2 Milk is fit for children. 3 Strife and division, arguments of a fleshly mind. 7 He that planteth, and he that watereth, is nothing. 9 The ministers are God’s fellow workmen. 11 Christ the only foundation. 16 Men the temples of God, which 17 must be kept holy. 19 The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
ND I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
Douay Rheims Version
They must not contend about their teachers, who are but God's ministers and accountable to him. Their works shall be tried by fire.
ND I, brethren, could not speak to you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. As unto little ones in Christ.
i. He points out that Paul and Apollos are but ministers of Christ (vers. 1–9).
ii. He reminds them that Christ is the foundation of the Church: let each one, therefore, take heed what he builds on that foundation; for if it is only hay and stubble he will be saved indeed, but as by fire (vers. 10–15).
iii. He tells them that they are the temple of God, and bids them beware how they break in pieces or violate that temple (vers. 16–20).
iv. He forbids party strife (vers. 21–23).
Vers. 1, 2.—As babes in Christ I have fed you with milk and not with meat. In the preceding chapter the Apostle, to support his own authority, and to remove from the minds of the Corinthians the false opinion that they had about his ignorance and lack of speaking powers, said that he spoke wisdom among them that were perfect: hidden wisdom which the eye had not seen, nor the ear heard, but which God had revealed. Now, anticipating an objection, he gives the reason why he had not displayed this wisdom to the Corinthians, and transfers the blame from himself to them. It was because they were like children and carnal, not yet capable of receiving such wisdom, and to be fed, therefore, not with meat but with milk.
Notice that the Apostle designates as milk that easier, pleasanter, and more teaching about the Manhood of Christ, His grace and redemption, which befits catechumens recently converted and still carnal. He calls “meat,” or solid food, the more perfect and robust teaching about the deeper mysteries, such as about God, about the Spirit of God and spiritual things, about the wisdom, power, and love of the Cross. So say Ambrose, Theophylact, S. Thomas. S. Anselm moralises thus: “The same Christ is milk to man through the Incarnation; solid food to an angel through His Divinity. The same Christ crucified again, the same lection, the same sermon is taken by carnal men as milk, by spiritual as solid food.”
S. Paul is here alluding, as his custom is, to Isa. xxviii. 9, and to Isa. lv. 1. In this connection notice that what Isaiah calls “meat,” which represents the full spiritual wisdom of the perfect, as milk signifies the discipline of children and of the imperfect. Hence, in former times wine and milk were given to the newly baptized, when they had been clad with the white robes, and this custom, as S. Jerome says in his commentary on Isaiah, is still kept up in the churches of the West. In other places honey and milk were given, as Tertullian testifies (contra Marcion lib. i. c. 14), to denote (1.) their infancy and innocence in Christ, milk being a symbol of both. Hence Homer calls men that are innocent and just “feeders on milk,” as Clemens Alexandrinus says (Pædag. lib. i. c. 6). (2.) To denote their likeness to Christ, of whom Isaiah sang (vii. 15), “Butter and honey shall we eat.” (3.) To symbolise the infantine gentleness, humility, and meekness of the Christian life. Hence it was that at the first sacrifice of the Mass, which the newly baptized heard at Easter, viz., on Low Sunday, there was read as the Epistle that portion of S. Peter’s Epistle in which occur the words, “As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word.” Hence S. Agnes, on the authority of S. Ambrose (Serm. 90), used to say, “Milk and honey have I received from His mouth,” Clement (Pædag. lib. i.c. 6) discourses at length about this milk.
Ver. 3.—Whereas there is among you envying and strife . . . are ye not carnal? (1.) The word carnal is here applied to one who not only has his natural use of sense and reason, but also to one who follows the motions and dictates of the flesh, that is, of his animal nature. And, therefore, as S. Thomas rightly remarks, he who follows the motions of lust, or of his fallen nature, is carnal, natural, walking according to man, and destitute of the Spirit of God. (2.) Both here and in Gal. v. 19., the works of the flesh, i.e., of our corrupt nature, include envying, jealousy, strife, which are spiritual sins, as well as gluttony and lust, which are, strictly speaking, fleshly. Cf. notes to Rom. vii. 22, and Gal. v. 17. The meaning is: You, O Corinthians, are carnal, i.e., contentious, because you fight like boys foolishly about the dignity of your teachers, and extol and put up for sale, one Paul, another Apollos.
Ver. 5.—Even as the Lord gave to every man. God gave to each one of His ministers powers of such kind and such extent as befitted his ministry. Therefore they should glory in God alone, not in Paul or Apollos, His ministers. These latter were not the lords or the authors of their faith, but merely the instruments used by God. So Anselm, Ambrose, Theophylact.
Ver. 6.—I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. I was the first to sow the seeds of the faith at Corinth, and then Apollos coming after me helped it forward (Acts xviii. 26). But it was God who gave the inner life and strength of grace for growth and maturity in Christian faith and virtue: this belongs to God alone. Cf. Augustine (in Joan. Tr. 5).
