Bible Study: New Testament Books
The Corinthian Epistles
The Church planted in a Wealthy and Immoral City
A. The City of Corinth.
The great city of Corinth at the time St. Paul visited it, A.D. 50, had risen from the ashes of its destruction by Lucius Mummius in 146 B.C. in revenge for the contempt its inhabitants had shown towards the Romans. For, after nearly a hundred years had elapsed since that wholesale spoliation of the city, Julius Caesar had, in 44 B.C., rebuilt it and colonized it under the name of Colonia Julia Corinthus. Its wealth and its objects of art had gone to enrich the Roman capital; though how little the Romans appreciated the value of their spoils is shown by the venality of Mummius who, at the sale of Corinthian effects, withdrew a famous picture of Bacchus by Aristeides because King Attalus offered so huge a sum for it! The Romans of Caesar's time seem, however, to have better appreciated these Corinthian spoils, for Strabo tells us how carefully the archaeological remains were examined; he adds that the Romans at first prized the spoils they discovered in rebuilding the city, but that later they found they were of inferior art. It was left to Cicero to declare that Corinth was "totius Graeciae lumen."
The position occupied by Corinth on the isthmus—with a wonderful port on either hand, Lechaeum towards the west and Cenchre to the east—secured the immediate return of the city to affluence. The inhabitants were fortunate, too, in another respect. The storms off Cape Malea forbade ships to attempt to round it; goods were, in consequence, transhipped and carted across the isthmus—with considerable profit to the haulers. This position secured for Corinth the market of the world; the East and the West poured their treasures across her wharfs and quays. It is not surprising to find that projects were even entertained for cutting through the isthmus in the interests of navigators. The consequences of this inflow of wealth were inevitable: Corinth became a byword for profligacy. "Non cuivis homini contingit adire Corinthum," as Horace put it; in other words, one had to be wealthy to live as the Corinthians lived. Worse still, this immorality was official. The temple of Venus lived by it; the city grew fat on the wealth which foreigners, bent on pleasure, poured out during their stay.
1. Strabo, VIII. vi. 3.
2. Strabo, l.c.
3. Pro lege Manilia, v.
4. Strabo, I. iii. 11.
5. VIII. vi. 20.
6. Ibid., where note that Strabo, XII. iii. 26, can find no better way of describing the immorality of Cumana, a little town in Pontus, than by saying that it was "almost a little Corinth."
Very Rev. Hugh Pope, O.P., S.T.M.
Doctor in Sacred Scripture,
Member of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, and
late Professor of New Testament Exegesis at the Collegio Angelico, Rome.
Luke Walker, O.P., S.T.L.;
Austin Barker, O.P., S.T.L.
Bede Jarrett, O.P., S.T.L., M.A.