good, God sometimes permits his elect to be prevented by something on their part, e.g., infirmity or some other defect, and sometimes even mortal sin, from obtaining such a good, in order that they be so humbled on this account that they will not take pride in it, and that being thus humiliated, they may recognize that they cannot stand by their own powers. Hence it is said: we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him (Rom 8:28), not by reason of their sin, but by God’s providence.
473. Quia igitur Apostolus magnam habebat superbiendi materiam, et quantum ad specialem electionem, qua a Domino electus est, Act. IX, 15: vas electionis est, etc., et quantum ad secretorum Dei cognitionem, quia hic dicit se raptum in tertium caelum et in Paradisum, ubi audivit arcana verba quae non licet homini loqui, et quantum ad malorum perpessionem, quia supra XI, 23: in carceribus plurimis, in infirmitatibus, ter virgis caesus sum, etc., et quantum ad virginalem integritatem, quia volo omnes esse sicut et ego, I Cor. VII, 7, et quantum ad bonorum operationem, quia, supra, plus omnibus laboravi, et specialiter quantum ad maximam scientiam qua emicuit, quae specialiter inflat: ideo Dominus adhibuit ei remedium, ne in superbiam extolleretur.
473. Therefore, because the Apostle had good reason for glorying in the spiritual choice by which he was chosen by God: he is a chosen instrument of mine (Acts 9:15), and in his knowledge of God’s secrets, because he says that he was caught up to the third heaven and into paradise where he heard secret words, which it is not granted to man to utter; and in enduring evils because he had suffered in prisons more frequently, in stripes above measure, in deaths often (2 Cor 11:23), and in his virginal integrity, because I wish that all were as I myself am (1 Cor 7:7), and in his good works, because I worked harder than any of them (1 Cor 15:10), and especially in the outstanding knowledge with which he shone and which especially puffs one up: for these reasons the Lord applied a remedy, lest he be lifted up with pride.
Et hoc est quod dicit et ne magnitudo revelationis mihi factae extollat me, in superbiam. Eccli. VI, 2: non te extollas in cogitatione animae tuae velut taurus, et cetera. Ps. LXXXVII, 16: exaltatus autem humiliatus, et cetera.
And this is what he says: lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me unto pride. Do not exalt yourself through your soul’s counsel, lest your soul be torn in pieces like a bull (Sir 6:2); being exalted I have been humbled and troubled (Ps 88:15).
Et dicit, ut ostendat sibi factas fuisse revelationes praedictas, datus est mihi, id est ad meam utilitatem et humiliationem. Iob XXX, v. 22: elevasti me, et quasi super ventum ponens, et cetera. Datus est, inquam, mihi stimulus, crucians corpus meum per infirmitatem corporis, ut anima sanetur; quia, ad litteram, dicitur quod fuit vehementer afflictus dolore iliaco. Vel stimulus carnis meae, id est concupiscentiae surgentis ex carne mea, a qua multum infestabatur. Rom. VII, 15: non enim, quod volo, etc.: igitur ego ipse mente servio legi Dei, et cetera. Unde Augustinus dicit quod inerant ei motus concupiscentiae, quos tamen divina gratia refraenabat.
Furthermore, to show that these revelations were made to him, he says: there was given to me, i.e., for my benefit and my humiliation: you have lifted me up and set me as it were upon the wind (Job 31:22); there was given, I say, to me a sting tormenting my body with bodily weakness, that the soul might be healed. For it is said that he literally suffered a great deal from pain in the pelvis. Or a sting of my flesh, i.e., of concupiscence arising from my flesh, because he was troubled a great deal. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do . . . so then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Rom 7:19). Hence, Augustine says that there existed in him movements of concupiscence which God’s grace, nevertheless, restrained.
474. Iste, inquam, stimulus est angelus Satanae, id est angelus malignus.
474. That sting, I say, is an angel of Satan, i.e., a wicked angel,
Est autem angelus a Deo missus seu permissus, sed Satanae, quia Satanae intentio est ut subvertat, Dei vero ut humiliet et probatum reddat. Timeat peccator, si Apostolus et vas electionis securus non erat.
for it was an angel sent by God or permitted, but it was Satan’s because Satan’s intention is to subvert, but God’s is to humble and to render approved. Let the sinner beware, if the Apostle and vessel of election was not secure.
475. De remotione autem huius stimuli removendi sollicitus erat Apostolus. Unde propter hoc orabat. Et hoc est quod subdit propter quod ter, et cetera.
475. Now the Apostle was anxious to have this sting removed and prayed for this; hence he says: on account of this, I besought the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
Ubi sciendum est, quod infirmus nesciens processum medici apponentis mordax emplastrum, rogat medicum, ut removeat; quod tamen sciens medicus causam quare faciat, scilicet propter sanitatem, non exaudit eum quantum ad voluntatem petentis, magis curans de eius utilitate. Sic Apostolus sentiens stimulum sibi gravem esse, ad singularis medici confugit auxilium, ut eum removeat.