God gives to plants their increase, not, as rustics suppose, by directly adding some special daily power of growth, but by bestowing upon and preserving to the nature itself of the seed or the root a vigorous power of growth. In other words, He is continually bestowing it and preserving it, and co-operating with it: for the Divine work of preservation is nothing but a continuation of the primal creative power. He does this by ordering and tempering according to His counsel the rain, heat, and winds, and other things needed by the fruits of the ground, so that, as these are tempered, the fruit is larger or smaller. So it is in the sowing of the Word of God, and in its growth, perfecting and harvest in the minds of men.
It appears from this (1.) that outward preaching, calling, examples, and miracles are not alone sufficient for the conversion and the beginning of the spiritual life, or for its further growth. (2.) That, though all alike hear the same word of preaching, yet some profit little, some profit much by it, viz., those whom God works upon by a special inward calling, and whose hearts He touches to change their lives, or to continue to rise to higher things. Hence, both those who preach and those who hear profit most who earnestly beseech God for this inward influence.
Ver. 7.—So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God giveth the increase. The husbandman who plants and waters does hardly anything when compared with God; for he works from without only, and whatever he does he receives it from God, and works as His instrument. But God works within directly as the chief agent, and supplies the power of vigorous growth. For action is assigned to the chief agent, and especially to the first cause. So S. Thomas and Theophylact; S. Augustine (in i. Ep. S. John. Tr. 7) says beautifully: “Outward ministries are helps and warnings, but He that teacheth the heart has His throne in heaven. These words which we address to another from without are to him as the husbandman to the tree. For the husbandman acts upon the tree from without, by diligently watering and tending it, but He does not fashion its fruits.” It is God that co-operates with the tree, and lends it the power of bringing forth fruit. In the same way the words of the preacher do but little, for they sound from without only. But it is God who co-operates with them within, and by His grace illuminates and converts the soul.
Ver. 8.—Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one. They are one, say S. Thomas, Anselm, and others, in office and one in their ministry, i.e., they are both alike ministers. Therefore one is not to be despised or extolled in comparison of another, e.g., Paul in comparison of Apollos. Moreover, all ought to be knit together as one by the same bond of charity, and ought not to cause divisions on account of their ministers. For although they may have different gifts, yet they all discharge the self-same duty, and are one in Christ, who hates schisms, loves unity, and carefully watches over His ministers, however feeble thy be, and wishes them to be esteemed and honoured by all, not as men but as His representatives.
And every man shall receive his own reward according to his labour. This passage shows clearly the merits of good works; for where there is reward there is merit, the two terms being correlatives.
He does not say, it should be noticed, that “each one shall receive a reward according to the fruit that he has brought forth,” but simply “according to his labour,” for the fruit is not in our power, but in the hand of God that giveth the increase. You will receive, therefore, a full reward for all genuine labour, even though no fruit follow—though no heretic or sinner be converted. Nay, the reward will be the greater, because it is more difficult and more disheartening to preach when little or no fruit is seen than when many applaud the sermon, or profit by it.
Ver. 9.—For we are labourers together with God. S. Dionysius (Cælest. Hierarch. c. 3) says, “A great, an angelic, nay, a Divine dignity is it to become a fellow-worker with God in the conversion of souls, and to show openly to all the Divine power working in us.”
Ye are God’s husbandry. Not Paul’s or Apollos’: so you cannot boast yourselves in them. S. Paul continues the illustration drawn from agriculture. The chief tiller is God; Paul and Apollos are his servants; the Corinthians are the field; the seed is grace, the fruits good works. God by His Spirit cultivates within: Paul assists Him by his preaching from without. So Anselm.
Ye are God’s building. He inculcates the same truth by another illustration from building and architecture. The first architect is God; the secondary minister is Paul; the building is the Church and every Christian soul. So Anselm.
We should observe that the Hebrews and Syrians rejoice in metaphors and parables, and run them together, easily passing from one to another.
Ver. 10.—According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master–builder I have laid the foundation. Not mine is this building, not mine the works; for although I, as the first architect, laid the foundations, by my preaching, of the Church at Corinth, yet whatever I did, and brought to perfection there, was done, not by my strength, but by the grace of God. Let, then, this building of God’s Church be attributed to His grace, not to my efforts.
Ver. 11.—For other foundation can no man lay. I have laid the foundation of your Church: let Apollos and others see what superstructure they raise upon, but not endeavour to lay a new foundation. For no other foundation can be laid, for it is Jesus Christ Himself. The foundation, then, of the Church, and of each individual soul in it, is Jesus Christ, i.e., faith in Him as our Saviour, and especially that faith which is quickened by charity, on which I have built you. So Anselm, and S. Gregory (lib. vii. epist. 47).
