In fact, wood and hay and stubble may be understood, without absurdity, to signify such an attachment to those worldly things--albeit legitimate in themselves--that one cannot suffer their loss without anguish in the soul. Now, when such anguish "burns," and Christ still holds his place as foundation in the heart--that is, if nothing is preferred to him and if the man whose anguish "burns" would still prefer to suffer loss of the things he greatly loves than to lose Christ--then one is saved, "by fire." But if, in time of testing, he should prefer to hold onto these temporal and worldly goods rather than to Christ, he does not have him as foundation--because he has put "things" in the first place--whereas in a building nothing comes before the foundations.
Now, this fire, of which the apostle speaks, should be understood as one through which both kinds of men must pass: that is, the man who builds with gold, silver, and precious stones on this foundation and also the man who builds with wood, hay, and stubble. For, when he had spoken of this, he added: "The fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abides which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work burns up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire."149 Therefore the fire will test the work, not only of the one, but of both.
The fire is a sort of trial of affliction, concerning which it is clearly written elsewhere: "The furnace tries the potter's vessels and the trial of affliction tests righteous men."150 This kind of fire works in the span of this life, just as the apostle said, as it affects the two different kinds of faithful men. There is, for example, the man who "thinks of the things of God, how he may please God." Such a man builds on Christ the foundation, with gold, silver, and precious stones. The other man "thinks about the things of the world, how he may please his wife"151; that is, he builds upon the same foundation with wood, hay, and stubble. The work of the former is not burned up, since he has not loved those things whose loss brings anguish. But the work of the latter is burned up, since things are not lost without anguish when they have been loved with a possessive love. But because, in this second situation, he prefers to suffer the loss of these things rather than losing Christ, and does not desert Christ from fear of losing such things--even though he may grieve over his loss--"he is saved," indeed, "yet so as by fire." He "burns" with grief, for the things he has loved and lost, but this does not subvert nor consume him, secured as he is by the stability and the indestructibility of his foundation.
69. It is not incredible that something like this should occur after this life, whether or not it is a matter for fruitful inquiry. It may be discovered or remain hidden whether some of the faithful are sooner or later to be saved by a sort of purgatorial fire, in proportion as they have loved the goods that perish, and in proportion to their attachment to them. However, this does not apply to those of whom it was said, "They shall not possess the Kingdom of God,"152 unless their crimes are remitted through due repentance. I say "due repentance" to signify that they must not be barren of almsgiving, on which divine Scripture lays so much stress that our Lord tells us in advance that, on the bare basis of fruitfulness in alms, he will impute merit to those on his right hand; and, on the same basis of unfruitfulness, demerit to those on his left--when he shall say to the former, "Come, blessed of my Father, receive the Kingdom," but to the latter, "Depart into everlasting fire."153
Almsgiving and Forgiveness
70. We must beware, however, lest anyone suppose that unspeakable crimes such as they commit who "will not possess the Kingdom of God" can be perpetrated daily and then daily redeemed by almsgiving. Of course, life must be changed for the better, and alms should be offered as propitiation to God for our past sins. But he is not somehow to be bought off, as if we always had a license to commit crimes with impunity. For, "he has given no man a license to sin"154--although, in his mercy, he does blot out sins already committed, if due satisfaction for them is not neglected.
71. For the passing and trivial sins of every day, from which no life is free, the everyday prayer of the faithful makes satisfaction. For they can say, "Our Father who art in heaven," who have already been reborn to such a Father "by water and the Spirit."155 This prayer completely blots out our minor and everyday sins. It also blots out those sins which once made the life of the faithful wicked, but from which, now that they have changed for the better by repentance, they have departed. The condition of this is that just as they truly say, "Forgive us our debts" (since there is no lack of debts to be forgiven), so also they truly say, "As we forgive our debtors"156; that is, if what is said is also done. For to forgive a man who seeks forgiveness is indeed to give alms.
72. Accordingly, what our Lord says--"Give alms and, behold, all things are clean to you"157--applies to all useful acts of mercy. Therefore, not only the man who gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, hospitality to the wayfarer, refuge to the fugitive; who visits the sick and the prisoner, redeems the captive, bears the burdens of the weak, leads the blind, comforts the sorrowful, heals the sick, shows the errant the right way, gives advice to the perplexed, and does whatever is needful for the needy158--not only does this man give alms, but the man who forgives the trespasser also gives alms as well. He is also a giver of alms who, by blows or other discipline, corrects and restrains those under his command, if at the same time he forgives from the heart the sin by which he has been wronged or offended, or prays that it be forgiven the offender. Such a man gives alms, not only in that he forgives and prays, but also in that he rebukes and administers corrective punishment, since in this he shows mercy.
