67. There are some, indeed, who believe that those who do not abandon the name of Christ, and who are baptized in his laver in the Church, who are not cut off from it by schism or heresy, who may then live in sins however great, not washing them away by repentance, nor redeeming them by alms -- and who obstinately persevere in them to life's last day -- even these will still be saved, |though as by fire.| They believe that such people will be punished by fire, prolonged in proportion to their sins, but still not eternal.
But those who believe thus, and still are Catholics, are deceived, as it seems to me, by a kind of merely human benevolence. For the divine Scripture, when consulted, answers differently. Moreover, I have written a book about this question, entitled Faith and Works, in which, with God's help, I have shown as best I could that, according to Holy Scripture, the faith that saves is the faith that the apostle Paul adequately describes when he says, |For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but the faith which works through love.| But if faith works evil and not good, then without doubt, according to the apostle James |it is dead in itself.| He then goes on to say, |If a man says he has faith, yet has not works, can his faith be enough to save him?|
Now, if the wicked man were to be saved by fire on account of his faith only, and if this is the way the statement of the blessed Paul should be understood -- |But he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire| -- then faith without works would be sufficient to salvation. But then what the apostle James said would be false. And also false would be another statement of the same Paul himself: |Do not err,| he says; |neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the unmanly, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of God.| Now, if those who persist in such crimes as these are nevertheless saved by their faith in Christ, would they not then be in the Kingdom of God?
68. But, since these fully plain and most pertinent apostolic testimonies cannot be false, that one obscure saying about those who build on |the foundation, which is Christ, not gold, silver, and precious stones, but wood, hay, and stubble| -- for it is about these it is said that they will be saved as by fire, not perishing on account of the saving worth of their foundation -- such a statement must be interpreted so that it does not contradict these fully plain testimonies.
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.| 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.| 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| ; 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,| 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.|