In this sense Christ alone is the foundation of the Church, and the foundation of the foundations, as S. Augustine says (Ps. lxxxvii. 1), because He rests on Himself alone, and bears up all others, even Peter. In another sense Peter is the foundation of the Church, viz., a secondary one, because from his firmness in the faith he cannot publicly teach error, but always confirms others in it, and gives them light. This is laid down by S. Thomas and all Catholic theologians. In a similar sense, not only Peter, but all the Apostles, are called the foundations of the Church (Ps. lxxxvii. 1; Rev. xxi. 19).
Vers. 12 and 13.—Now if any man build . . . the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. This is a metaphor drawn from a house on fire, which if constructed of gold or precious stones receives no damage, but if of wood or stubble is consumed.
Notice in passing that by “previous stones” we must here understand marble, porphyry, and the like, not diamonds or other gems; for the houses of wealthy men are built of the former, not of the latter. Such was the boast of Augustus: “I received the city built of brick, I leave it built of marble.” The Apostle’s meaning, then, is that, if a fire occur, a house built of marble and gold is not injured by it, but rather shines the more brightly. But the next house, being built of wood and stubble, will burn, and its tenant will escape indeed, but he will be scorched. So if any Christian, and especially any teacher or preacher of the Gospel (for such are primarily referred to here, as appears from vers. 4, 6, and 10), build upon the faith of Christ gold and silver, that is, according to Theodore and Theophylact, holy works, and especially sound, edifying, and holy doctrine, he shall receive his reward. So Ambrose and S. Anselm. S. Thomas says: “Gold is charity; silver, contemplative wisdom; precious stones are the other virtues.” On the other hand, wood, hay, stubble are sins, not deadly sins, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Gregory (contra. Magd. lib. iv. c. 13) think (for these are lead and brass, as is pointed out by Anselm and S. Thomas and S. Augustine (Enchirid. c. 68), nor are they built upon, but they overturn and destroy the building, viz., that living faith which alone wins a reward from Christ); but they represent venial sins, which make the mind cling to vanities, to worldly advantages, to vain-glory. But strictly speaking the Apostle is referring, when he speaks of wood, hay, stubble, to doctrine that is fluid, frivolous, showy, ornamental, wire-drawn, and useless. So say Ambrose, S. Thomas, Theodoret, Anselm. For he that builds these things on the foundation of faith in Christ shall be saved, yet so as by fire.
The Apostle in verses leaves the Corinthians to give a warning to Apollos and their other teachers and preachers, especially those gifted with eloquence, to beware of their great danger, vain-glory, and to be teachers of the truth in its purity, lest if they do otherwise they have to expiate their sin by fire. That there were some such at Corinth who had been the cause or the occasion of strife and division is pretty plainly hinted here and in the next chapter in vers. 6, 10, 15, 18, and 19.
For the day shall declare it. This day is the day of the Lord, to be marked with a white or black stone, the day of judgment, especially of the universal judgment, which shall be revealed in fire. For that day of the Lord is now our day, as Anselm, Theodoret, Ambrose, and S. Thomas say. Cf. also 2 Tim. iv. 8; i 12; and c. 15. In these and other places we are evidently to understand “that day” to be as it were a technical name for the famous day of universal judgment.
But notice that the day of particular judgment is also to be included under this day of universal judgment. For the judgment of both is one and the same, as is also their sentence.
It shall be revealed by fire. What is this fire? To answer this we must notice that the Apostle speaks of three things: (1.) that the day of the Lord shall be revealed in fire; (2.) that it shall try each man’s; (3.) that those who build wood, hay, stubble shall pass through it, and shall be saved, yet so as by fire.
1. Many of the ancients, as Origen (in Lucam, hom. 14), Ambrose (in Ps. xxxvii.), Lactantius (lib. vii. c. 21), Basil (in Isa. iv.), Rupert (in Gen. lib. ii. c. 32), take the fire to be literal fire, which they think all souls, even those of Peter and Paul, must pass through on their way to heaven, to have their impurities purged away, whether it be the general conflagration at the end of the world, or the purgatorial fire beneath the earth, or some other fire in the upper æther. For Bede says (hist. lib. iii. xix.) that S. Fursey saw huge fires on the road which led to heaven, through which the traveller must pass. But this opinion, though it has not been condemned, and though Bellarmine (de Purg. lib. ii. 1) has not ventured to condemn it, yet lacks foundation. For this passage of the Apostle’s, on which alone those who uphold this view rely, has a different meaning. That vision of Fursey’s, too, was merely a representation, under the image of literal fire, of God’s spiritual judgment and the punishments awaiting carnal men, as I will show presently.
2. S. Chrysostom and Theophylact, who were followed by the Greek Fathers at the Council of Florence, reply that it is hell-fire, in which the sinner will remain safely, i.e., undestroyed and undying, so as to undergo punishment everlastingly. But this is a perversion of the meaning: for salvation everywhere stands in Scripture for a state of freedom from pain and sorrow, never for an eternal existence in torments. And so all other interpreters understand it, as well as the Latin Fathers at that same Council.