Now, many benefits are bestowed on the unwilling, when their interests and not their preferences are consulted. And men frequently are found to be their own enemies, while those they suppose to be their enemies are their true friends. And then, by mistake, they return evil for good, when a Christian ought not to return evil even for evil. Thus, there are many kinds of alms, by which, when we do them, we are helped in obtaining forgiveness of our own sins.
73. But none of these alms is greater than the forgiveness from the heart of a sin committed against us by someone else. It is a smaller thing to wish well or even to do well to one who has done you no evil. It is far greater--a sort of magnificent goodness--to love your enemy, and always to wish him well and, as you can, do well to him who wishes you ill and who does you harm when he can. Thus one heeds God's command: "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute you."159
Such counsels are for the perfect sons of God. And although all the faithful should strive toward them and through prayer to God and earnest endeavor bring their souls up to this level, still so high a degree of goodness is not possible for so great a multitude as we believe are heard when, in prayer, they say, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Accordingly, it cannot be doubted that the terms of this pledge are fulfilled if a man, not yet so perfect that he already loves his enemies, still forgives from the heart one who has sinned against him and who now asks his forgiveness. For he surely seeks forgiveness when he asks for it when he prays, saying, "As we forgive our debtors." For this means, "Forgive us our debts when we ask for forgiveness, as we also forgive our debtors when they ask for forgiveness."
74. Again, if one seeks forgiveness from a man against whom he sinned--moved by his sin to seek it--he should no longer be regarded as an enemy, and it should not now be as difficult to love him as it was when he was actively hostile.
Now, a man who does not forgive from the heart one who asks forgiveness and is repentant of his sins can in no way suppose that his own sins are forgiven by the Lord, since the Truth cannot lie, and what hearer and reader of the gospel has not noted who it was who said, "I am the Truth"160? It is, of course, the One who, when he was teaching the prayer, strongly emphasized this sentence which he put in it, saying: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you your trespasses. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offenses."161 He who is not awakened by such great thundering is not asleep, but dead. And yet such a word has power to awaken even the dead.
75. Now, surely, those who live in gross wickedness and take no care to correct their lives and habits, who yet, amid their crimes and misdeeds, continue to multiply their alms, flatter themselves in vain with the Lord's words, "Give alms; and, behold, all things are clean to you." They do not understand how far this saying reaches. In order for them to understand, let them notice to whom it was that he said it. For this is the context of it in the Gospel: "As he was speaking, a certain Pharisee asked him to dine with him. And he went in and reclined at the table. And the Pharisee began to wonder and ask himself why He had not washed himself before dinner. But the Lord said to him: 'Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but within you are still full of extortion and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside too? Nevertheless, give for alms what remains within; and, behold, all things are clean to you.'"162 Should we interpret this to mean that to the Pharisees, who had not the faith of Christ, all things are clean if only they give alms, as they deem it right to give them, even if they have not believed in him, nor been reborn of water and the Spirit? But all are unclean who are not made clean by the faith of Christ, of whom it is written, "Cleansing their hearts by faith."163 And as the apostle said, "But to them that are unclean and unbelieving nothing is clean; both their minds and consciences are unclean."164 How, then, should all things be clean to the Pharisees, even if they gave alms, but were not believers? Or, how could they be believers, if they were unwilling to believe in Christ and to be born again in his grace? And yet, what they heard is true: "Give alms; and behold, all things are clean to you."
76. He who would give alms as a set plan of his life should begin with himself and give them to himself. For almsgiving is a work of mercy, and the saying is most true: "Have mercy upon your own soul, pleasing God."165 The purpose of the new birth is that we should become pleasing to God, who is justly displeased with the sin we contracted in birth. This is the first almsgiving, which we give to ourselves--when through the mercy of a merciful God we come to inquire about our wretchedness and come to acknowledge the just verdict by which we were put in need of that mercy, of which the apostle says, "Judgment came by that one trespass to condemnation."166 And the same herald of grace then adds (in a word of thanksgiving for God's great love), "But God commendeth his love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."167 Thus, when we come to a valid estimate of our wretchedness and begin to love God with the love he himself giveth us, we then begin to live piously and righteously.
