The Second Epistle was written a few months after the First, in which St. Paul had stated that he intended to go round by Macedonia. He set out on this journey sooner than he had anticipated, on account of the disturbance at Ephesus caused by Demetrius and the votaries of Diana of the Ephesians. He travelled northwards as far as Troas, and after waiting some time for Titus, whom he expected to meet on his way back from Corinth, whither he had carried the First Epistle, he set sail for Macedonia and went on to Philippi. Here he met Titus and Timothy. The news that Titus brought him from Corinth was for the most part of a cheering character. The great majority were loyal to their Apostle. They were sorry for their faults; they had obeyed his injunctions regarding the public sinner, and the man himself had deeply repented. We hear no more of the parties of Paul, Apollo, and Cephas, though the letter appears to contain one reference to the fourth party. His friends, who had expected a visit from himself, were deeply grieved at his not coming as he had promised; a few who were his enemies, probably judaizers, sought to take advantage of this to undermine his authority by discovering in this a clear proof of fickleness of mind and instability of purpose; they said that his unwillingness to receive support betrayed want of affection; that he used threatening language when at a safe distance, but was in fact a coward who was mild and conciliating when present; that they were foolish to let themselves be led by one who made the rather enormous pretension to be an Apostle of Christ, when he was nothing of the kind, and was in reality, both naturally and supernaturally, inferior to men they could name. This news filled the soul of St. Paul with the deepest emotion. He purposely delayed in Macedonia, and sent them this Epistle to prepare them better for his coming and to counteract the evil influence of his opponents. It was sent by Titus and two others, one of whom, it is almost certain, was St. Luke. The circumstances under which the Epistle was written can be best gathered from the text itself. We can easily imagine the effect produced when it was read for the first time to the assembled Christians at Corinth, by Titus, or in the sonorous tones of the Evangelist St. Luke. The news that their great Apostle had sent them another letter rapidly spread through the city; the previous one had been such a masterly production that all were eager to listen to this. The great bulk of the expectant congregation were his enthusiastic admirers, but a few came to criticize, especially one man, a Jew, who had recently arrived with letters of recommendation, and was endeavouring to supplant St. Paul. He said he was an Apostle (not of The Twelve, but of the kind mentioned in the Didache). He was a man of dignified presence, as he spoke slightingly of St. Paul's insignificant appearance. He was skilled in philosophy and polished in speech, and he insinuated that St. Paul was wanting in both. He knew little or nothing of St. Paul except by hearsay, as he accused him of want of determination, of cowardice, and unworthy motives, things belied by every fact of St. Paul s history. The latter might terrify others by letters, but he would not frighten him. This man comes to the assembly expecting to be attacked and prepared to attack in turn. As the letter is being read, ever and anon small dark clouds appear on the horizon; but when, in the second part, the Epistle has quieted down into a calm exhortation to almsgiving, this man is congratulating himself on his easy escape, and is already picking holes in what he has heard. Then, suddenly as upon the army of Sisara, the storm breaks upon him; lightnings strike, thunder upbraids. He is beaten down by the deluge, and his influence is swept out of existence by the irresistible torrent. At any rate, he is never heard of again. These two Epistles as effectively destroyed St. Paul's opponents at Corinth, as the Epistle to the Galatians annihilated the judaizers in Asia Minor.
This Epistle, though not written with the same degree of care and polish as the First, is more varied and spontaneous in style. Erasmus says that it would take all the ingenuity of a skilled rhetorician to explain the multitude of its strophes and figures. It was written with great emotion and intensity of feeling, and some of its sudden outbursts reach the highest levels of eloquence. It gives a deeper insight than any other of his writings into the character and personal history of St. Paul. With Cornely, we may call it his "Apologia pro Vitâ Suâ", a fact which makes it one of the most interesting of the writings of the New Testament. Erasmus described it as follows: "Now it bubbles up as a limpid fountain; soon it rushes down as a roaring torrent carrying all before it; then it flows peacefully and gently along. Now it widens out as into a broad and tranquil lake. Yonder it gets lost to view, and suddenly reappears in quite a different direction, when it is seen meandering and winding along, now deflecting to the right, now to the left; then making a wider loop and occasionally doubling back upon itself.
It consists of three parts. In the first of these (chapters i to vii, incl.), after (1) introduction, (2) the Apostle shows that his change of plan is not due to lightness of purpose but for the good of the people, and his teaching not mutable; (3) he did not wish to come again in sorrow. The repentant sinner, the cause of his sorrow, to be now reconciled. (4) His great affection for them. (5) He does not require, like others, letters of recommendation. They, as Christians, are his commendatory letters. (6) He writes with authority, not on account of arrogance, but because of the greatness of the ministry with which he was entrusted, as compared with the ministry of Moses. Those who refuse to listen have the veil over their hearts, like the carnal Jews. (7) He endeavours to please Christ Who showed His love by dying for all, and will reward His servants. (8) Moving exhortation.
The second part (chapters viii and ix) relates to the collections for the poor Christians at Jerusalem. (1) He praises the Macedonians for their ready generosity in giving out of their poverty. He exhorts the Corinthians to follow their example in imitation of Christ Who, being rich, became poor for our sakes. (2) He sends Titus and two others to make the collections and to remove all grounds of calumny that he was enriching himself. (3) He has boasted of them in Macedonia that they began before others. (4) A man shall reap in proportion as he sows. God loves the cheerful giver and is able to repay. Giving not only relieves the poor brethren but causes thanksgiving to God and prayers for benefactors.