But we should notice that though S. Chrysostom understands this verse of hell, yet he does not deny that it may refer to purgatory, as was falsely asserted by Mark, Archbishop of Ephesus, at the Council. He even expressly admits it (in Matt. Hom.32, in Philipp. Hom. 3, Heb. Hom. 4, and elsewhere). In these places he exhorts the faithful to pray for the faithful departed in purgatory; for we may not pray for those in hell, since there there is no redemption.
Heretics reply that this fire is the fire of the tribulation of this life; and this is even implied by Anselm and Gregory (Dial. iv. 39) and Augustine (in Ps. xxxviii), all of whom, however, understand it of purgatory, or that it is the fire of confusion, which they feign that the Holy Spirit sends upon the Saints in life, or else at their death, as, e.g., they say He did in the case of SS. Bernard, Francis, and Dominic, to show them their errors about the monastic life, the Mass, and Confession, that so they might have their eyes opened and be led to retract. But all this is a gratuitous invention, nor does there exist any such retractation made by these Saints or by others on their death-beds: they rather gave with constancy an exhortation to their followers to persist and go forward in the monastic life.
Add to this that many have died suddenly, and still die suddenly, or die in their sleep, and that they depart with the stain of venial sins. Where are they purged? Not in heaven, for there nothing that defiles shall enter (Rev. xxi. 27); not in hell, for that is the place of the lost; therefore, it must be in purgatory. For after this life there is no place for the wonted mercy and pardon of God, but only for justice and for just making amends, or rather suffering amends, so that no one may say that God freely forgives all sin to the dead, i.e., all pain and guilt. Lastly, the day of death is not called the day of the Lord, but the day of judgment; nor does fire denote the confusion that happens then, but literal fire.
Calvin objects that wood, hay, stubble are used figuratively, so therefore is fire. I reply by denying that it follows; for it appears that the day of the Lord is to be revealed by fire properly so called, and I shall show this directly.
4. Sedulius, Cajetan, Theodoret, Ambrose understand this fire of the strict and severe examination of the judgment of God, punishing sin after death by fire; or, as Bellarmine suggests, it is the fire partly of judgment, partly of purgatory. In other words, as the works of sinners shall have their fiery examination, so too shall they that work them have their fire, the fire of vengeance, in purgatory. By way of analogy that judgment is called by the name of fire, because, like fire, it will be most purifying, most searching, most rapid, and most efficacious (Mal. ii. 2; Heb. xii. 29). But since the words of the Apostle speak of nothing but fire, and repeat it twice and three times, they seem plainly and properly to mean what they say, and to denote literal fire throughout, with no figure, double meaning, or variation.
I say, then, 1. that it is certain that this place is understood of the fire of purgatory. So it is taken by the Council of Florence, by Ambrose, Theodoret, S. Thomas, Anselm, here, and in innumerable places by the Greek and Latin Fathers, cited at length by Bellarmine and Salmeron. This is the tradition and common opinion of the Church and of doctors, although they may sometimes explain the details differently, or apply them to purgatory in a different way.
It may be objected: If the Council of Florence understands this passage of purgatorial fire, it is therefore a matter de fide, and must be understood of it by all, and therefore also it is de fide, not only that there is a purgatory, but that souls are purged in it by fire.
I answer by denying that it follows. For although the Latin Fathers in the Council of Trent so understand it, and though consequently it is certain that there is a purgatorial fire, yet they were unwilling to define it to be a matter of faith that it is fire, but only that it is purgatorial. They did this, too, so as not to offend the Greeks, who admitted indeed a purgatory, but denied the existence of fire in it, saying merely that it was a dark place and full of suffering.
2. The fire spoken of here by the Apostle is, properly speaking, the fire of the conflagration of the world. This appears from the fact that it will be in the day of the Lord, that is, at the last judgment, which is everywhere described in Scripture “by fire which is to burn up the world.” Cf. Ps. xcvii. 3; 2 Thess. i. 8; Joel ii. 3; 2 S. Peter iii. 12. For this fire will at the same time consume the world, and prove and purge those who shall then be living, as theologians everywhere lay down; it will also be the precursor, or rather the companion and lictor, of Christ, the Judge. It will, too, bring death and punishment, if not to the pure, at any rate to the impure, proportioned to their deserving. This fire shall then surround and carry off the condemned with it into hell, and so it is said that “the day of the Lord shall be revealed by fire;” which means that that day shall be revealed by fire as the day of the vengeance and judgment of the Lord.
You will ask, How does this fire purge works which have long passed away and are not? I reply that Scripture says that men’s good and evil deeds follow them; they are with them after death, inasmuch as responsibility for them still remains with men, binding them either to reward or punishment.
You may ask again, How can works be said to be burnt? I answer, in two ways: (1.) Figuratively, for they are compared to stubble, which literally burns. Works, too, burn in a figurative sense, i.e., they are punished and destroyed like wood which is consumed by fire. (2.) By metonymy the works are put for the worker, and are thus said to burn.
