Robert of Melun on 1 Corinthians 1:21

Alright, one final set of comments: those of Robert of Melun (c.1100-1167), who wrote an influential set of Quaestiones de epistolis Pauli (Questions on Paul’s letters) around 1145-55. This is his remarkable explanation of the verse:

“The world did not know God through wisdom,” even though there was something in the creatures themselves through which they could have known him. Thus, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not comprehended it” (John 1:5). There are, in creatures, three theophanies, which means, divine appearances: as in the world, whose magnitude demonstrates the great power of God, in which the Father is shown. The beauty, also, of the same world intimates the great wisdom, who is the Son. Its usefulness, finally, shows the goodness of God, who is the Holy Spirit.

Mundus Deum non cognovit per sapientiam suam, licet in ipsis creaturis esset unde eum cognoscerent. Unde: Lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebre eam non comprehenderunt. Sunt autem in creaturis tres theophanie, id est, divine apparitiones: ut in mundo, cuius magnitudo potentiam Dei summam demonstrat, in quo et Pater ostenditur. Eiusdem vero pulchritudo summam sapientiam que Filius est insinuat.  Utilitas autem ipsius benignitatem Dei ostendit, que Spiritus Sanctus est. (Oeuvres de Robert de Melun, vol. 2, p.177)

No other commentator does what Robert does here, connecting particular aspects of the created world to attributes of God: his power, his wisdom and his goodness. Other commentators will say that God could be known from the creation, but without going into too much detail. They certainly would not argue that the nature of God’s life as Trinity could be perceived from the magnitude, beauty and usefulness of the world. And all this is fascinating, since other comments from Robert’s Quaestiones influenced later exegetes such as, for example, Thomas Aquinas; indicating that Aquinas knew this exegesis, and either chose to go another way or neglected to pick it up.

(You might also be interested in comparing these reflections with those of John ChrysostomSedulius ScotusTheophylact of OhridThomas AquinasNicholas of Lyra, or Heinrich Bullinger.)