The third part (last four chapters) is directed against the pseudo-Apostles. (1) He is bold towards some who think he acts from worldly motives. He has powerful arms from God for humbling such and punishing their disobedience. Some say he terrifies by letters which are weighty and strong; but has bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible". Let such a one understand that such as he is in his Epistle, so will he be when present. (2) He will not pretend, as they do, to be greater than he is, nor wilt he exalt himself by other men's labours. (3) He asks pardon for talking like a worldly-minded man. It is to counteract the influence of the pseudo-Apostles. He jealously guards the Corinthians lest they be deceived as Eve was by the serpent. (4) If the new-comers brought them anything better in the way of religion, he could understand their submission to their dictatorship. (5) He is not inferior to those superlative Apostles. If his speech is rude, his knowledge is not. He humbled himself amongst them, and did not exact support in order to gain them. The false Apostles profess a like disinterestedness; but they are deceitful workmen transforming themselves into Apostles of Jesus Christ. And no wonder: for Satan transformed himself into an angel of light, and they imitate their master. They make false insinuations against the Apostle. (6) He, too, will glory a little (speaking like a foolish worldly person, in order to confound them). They boast of natural advantages. He is not inferior to them in any; but he far surpasses them in his sufferings for the propagation of the Gospel, in his supernatural gifts, and in the miraculous proofs of his Apostleship at Corinth, "in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds". The Corinthians have all that other Churches had except the burden of his support. He asks them to pardon him that injury. Neither he nor Titus nor any other of his friends over-reached them. He writes thus lest he should come again in sorrow. He threatens the unrepentant.
Whilst the Pauline authorship is universally acknowledged, the same cannot be said for its unity. Some critics hold that it consists of two Epistles, or portion of Epistles, by St. Paul; that the first nine chapters belong to one Epistle, and the last four to another. As these two sections are held to have been written by St. Paul, there appears to be nothing in this view that can be said to be in opposition to the Catholic doctrine of inspiration. But the hypothesis is very far from being proved. Nay more, on account of the arguments that can be alleged against it, it can scarcely be regarded as probable. The principal objection against the unity of the Epistle is the difference of tone in the two sections. This is well stated and answered by the Catholic scholar Hug ("Introduction", tr. by Wait, London, 1827 p. 392): "It is moreover objected how different is the tone of the first part, mild, amiable, affectionate, whereas the third part is severe, vehement, and irrespectively castigatory. But who on this account would divide Demosthenes' oration De Coronâ into two parts, because in the more general defence placidity and circumspection predominate while on the other hand, in abashing and chastising the accuser, in the parallel between him and Æschines, words of bitter irony gush out impetuously and fall like rain in a storm." This argument is referred to with approval by Meyer, Cornely, and Jacquier. Others save explained the difference of tone by supposing that when the first nine chapters were finished fresh news of a disagreeable kind arrived from Corinth, and that this led St. Paul to add the last four chapters. In the same way the parenthetical section (vi, 14, vii, 2), which seems to have been inserted as an afterthought, can be explained. It was added, according to Bernard, to prevent a misconception of the expression used in vi, 11, 13, "our heart is enlarged . . . be you also enlarged", which in the O. T. had the bad meaning of being too free with infidels. St. Paul's manner of writing has also to be taken into account. In this, as in his other Epistles he speaks as a preacher who now addresses one portion of his congregation, now another, as if they were the only persons present, and that without fear of being misunderstood. Dr. Bernard thinks that the difference of tone can be sufficiently accounted for on the supposition that the letter was written at different sittings, and that the writer was in a different mood owing to ill-health or other circumstances. The other objections brought against the unity of the Epistle are ably refuted by the same author, whose argument may be briefly summarized as follows: the last section, it is said, begins very abruptly, and is loosely connected with the previous one by the particle de. But there are several other instances in the Epistles of St. Paul where transition is made in precisely the same way. On the last part, it is objected, people in open rebellion are denounced, whereas that is not the case in the first portion. Still, there is clear reference in the first section to persons who accused him of being fickle, arrogant, brave at a distance, etc. One of the strongest arguments against the integrity is that there are several verses in the first nine chapters which seem to presuppose an equal number of passages in the second, and the contention is that the last section is a portion of an earlier Epistle. But on closer examination of each passage this connection is seen to be only apparent. On the other hand, there are at least as many passages in the last part which clearly and unmistakably look back to and presuppose verses in the first. It is remarkable, moreover, that the only extant fragments of the supposed two Epistles should fit so well. It has also been urged that the First Epistle is not "painful" enough to account for statements in the Second. But a close examination of i, 11, 14; ii, 6; iii, 1, 2, 3, 4, 18; iv, 8, 9, 10, 18, 19; v, etc., of the First Epistle, will show that this objection is quite unfounded. The linguistic unity between the two portions of the Epistle is very great; and many examples can be given to show that the two sections were always integral portions of one whole. The evidence afforded by early manuscripts, translations, and quotations points strongly in the same direction.