Notice here that the Apostle uses this figure and metonymy so as to carry on the illustration of a building which he introduced in ver. 9, and also because he is referring to the conflagration which is to burn all the buildings in the world. For men’s works build for them as it were houses, just as silkworms spin little balls of silk, and enwrap themselves in them, as if they were their houses; so that if you burn these little balls you burn the silkworm, and vice versâ. So here work is figuratively burnt like a house, because the worker and builder to whom the works adhere, and in whom they may be said to adhere is burnt. Moreover, the works rather than the workman are said to be burnt, because the workman is not utterly consumed, but is saved, yet so as by fire. But the guilt of his works is by this fire consumed and done away.
It may be asked in the third place, How is it that this fire is said to try gold and silver, i.e., good works? I answer, By the very fact that it does not touch them, but leaves them wholly unharmed, because they are wholly without alloy; the fire declares the perfection of the workmen and their works. But it will manifest by burning, i.e., by punishing wood, hay, stubble, when it shall attack and burn those that committed venial sin, and shall purge them so as to save them, yet so as by fire. Similarly, in olden times, until it was forbidden by the Canons as tempting God, trial by ordeal was resorted to for the purpose of deciding guilt: an accused person had to handle a red-hot iron, or walk upon it barefoot. If he was really guilty he was burnt; if innocent, uninjured. This happened to S. Cunegund, wife of the Emperor Henry, and to the three children in the Babylonian furnace. The one proved her chastity by walking barefoot over the hot iron, the others their innocence by passing uninjured through the fiery furnace.
It may be asked again, How does fire try the work of every man? For Paul, and all who are already dead, do not pass through the fire that consumes the world. I reply (1.) that S. Paul is on the habit of speaking as if the last day were close at hand, that so he may stir up every one to prepare himself for a day that is uncertain, and perhaps soon to come. (2.) Moreover, this fire will purge the whole world, and therefore if there is any stain in any of the dead that has not yet been purged away, it will be attacked and punished by that fire; and so each one’s work, whether he be living or dead, will be manifested. (3.) As the Apostle includes the day of death under the day of the Lord, and particular judgment under the general, and regards them under one aspect, so in like manner, under the fire that will accompany Christ when He comes in judgment, and that will purge whatever then remains that needs purging, he wishes us to understand that fire by which souls begin to be purges directly after death. By this fire, he means the fire of purgatory.
It is no objection to this that the fire which shall destroy the world will be before death, when it should be after death. For (1.) it will do away with the sins of the whole life and of death also. But it cannot be after death so as to purge the dead, for they that are dead then will immediately rise and be carried to judgment. (2.) If any one before death shall chance not to have been sufficiently purged, he will after death be fully dealt with by the same purgatorial fire. This is proved by this verse; for the Apostle writes it to the living, who were not to see the general conflagration, but were to have their own purgatory after death, as the others were to have theirs at death. For why should one escape this fire more than the other, if their merits were the same? (3.) The Greek word is in the present tense, “is being revealed:” in other words, the “day of the Lord” is revealed at death. (4.) The work of every one will be tried by this purgatorial fire, and yet the work of those alive at the general conflagration will alone be tried by it. (5.) All the Catholic Fathers, the Latin doctors, and the Council of Florence, at its beginning, understood this passage of the fire of purgatory, and it has the unanimous tradition of the Church. (6.) To try by purging is in the strictest sense the work of purgatory, and of it we can most truly say that it shall save, yet so as by fire. For from the moment of death a man will be saved, and when he has been thoroughly purged he will fly from purgatory to heaven, before the great day of the Lord.
As, then, the saying of the Apostle’s, that the day of the Lord shall be revealed by fire, exactly suits the fire at the end of the world, so also it strictly falls in with the fire of purgatory, because it shall try each man’s work, and because the righteous man who has sinned shall be saved yet so as by fire.
I must add to this that theologians of repute, as Francis Suarez (pt. iii. vol. 2, disp. 57. sec. 1), hold that thus general conflagration will not slay the purge men, but that after the resurrection, at the general judgment, this fire will only be for the terror and punishment of the lost, and to burn up and renew the world after judgment. Still, they say, that we can infer that it will try and purge the good, inasmuch as it will be a witness to the acknowledgment by Christ of their innocence resulting from the purgation they have undergone in purgatory. It is therefore much more certain that the trial spoken of here will be by the fire of purgatory rather than by the conflagration at the end of the world. In short, the whole of this passage of the Apostle’s must be understood as well of the day of judgment, both particular and universal, as of purgatory and the fire that is to consume the world. It may be asked, Why does the Apostle blend these and speak indifferently of both judgments and both fires? The reason is (1.) that as the particular and general judgment will be one and the same, so will the fire of purgatory and at the end of the world be one and the same. One purges men, the other the world. The fire of purgatory is related as a part to the whole to the general fire which will be the world’s purgatory; it will give place to it, and perhaps be changed into it, and perhaps become numerically one with it. (2.) The Apostle frequently speaks of the day of judgment being close at hand, and consequently as if the passage from purgatory to the general conflagration were soon to be made; and, as was said, he does this that men may prepare themselves for it by holy and pious lives. Cf. 1 Thess. iv. 15; Heb. xi. 40; 2 Cor. v. 1, 3, 4. Similarly, the Prophets and Christ Himself often mingle type and antitype, as in S. Matt. xxiv. Christ speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the world as one destruction, and as if one were to follow closely upon the other. This is why the Apostles, when Christ said this, thought that the two would be nearly contemporaneous, though afterwards when better taught they perceived and corrected their mistake.
