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City of God: Chapter 26
Chapter 26.—What It is to Have Christ for a Foundation, and Who They are to Whom Salvation as by Fire is Promised.
But, say they, the catholic Christians have Christ for a foundation, and they have not fallen away from union with Him, no matter how depraved a life they have built on this foundation, as wood, hay, stubble; and accordingly the well-directed faith by which Christ is their foundation will suffice to deliver them some time from the continuance of that fire, though it be with loss, since those things they have built on it shall be burned. Let the Apostle James summarily reply to them: “If any man say he has faith, and have not works, can faith save him?” 1571 And who then is it, they ask, of whom the Apostle Paul says, “But he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire?” 1572 Let us join them in their inquiry; and one thing is very certain, that it is not he of whom James speaks, else we should make the two apostles contradict one another, if the one says, “Though a mans works be evil, his faith will save him as by fire,” while the other says, “If he have not good works, can his faith save him?”
We shall then ascertain who it is who can be saved by fire, if we first discover what it is to have Christ for a foundation. And this we may very readily learn from the image itself. In a building the foundation is first. Whoever, then, has Christ in his heart, so that no earthly or temporal things—not even those that are legitimate and allowed—are preferred to Him, has Christ as a foundation. But if these things be preferred, then even though a man seem to have faith in Christ, yet Christ is not the foundation to that man; and much more if he, in contempt of wholesome precepts, seek forbidden gratifications, is he clearly convicted of putting Christ not first but last, since he has despised Him as his ruler, and has preferred to fulfill his own wicked lusts, in contempt of Christs commands and allowances. Accordingly, if any Christian man loves a harlot, and, attaching himself to her, becomes one body, he has not now Christ for a foundation. But if any one loves his own wife, and loves her as Christ would have him love her, who can doubt that he has Christ for a foundation? But if he loves her in the worlds fashion, carnally, as the disease of lust prompts him, and as the Gentiles love who know not God, even this the apostle, or rather Christ by the apostle, allows as a venial fault. And therefore even such a man may have Christ for a foundation. For so long as he does not prefer such an affection or pleasure to Christ, Christ is his foundation, though on it he builds wood, hay, p. 474 stubble; and therefore he shall be saved as by fire. For the fire of affliction shall burn such luxurious pleasures and earthly loves, though they be not damnable, because enjoyed in lawful wedlock. And of this fire the fuel is bereavement, and all those calamities which consume these joys. Consequently the superstructure will be loss to him who has built it, for he shall not retain it, but shall be agonized by the loss of those things in the enjoyment of which he found pleasure. But by this fire he shall be saved through virtue of the foundation, because even if a persecutor demanded whether he would retain Christ or these things, he would prefer Christ. Would you hear, in the apostles own words, who he is who builds on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones? “He that is unmarried,” he says, “careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” 1573 Would you hear who he is that buildeth wood, hay, stubble? “But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 1574 “Every mans work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it,”—the day, no doubt, of tribulation—“because,” says he, “it shall be revealed by fire.” 1575 He calls tribulation fire, just as it is elsewhere said, “The furnace proves the vessels of the potter, and the trial of affliction righteous men.” 1576 And “The fire shall try every mans work of what sort it is. If any mans work abide”—for a mans care for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord, abides—“which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward,”—that is, he shall reap the fruit of his care. “But if any mans work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss,”—for what he loved he shall not retain:—“ but he himself shall be saved,”—for no tribulation shall have moved him from that stable foundation,—“yet so as by fire;” 1577 for that which he possessed with the sweetness of love he does not lose without the sharp sting of pain. Here, then, as seems to me, we have a fire which destroys neither, but enriches the one, brings loss to the other, proves both.