Here it should be noted a sick person, ignorant of the reason why a physician supplies a stinging plaster, asks him to remove it. But the physician, knowing its purpose, that is, for health, does not oblige him, caring more for his improvement. Similarly the Apostle, feeling that the sting was painful to him, sought the help of the unique physician to remove it.
Ter enim expresse et devote rogavit, ut Deus tolleret ab eo, scilicet stimulum. II Par. c. XX, 12: cum ignoremus quod agere debeamus, et cetera. Forte pluries hoc petiit, sed expresse et instanter ter eum petiit, vel ter, id est multoties. Ternarius enim est numerus perfectus. Et vere ipse rogandus est, quia ipse vulnerat, et medetur, Iob V, 18. Lc. XXII, v. 40: orate ne intretis in tentationem, et cetera.
For he expressly and devoutly asked God three times to remove it, the thorn, from him: we do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you (2 Chr 20:12). Perhaps he asked this many times, but he asked him expressly and earnestly three times, or three times, namely, many times. For three is a perfect number. And of course it was right to ask, for he wounds, but he binds up (Job 5:18); pray that you may not enter into temptation (Luke 22:46).
476. Sequitur responsio Domini et dixit mihi Dominus, et cetera. Ubi duo facit.
476. Then he states the Lord’s answer: but he, i.e., the Lord, said to me: my grace is sufficient for you. Here he does two things.
Primo ponit Domini responsionem;
First, he states the Lord’s answer;
secundo responsionis rationem assignat, ibi nam virtus, et cetera.
second, the reason for the answer, at for power.
477. Dicit ergo: ego rogavi, sed Dominus dixit mihi sufficit tibi, etc., quasi dicat: non est tibi necessarium, quod infirmitas corporis recedat a te, quia non est periculosa, quia non duceris ad impatientiam, cum gratia mea confortet te; nec infirmitas concupiscentiae, quia non protrahet te ad peccatum, quia gratia mea proteget te. Rom. c. III, 24: iustificati gratis, et cetera. Et vere sufficit gratia Dei ad mala vitanda, ad bona facienda, et ad vitam consequendam aeternam. I Cor. XV, 10: gratia Dei sum id quod sum, et cetera. Rom. VI, 23: gratia Dei vita aeterna.
477. He says, therefore, I asked, but the Lord said to me, my grace is sufficient for you. As if to say: it is not necessary that this bodily weakness leave you, because it is not dangerous, for you will not be led into impatience, since my grace strengthens you; or that this weakness of concupiscence depart, because it will not lead you to sin, for my grace will protect you: justified by his grace as a gift (Rom 3:24). And of course, God’s grace is sufficient for avoiding evil, doing good, and attaining to eternal life: by the grace of God I am what I am (1 Cor 15:10); but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:25).
478. Sed contra Io. XV, 16: quidquid petieritis Patrem in nomine meo, dabit vobis, et cetera. Aut ergo Paulus discrete petivit, et tunc debuit exaudiri; aut indiscrete, et tunc peccavit.
478. But on the other hand it is said: whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you (John 15:16). Therefore, Paul either asked discreetly and deserved to be heard, or indiscreetly and hence sinned.
Respondeo. Dicendum est quod de una et eadem re potest homo dupliciter loqui. Uno modo secundum se et naturam illius rei; alio modo secundum ordinem ad aliud. Et sic contingit, quod illud quod est malum secundum se, est vitandum: secundum ordinem ad aliud est appetendum. Sicut potio inquantum secundum se est amara, est vitanda, tamen qui considerat eam secundum ordinem ad sanitatem, appetit eam. Ergo et stimulus carnis secundum se est vitandus ut affligens, inquantum vero est via ad virtutem et exercitium virtutis, est appetendus.
I answer that a man can speak of one and the same thing in two ways: in one way according to itself and the nature of things; in another way according to its relation to something else. Hence, it happens that something evil according to itself and to be avoided is in relation to something else able to be sought. Thus, a medicine, inasmuch as it is bitter should be avoided, yet, when it is considered in relation to health, a person seeks it. Therefore a thorn in the flesh according to itself is to be avoided as troublesome, but inasmuch as it is a means to virtue and an exercise of virtue, it should be desired.