But the Pharisees, while they gave as alms a tithing of even the least of their fruits, disregarded this "judgment and love of God." Therefore, they did not begin their almsgiving with themselves, nor did they, first of all, show mercy toward themselves. In reference to this right order of self-love, it was said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."168
Therefore, when the Lord had reproved the Pharisees for washing themselves on the outside while inwardly they were still full of extortion and wickedness, he then admonished them also to give those alms which a man owes first to himself--to make clean the inner man: "However," he said, "give what remains as alms, and, behold, all things are clean to you." Then, to make plain the import of his admonition, which they had ignored, and to show them that he was not ignorant of their kind of almsgiving, he adds, "But woe to you, Pharisees"169--as if to say, "I am advising you to give the kind of alms which shall make all things clean to you." "But woe to you, for you tithe mint and rue and every herb"--"I know these alms of yours and you need not think I am admonishing you to give them up"--"and then neglect justice and the love of God." "This kind of almsgiving would make you clean from all inward defilement, just as the bodies which you wash are made clean by you." For the word "all" here means both "inward" and "outward"--as elsewhere we read, "Make clean the inside, and the outside will become clean."170
But, lest it appear that he was rejecting the kind of alms we give of the earth's bounty, he adds, "These things you should do"--that is, pay heed to the judgment and love of God--and "not omit the others"--that is, alms done with the earth's bounty.
77. Therefore, let them not deceive themselves who suppose that by giving alms--however profusely, and whether of their fruits or money or anything else--they purchase impunity to continue in the enormity of their crimes and the grossness of their wickedness. For not only do they do such things, but they also love them so much that they would always choose to continue in them--if they could do so with impunity. "But he who loves iniquity hates his own soul."171 And he who hates his own soul is not merciful but cruel to it. For by loving it after the world's way he hates it according to God's way of judging. Therefore, if one really wished to give alms to himself, that all things might become clean to him, he would hate his soul after the world's way and love it according to God's way. No one, however, gives any alms at all unless he gives from the store of Him who needs not anything. "Accordingly," it is said, "His mercy shall go before me."172
Problems of Casuistry
78. What sins are trivial and what are grave, however, is not for human but for divine judgment to determine. For we see that, in respect of some sins, even the apostle, by pardoning them, has conceded this point. Such a case is seen in what the venerable Paul says to married folks: "Do not deprive one another, except by consent for a time to give yourselves to prayer, and then return together lest Satan tempt you at the point of self-control."173 One could consider that it is not a sin for a married couple to have intercourse, not only for the sake of procreating children--which is the good of marriage--but also for the sake of the carnal pleasure involved. Thus, those whose self-control is weak could avoid fornication, or adultery, and other kinds of impurity too shameful to name, into which their lust might drag them through Satan's tempting. Therefore one could, as I said, consider this not a sin, had the apostle not added, "But I say this as a concession, not as a rule." Who, then, denies that it is a sin when he agrees that apostolic authority for doing it is given only by "concession"?
Another such case is seen where he says, "Dare any of you, having a case against another, bring it to be judged before the unrighteous and not the saints?"174 And a bit later: "If, therefore, you have cases concerning worldly things," he says, "you appoint those who are contemptible in the Church's eyes. I say this to shame you. Can it be that there is not a wise man among you, who could judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law with brother, and that in the presence of unbelievers."175 And here it might be thought that it was not a sin to bring suit against a brother, and that the only sin consisted in wishing it judged outside the Church, if the apostle had not added immediately, "Now therefore the whole fault among you is that you have lawsuits with one another."176 Then, lest someone excuse himself on this point by saying that he had a just cause and was suffering injustice which he wished removed by judicial sentence, the apostle directly resists such thoughts and excuses by saying: "Why not rather suffer iniquity? Why not rather be defrauded?"177 Thus we are brought back to that saying of the Lord: "If anyone would take your tunic and contend in court with you, let go your cloak also."178 And in another place: "If a man takes away your goods, seek them not back."179 Thus, he forbids his own to go to court with other men in secular suits. And it is because of this teaching that the apostle says that this kind of action is "a fault." Still, when he allows such suits to be decided in the Church, brothers judging brothers, yet sternly forbids such a thing outside the Church, it is clear that some concession is being made here for the infirmities of the weak.
Because of these and similar sins--and of others even less than these, such as offenses in words and thoughts--and because, as the apostle James confesses, "we all offend in many things,"180 it behooves us to pray to the Lord daily and often, and say, "Forgive us our debts," and not lie about what follows this petition, "As we also forgive our debtors."
79. There are, however, some sins that could be deemed quite trifling if the Scriptures did not show that they are more serious than we think. For who would suppose that one saying to his brother, "You fool," is "in danger of hell-fire," if the Truth had not said it? Still, for the hurt he immediately supplied a medicine, adding the precept of brotherly reconciliation: "If, therefore, you are offering a gift at the altar, and remember there that your brother has something against you,"181 etc.