But if this passage [of Corinthians] is to interpret that fire of which the Lord shall say to those on His left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire,” 1578 so that among these we are to believe there are those who build on the foundation wood, hay, stubble, and that they, through virtue of the good foundation, shall after a time be liberated from the fire that is the award of their evil deserts, what then shall we think of those on the right hand, to whom it shall be said, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you,” 1579 unless that they are those who have built on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones? But if the fire of which our Lord speaks is the same as that of which the apostle says, “Yet so as by fire,” then both—that is to say, both those on the right as well as those on the left—are to be cast into it. For that fire is to try both, since it is said, “For the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every mans work of what sort it is.” 1580 If, therefore, the fire shall try both, in order that if any mans work abide—i.e., if the superstructure be not consumed by the fire—he may receive a reward, and that if his work is burned he may suffer loss, certainly that fire is not the eternal fire itself. For into this latter fire only those on the left hand shall be cast, and that with final and everlasting doom; but that former fire proves those on the right hand. But some of them it so proves that it does not burn and consume the structure which is found to have been built by them on Christ as the foundation; while others of them it proves in another fashion, so as to burn what they have built up, and thus cause them to suffer loss, while they themselves are saved because they have retained Christ, who was laid as their sure foundation, and have loved Him above all. But if they are saved, then certainly they shall stand at the right hand, and shall with the rest hear the sentence, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you;” and not at the left hand, where those shall be who shall not be saved, and shall therefore hear the doom, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” For from that fire no man shall be saved, because they all shall go away into eternal punishment, where their worms shall not die, nor their fire be quenched, in which they shall be tormented day and night for ever.
But if it be said that in the interval of time between the death of this body and that last day of judgment and retribution which shall follow the resurrection, the bodies of the dead shall be exposed to a fire of such a nature that it shall not affect those who have not in this life indulged in such pleasures and pursuits as shall be consumed like wood, hay, stubble, but shall affect those others who have carried with them structures of that kind; if p. 475 it be said that such worldliness, being venial, shall be consumed in the fire of tribulation either here only, or here and hereafter both, or here that it may not be hereafter,—this I do not contradict, because possibly it is true. For perhaps even the death of the body is itself a part of this tribulation, for it results from the first transgression, so that the time which follows death takes its color in each case from the nature of the mans building. The persecutions, too, which have crowned the martyrs, and which Christians of all kinds suffer, try both buildings like a fire, consuming some, along with the builders themselves, if Christ is not found in them as their foundation, while others they consume without the builders, because Christ is found in them, and they are saved, though with loss; and other buildings still they do not consume, because such materials as abide for ever are found in them. In the end of the world there shall be in the time of Antichrist tribulation such as has never before been. How many edifices there shall then be, of gold or of hay, built on the best foundation, Christ Jesus, which that fire shall prove, bringing joy to some, loss to others, but without destroying either sort, because of this stable foundation! But whosoever prefers, I do not say his wife, with whom he lives for carnal pleasure, but any of those relatives who afford no delight of such a kind, and whom it is right to love,—whosoever prefers these to Christ, and loves them after a human and carnal fashion, has not Christ as a foundation, and will therefore not be saved by fire, nor indeed at all; for he shall not possibly dwell with the Saviour, who says very explicitly concerning this very matter, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” 1581 But he who loves his relations carnally, and yet so that he does not prefer them to Christ, but would rather want them than Christ if he were put to the proof, shall be saved by fire, because it is necessary that by the loss of these relations he suffer pain in proportion to his love. And he who loves father, mother, sons, daughters, according to Christ, so that he aids them in obtaining His kingdom and cleaving to Him, or loves them because they are members of Christ, God forbid that this love should be consumed as wood, hay, stubble, and not rather be reckoned a structure of gold, silver, precious stones. For how can a man love those more than Christ whom he loves only for Christs sake?
1 Cor. 3.15. [This is the chief passage quoted in favor of purgatory. See note on p. 470. The Apostle uses a figurative term for narrow escape from perdition.—P.S.]474:1573
1 Cor. 7.32.474:1574
1 Cor. 7.33.474:1575
1 Cor. 3.13.474:1576
1 Cor. 3:14, 15.474:1578
1 Cor. 3.13.475:1581
Next: Chapter 27
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