Apostolus autem, quia nondum revelatum ei erat illud secretum divinae providentiae, ut ad utilitatem suam cederet, considerabat sibi malum quantum in se est, et ideo petierat suam amotionem, nec in eo peccavit; sed Deus, qui ordinaverat hoc ad bonum humilitatis suae, non exaudivit eum quantum ad eius voluntatem; quod tamen sciens, postmodum Apostolus gloriabatur cum diceret: libenter gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis, et cetera. Et licet non exaudierit eum quantum ad voluntatem, exaudivit tamen eum, et exaudit sanctos suos, quantum ad eius utilitatem. Unde dicit Hieronymus in Epistola ad Paulinum: bonus Dominus, qui saepe non tribuit quod volumus, ut tribuat quod mallemus.
But because that secret of divine providence, namely, that it would turn out to his advantage, had not been revealed to him yet, the Apostle considered that in itself it was bad for him. But God who had ordained this to the good of his humility did not oblige him, as far as his wish was concerned; indeed, once he understood its purpose, the Apostle gloried in it, saying, gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. And although he did not oblige him as to his wish, yet he heard him and does hear his saints to their advantage. Hence, Jerome says in the Letter to Paulinus: the good Lord frequently does not grant what we wish, in order to bestow what we should prefer.
479. Rationem autem suae responsionis subdit consequenter, cum dicit nam virtus, et cetera. Mirus modus loquendi. Virtus in infirmitate perficitur: ignis in aqua crescit.
479. Then he gives the reason for the Lord’s response when he says, for power is made perfect in infirmity. This is a remarkable expression: power is made perfect in infirmity; fire grows in water.
Intelligi vero potest hoc, quod dicitur virtus perficitur in infirmitate, dupliciter, scilicet materialiter et occasionaliter.
But this expression, power is made perfect in infirmity, can be understood in two ways, namely, materially and by way of occasion.
Si accipiatur materialiter, tunc est sensus: virtus in infirmitate perficitur, id est infirmitas est materia exercendae virtutis. Et primo humilitatis, ut supra dictum est, secundo patientiae, Iac. I, 3: tribulatio patientiam operatur, tertio temperantiae, quia ex infirmitate debilitatur fomes, et temperatus efficitur quis.
If it is taken materially, the sense is this: power is made perfect in infirmity, i.e., infirmity is the material on which to exercise virtue; first, humility, as stated above; second, patience: the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (Jas 1:3); third, temperance, because hunger is weakened by infirmity and a person is made temperate.
Si vero accipiatur occasionaliter, tunc virtus in infirmitate perficitur, id est occasio perveniendi ad perfectam virtutem, quia homo sciens se infirmum, magis sollicitatur ad resistendum, et ex hoc, quod magis resistit et pugnat, efficitur exercitatior et per consequens fortior. Et ideo Levit. legitur et Iudic. c. III, 1 s., quod Dominus noluit destruere omnes habitatores terrae; sed aliquos reservavit, ut scilicet filii Israel exercitarentur pugnando cum eis. Sic etiam Scipio nolebat destructionem civitatis Carthaginensis, ut scilicet dum Romani haberent hostes exterius, non sentirent hostes interiores, contra quos durius bellum est, quam contra exteriores, ut ipse dicebat.
But if it is taken as an occasion, then power is made perfect in weakness, i.e., infirmity is the occasion for arriving at perfect virtue, because a man who knows that he is weak is more careful when resisting, and as a result of fighting and resisting more he is better exercised and, therefore, stronger. Hence it says in Judges that the Lord was not willing to destroy all the inhabitants of the land, but preserved some in order that the children of Israel might be exercised by fighting against them (Judg 3:1). In the same way, Scipio also did not wish to destroy the city of Carthage, in order that the Romans, having external enemies, would not have internal enemies, against whom it is more painful to wage war than against outsiders, as he said.
480. Consequenter ponit Apostolus effectum huius responsionis Dominicae, dicens libenter gloriabor, et cetera.
480. Then the Apostle mentions the effect of this answer from the Lord, saying: therefore gladly will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Ponit autem duplicem effectum. Unus est gloriationis; unde dicit: quia virtus mea perficitur in infirmitatibus, igitur libenter gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis, id est mihi ad utilitatem meam datis. Et hoc, quia magis coniungitur Christo. Mihi autem absit gloriari, nisi in cruce, etc., Gal. ult. Eccli. c. X, 34: qui in paupertate gloriatur, et cetera.
He mentions two effects. One is glorying; hence he says: because my virtue is made perfect in infirmity, gladly will I glory in my infirmities, i.e., given to me for my profit; and this because it joins me closer to Christ. But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14); but he that is glorified in poverty, how much more in wealth? (Sir 10:34).
Et ratio quod libenter gloriabor, ut inhabitet in me virtus Christi, ut scilicet per infirmitates inhabitet et consummetur in me gratia Christi. Is. XL, 29: qui dat lapso virtutem, etc.
The reason I will glory gladly is that the power of Christ may dwell in me, i.e., that through infirmity the grace of Christ may dwell and be made perfect in me: he gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength (Isa 40:29).