You may ask secondly, How can the words, “it shall be revealed by fire,” be applied to the particular judgment? What fire will be Christ’s assessor at the particular judgment when each man’s works are tried and declared? I answer that the fire of purgatory is Christ’s assistant in the particular judgment of any man, ready to His hand to try, punish, and purge each man’s work. We ought to remark that S. Paul personifies this purgatorial fire, and makes it a kind of assessor to Christ, so that, like soldiers before their captain, all the dead must pass before it, to be inspected, and, if they need it, to be corrected. The Apostle does this (1.) to carry in his figure of gold and the refiner; (2.) to keep the fitting proportion between this fire and the general conflagration, to which his reference is primarily when he says, “the day of the Lord shall be revealed by fire.” Notice also that, as then the Prophets and Christ blend confusedly type and antitype, as, e.g., when they speak of Solomon and Christ, of the destruction of the city and the world, and appear to apply to both things, which have more reference to the one than to the other, so also S. Paul does here: for the words, “the day of the Lord shall be revealed by fire,” refer rather to the conflagration at the end of the world; but the words that follow, “the fire shall try every man’s work,” have to do rather with the fire of purgatory.
The fire of purgatory, then, is Christ’s assistant at the day of particular judgment, His precursor, lictor, jailer, and scourge; it examines each man’s work, leaves the gold of good works unharmed, but burns up as if they were its proper fuel all works of wood, hay, stubble; and so each one shall suffer loss, or punishment—in such a way, however, that the worker is saved, yet so as by fire. And so at the day of death and particular judgment this fire is revealed to each one. And this was the meaning of Fursey’s vision. For when he saw himself dead and the fire approaching him, he said to the angel, “Lord, lo! the fire is coming near me.” The angel answered, “What thou didst not kindle shall not burn thee. For though the pyre seem great and terrible, yet it tries every man according to the merit of his works, for each man’s lust shall be burnt in this fore. For just as each one burns in his body with unlawful lust, so when freed from the body shall he be burnt by just punishment.”
Ver. 15.—But he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. Isidorius Clarius wrongly applies this to the “foundation.” Grammatically it is possible, but logically not, for it does not agree with the context. For the Apostle is showing that those teachers who erect an empty and showy structure on the faith of Christ shall be punished with fire. Moreover, the preceding words, “he shall receive a reward,” evidently refer to the builder, not to the foundation. So, too, the opposite clause here must be referred to him who builds and not t the foundation laid.
Notice (1.) that as is a mark of truth, not of comparison. So in S. John i. 14: “We have seen His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten. (2.) That it is possible for as to be the introduction of a comparison here. The meaning then would be, He shall be saved like as one who escapes from a burning house, and passes scorched through the flames, as I said at ver. 12. Hence it appears both that there is a purgatory and that there is fire. Hence Chrysostom (Hom. ad pop. 69) says that “the Apostles ordered that at the sacrifice of the Mass prayer be offered for the departed.” Dionysius (Eccles. Hierarch. cvii. pt. 3) records these prayers, and says that he received them from the Apostles. For, as S. Augustine says (Ps. xxxviii), “Because it is said ‘shall be saved,’ this fire is thought little of, but it will be more than anything that man can endure in this life.” S. Bernard too says (de Obit. Humb.), “What we have neglected here shall there be paid a hundredfold.”
Many think that the fire of purgatory is the same as the fire of hell, which borders on purgatory, but only differs from it in duration. From this Anselm gives the wise advice: “If to escape tortures we obey a king here, let us obey the will of Gos so as to escape that fire which is more terrible than all tortures here.” And S. Chrysostom (de Penit. hom. 5) says: “Now there is space for repentance; let then penitence forestall punishment; let us come before His face with confession; let us extinguish the fore prepared for our sins, not with many waters, but with a few tears.” At all events, it is better and easier to be purged with water than with fire: it is better to spend the life whole in the purgatory of penitence than to dwell for a year in the purgatory of fire.