Or who would think how great a sin it is to observe days and months and years and seasons--as those people do who will or will not begin projects on certain days or in certain months or years, because they follow vain human doctrines and suppose that various seasons are lucky or unlucky--if we did not infer the magnitude of this evil from the apostle's fear, in saying to such men, "I fear for you, lest perhaps I have labored among you in vain"182?
80. To this one might add those sins, however grave and terrible, which, when they come to be habitual, are then believed to be trivial or no sins at all. And so far does this go that such sins are not only not kept secret, but are even proclaimed and published abroad--cases of which it is written, "The sinner is praised in the desires of his soul; and he that works iniquity is blessed."183
In the divine books such iniquity is called a "cry" (clamor). You have such a usage in the prophet Isaiah's reference to the evil vineyard: "I looked that he should perform justice, yet he did iniquity; not justice but a cry."184 So also is that passage in Genesis: "The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is multiplied,"185 for among these people such crimes were not only unpunished, but were openly committed, as if sanctioned by law.
So also in our times so many evils, even if not like those [of old], have come to be public customs that we not only do not dare excommunicate a layman; we do not dare degrade a clergyman for them. Thus, several years ago, when I was expounding the Epistle to the Galatians, where the apostle says, "I fear for you, lest perchance I have labored in vain among you," I was moved to exclaim: "Woe to the sins of men! We shrink from them only when we are not accustomed to them. As for those sins to which we are accustomed--although the blood of the Son of God was shed to wash them away--although they are so great that the Kingdom of God is wholly closed to them, yet, living with them often we come to tolerate them, and, tolerating them, we even practice some of them! But grant, O Lord, that we do not practice any of them which we could prohibit!" I shall someday know whether immoderate indignation moved me here to speak rashly.
The Two Causes of Sin
81. I shall now mention what I have often discussed before in other places in my short treatises.186 We sin from two causes: either from not seeing what we ought to do, or else from not doing what we have already seen we ought to do. Of these two, the first is ignorance of the evil; the second, weakness.
We must surely fight against both; but we shall as surely be defeated unless we are divinely helped, not only to see what we ought to do, but also, as sound judgment increases, to make our love of righteousness victor over our love of those things because of which--either by desiring to possess them or by fearing to lose them--we fall, open-eyed, into known sin. In this latter case, we are not only sinners--which we are even when we sin through ignorance--but also lawbreakers: for we do not do what we should, and we do what we know already we should not.
Accordingly, we should pray for pardon if we have sinned, as we do when we say, "Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors." But we should also pray that God should guide us away from sin, and this we do when we say, "Lead us not into temptation"--and we should make our petitions to Him of whom it is said in the psalm, "The Lord is my light and my salvation"187; that, as Light, he may take away our ignorance, as Salvation, our weakness.
82. Now, penance itself is often omitted because of weakness, even when in Church custom there is an adequate reason why it should be performed. For shame is the fear of displeasing men, when a man loves their good opinion more than he regards judgment, which would make him humble himself in penitence. Wherefore, not only for one to repent, but also in order that he may be enabled to do so, the mercy of God is prerequisite. Otherwise, the apostle would not say of some men, "In case God giveth them repentance."188 And, similarly, that Peter might be enabled to weep bitterly, the Evangelist tells, "The Lord looked at him."189
83. But the man who does not believe that sins are forgiven in the Church, who despises so great a bounty of the divine gifts and ends, and persists to his last day in such an obstinacy of mind--that man is guilty of the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit, in whom Christ forgiveth sins.190 I have discussed this difficult question, as clearly as I could, in a little book devoted exclusively to this very point.191
The Reality of the Resurrection
84. Now, with respect to the resurrection of the body--and by this I do not mean the cases of resuscitation after which people died again, but a resurrection to eternal life after the fashion of Christ's own body--I have not found a way to discuss it briefly and still give satisfactory answers to all the questions usually raised about it. Yet no Christian should have the slightest doubt as to the fact that the bodies of all men, whether already or yet to be born, whether dead or still to die, will be resurrected.
85. Once this fact is established, then, first of all, comes the question about abortive fetuses, which are indeed "born" in the mother's womb, but are never so that they could be "reborn." For, if we say that there is a resurrection for them, then we can agree that at least as much is true of fetuses that are fully formed. But, with regard to undeveloped fetuses, who would not more readily think that they perish, like seeds that did not germinate?192