S. Bernard, in his sermon on “the wood, hay, stubble,” gives a tropological discourse that is much to the point. He says: “The foundation is Christ, the wood is perishable, the hay yielding, the stubble light. They who began stoutly enough, but when broken are not renewed, are the wood. They are the hay who, being lukewarm by reason of the sloth that they should have fled from, are unwilling to touch arduous labours with the tip of their fingers. They are the stubble who, being tossed about by every light breeze, never remain in the same state. For such must we fear, though not despair: for if they have heed to Christ as the foundation, and have finished their life in Him as the Way, they shall be saved, yet so as by fire . . . Fire has three things—smoke, light, heat. Smoke calls forth tears, light illuminates what is near, heat burns. So he who is of this sort ought to have smoke, that is, a smarting as it were in his mind, because of his lukewarmness, his remissness, his fickleness; for as far as in him lies he disturbs and overthrows natural order. So, too, should he have light in his mouth, that he may by confession say and bewail that he is what he knows himself to be; so that his tongue may sharpen his conscience, and his conscience shame his tongue. It is necessary, too, that he feel in his body the heat of the suffering exacted by penitence—in some degree at all events, if not very acutely. Thinkest thou that He who wishes all men to be saved will cast away those who in this way are of contrite heart, who humbly confess, and try to bring under their bodies? . . . There are, too, others who build on this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, who begin ardently, more ardently go forward, and most ardently seek perfection, not paying any heed to what the flesh can do, but what the Spirit wills.”
Ver. 16.—Know ye not that ye are the temple of God? This is a return to the image of ver. 9: “Ye are God’s building,” and therefore not a heathen temple, but the temple of God, in which by faith, grace, charity, and His gifts He dwells. So Anselm and others. For a fuller exposition if this, see the notes to 2 Cor. vi. 16.
How the soul may be dedicated as a temple to God is declared at length by S. Bernard (Serm. 1 de Dedic. Eccl.). He says that there are five things observed in a dedication: the sprinkling, the marking with the cross, the anointing, the illumination, and the benediction; and all these take place also in the dedication of the soul.
Observe that up to the present S. Paul has been dealing with those teachers and those of the faithful who build up the holy edifice of the Church. He now turns to those who undermine it.
Ver. 17.—If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy. If any one, through the fatal pride that is born of human wisdom, through novel, erroneous, and pestilential teaching, or through schisms such as are found among you, O Corinthians, says Anselm; or if any one in any other way corrupt the Church, or any individual soul in it—him shall God destroy. The Apostle is speaking mainly of the corruption that comes through the teaching of false doctrine, through pride, through envy, or the fomenting of schism. For as he began, so does he finish this chapter with warnings to false teachers. It appears, too, from the next words where he says that any such defiler shall not be saved, so as by fire, but shall be consumed in everlasting fire.
Ver. 18.—If any man among you seemeth to be wise . If any man is proud if his worldly wisdom and eloquence, his earthly knowledge and so come to look down on others, let him become filled with humility and faith, and with the folly of the Cross, so as to be a fool in the eyes of the world. Cf. notes on i. 26. This with God is the only true wisdom. Since the world’s wisdom is folly with God, and God’s wisdom foolishness to the world, it follows that we cannot be wise unless according to the world we are fools—unless, in spite of our greatness and wisdom before the world, we submit ourselves like children, nay, like fools, to the faith, doctrine, cross, and obedience of Christ. “So,” says S. Bernard (Serm. 2 de Epiph.), “did the three Magi worship the Child in the manger and become fools, so as to learn wisdom; and so the spirit taught them what was afterwards preached by Apostles: ‘He who wishes to be wise let him become a fool, that he may be wise.’ They enter the stable, they find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes: they think no scorn of the stable, stumble not at the swaddling clothes, nor find offence in the Infant at the breast: they fall down, they worship Him as King, they adore Him as God. Surely, He who led thither their steps also opened the eyes of their mind. He who guided them from without by a star, also taught them in the deepest recesses of the heart.” S. Basil asks (Reg. brevoir. 274): “How is any one made a fool in this world?” And he replies, “If he fears the judgment of God, who says. ‘Woe to them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight;’ and if he imitates Him who said, ‘I became even as a beast before Thee;’ if he throw away all empty belief in his own wisdom, reverse all his former judgments, and confess that not even from the beginning has he ever thought aright till he was taught by the command of God what was pleasing to Him in thought, word, and deed.”
Ver. 19.—For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. God has rejected the wisdom of the world as worthless, (1.) because it has nothing in it that is wholesome and Divine, and does nothing towards salvation; (2.) He would not use it in the preaching of the Apostles, but employed instead unlettered Apostles; (3.) It is often contrary to the faith, not only in speculative matters (as, e.g., all who are merely worldly-wise reject the mystery of the Holy Trinity, of the Incarnation and death of the Son of God as being impossible and incredible), but also in matters of practice and morals. For Christ bids us love our enemies; the wisdom of the world bids us hate them: Christ bids us overcome evil with good, the world says, “Return evil for evil;” Christ calls blessed the poor, the meek, them that mourn, that hunger, that suffer persecution, but the world says that it is the rich, those that are in high station, that laugh, feast, and rule, that are happy.
For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. This is from Job v. 13. They are the words, not of Job, but of Eliphaz, who wished to show that Job had deserved his calamities through his sins. He was reproved by God (Job xlii. 7), and therefore these words of Eliphaz have not the authority os Holy Scripture, but only that of a wise man. For S. Paul approves of this saying of Eliphaz as being true, and wisely said by a wise man.
God takes the wise in their craftiness when He fulfils His will by the very means by which they thought to reverse it. When the brothers of Joseph, wishing to stultify his dreams about his future leadership, threw him into a pit and sold him into Egypt, God through their action, exalted him, and made him ruler over Egypt, and forced his brothers to do him reverence. In like manner God overruled the wisdom of Pharaoh at the Red Sea, of Saul and Achithophel on their attempts to destroy David, of Haman at the gallows, where he thought to slay Mordecai. So S. Thomas.
Ver. 20.—And again, the Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are but vain. Ps. xciv.11. By all these quotations and reasons S. Paul impresses on the Corinthians that the worldly wisdom and eloquence of which they boasted themselves, and through which they put Apollos before himself, were but vain. He declares that the true wisdom is the faith and teaching of Christ, which he had preached them—on simple words, indeed, but yet with burning and efficacious zeal.
S. Jerome, moralising on Ps. xciv., says: “Do you wish to know how it is that the thoughts of men are vain? A father and mother bring up a child, they promise themselves happiness in him, they send him to be educated; he comes to manhood, they enter him as a soldier, and when through thirty years they have thought of everything for him, a slight attack of fever comes and carries away the fruit of all their thought. O anxiety of man! how vain is it in human affairs! One thought alone brings happiness—the thought of God.”
Vers. 21, 22.—Therefore, let no man glory in men . . . all are yours. Glory not in Paul or in Apollos, for they and all others, nay, all creatures are common to each one of you; they all alike concur in procuring your salvation.
It should be remarked that S. Paul, when he says that all are yours, does not teach a community of goods such as there was in paradise, and as Huss, Wyclif, and others fondly dream of. He means that by way of final cause and use, not by way of possession, all things have been intended to help forward their salvation. So say Anselm, Ambrose, Theodoret, S. Thomas, Chrysostom. They have been given to be used either objectively or subjectively, which latter consists in acknowledging and praising the Creator in all His creatures; and this is what is meant by the common saying, “The whole world swells the wealth of the faithful.” Cf. Theodoret (Serm. 10 de. Provid.). Hence S. Chrysostom says: “We are Christ’s in one way; Christ is God’s in another; the world is ours in another. For we are Christ’s as His work; Christ is God’s as His most dearly–beloved Son; the world is ours, not as being our work, but because it was made on our account.” The world then is ours, because all creatures in the world serve our body and soul; life is ours, that we may lay up a store of merits; death is ours, because it is the gate through which we pass to everlasting life; or the death of martyrdom is ours; things present, whether adverse or prosperous, are ours that we may extract good from them; things to come are ours, that we may enjoy them: they are now ours in hope, they will be ours in fact in heaven. So S. Thomas and Anselm. Ours, too, are evil things, such as hell and the lost, that we may rule over them.
Ver. 23.—Ye are Christ’s. You are the mystical members of Christ, your Head and Lord, and therefore you are His possession, having been bought by His Blood. Therefore you should glory in Christ, not in Paul or Apollos. So S. Thomas and Anselm.
And Christ is God’s. (1.) Because, as God, He is the Son of God. Ambrose says, “Christ is the Son of God, and does His will, that we too may do it.” So, too, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Anselm. (2.) Christ as man is God’s, as His Lord and Head, being His creature and His possession. So S. Thomas and Cajetan.
From what has been said it appears that all the faithful, and especially the elect, are the end for which God created all things. The end of all things is Christ as man. For this glory was the due of such a man, viz., that all things should serve Him, be ordained foe Him, and look to Him as their end. But Christ is for God and His glory, and therefore all glory is to be given, not to Paul or Apollos, but to God alone.
S. Chrysostom (Hom. 10 Moral.) says beautifully: “All that we are and all that we have comes from Christ: life and light, and spirit, and air and earth. If any of these be taken from us we perish, for we are but strangers and pilgrims. ‘Mine and thine’ are, when carefully considered, but empty words. Though you may speak of your house as being your own, you speak foolishly; for indeed the air, the earth, the material of which it is made, yourself who build it, and all other things are the property of the Creator. Even if the use of it is yours it is of uncertain duration, not only because of death, but also because of the uncertainty of all things before death. for we are God’s in two ways—by creation and re-creation; and if your soul is not your own, how can you say that your money is? Since, therefore, it is not your own, you should expend it upon your fellow-servants. Do not say, then, ‘I spend my own.’ It is not your own, it is another’s, nay, it is common to thee and thy fellow-servant, like as the sun and air and all things are.”