Father Bernard de Piconio’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:12-23

1Co 3:12  Now, if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble:
1Co 3:13  Every man’s work shall be manifest. For the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire. And the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is.

The Apostle is still speaking of Christian teachers, as in verse 10.  He doesn’t not refer to heretical teachers, who destroy God’s temple, and will be condemned in verse 17; but who teach true doctrine, and build upon the true foundation.  Gold, silver, precious stones, things rare, incorruptible, and valuable, signify doctrine solid, pure, lucid, derived from Holy Scripture, or the principles of the faith, or the mysteries of the Church.  Wood, hay, stubble, things worthless and easily consumed, signify doctrine in itself good, or else it would be destroy instead of edifying, but valueless, curious, pompous, or fantastic, drawn from secular philosophy and learning, which may win applause, but cannot help to save souls.

13.  The day of the Lord shall declare it. This life is our day, says St Anselm and St Thomas, in which we do our own will, even when it is against the will of God.  The last day will be the day of the Lord, when he will do his will, and men, by justice, will either be rewarded or condemned.

It shall be revealed in fire. “Fire will go before Him” (Ps 94:3).  the fire that will consume the world, the minister of divine justice, will go before the Judge, and the works of each will not only be made manifest, but tried and proved.  St Paul was under the belief that the day of judgment would come in the lifetime of many then living, and this may help to explain the present allusion to it.  That fire will prove the just, but leave them harmless and free from pain.  See Dan 3:92.  Those who are good and faithful, but imperfect by venial sin, it will purge by suffering.  The evil it will torment in hell for ever.  It is this fire to which the Apostle here alludes, in the opinion of Cornelius a Lapide, who examines the question at some length.  The Latin Fathers, in the Florentine Council, understood the purgatorial fire, which tries the souls of the just after death.  but they are, in the opinion of Cornelius, one and the same; and on the cessation of purgatory, at the end of the world, the same fire will try the just of the generation still existing.  there is a moral application of these two verses, distinct from their literal meaning, for which, see the Corollary of Piety below.

1 Cor 3:14  If the work of any shall remain, which he has built, he shall receive a reward.
1 Cor 3:15  If the work of any shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss; but himself shall be saved; yet as by fire.
1 Cor 3:16  Know you not that you are the temple of god, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
1 cor 3:17  And if any shall have violated the temple of god, God shall destroy him.  for the temple of God is holy, which is you.

the workman whose work, built of solid materials, on the Foundation, shall stand the fire, shall be reputed a good worker, and receive his reward from the Supreme Architect; if his work of worthless hay or stubble, is consumed in the flames, he must bear its loss, but he shall save his soul, like one escaping from a burning house.  He has not yet spoken of heretical teachers, who destroy the work of God, and ruin his edifice.  You, Corinthians, are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you by faith, hope, charity: as the Ark of the Covenant dwelt in the tabernacle in the desert, and in the temple of Solomon.  god ruins and destroys the violators of his temple, as Athalia, who profaned the temple (2 Kings 24:6-7), Baltasar, who applied the sacred vessels to common use (Dan 5:3).  But if God thus overthrew the profaners of his material temple, much more will he destroy those who violate his spiritual Temple, which is you, by false doctrine which leads you away from the Apostolic communion.

1 Cor 3:18  Let no one deceive himself; if anyone among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
1 Cor 3:19  For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.  For it is written: I will take the wise in their craft.
1 Cor 3:20  And again: the Lord know the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
1 Cor 3:21  Let no one therefore glory in men.
1 Cor 3:22  For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollo, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or to come: for all are yours:
1 Cor 3:23  And you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

It is evident that the instructors of the Corinthian Christians, against whom this rather severe admonition is levelled, must have assumed a great deal on the score of their rhetorical skill and familiarity with the intricacies of Grecian philosophy: so much so that there was ground of apprehension of their relapsing into actual heresy, or of suspicion that they were inclined to it.  The wisdom of the world is in God’s sight no better than folly: its wild conjectures and groundless theories must seem to him infinitely contemptible and absurd, since he knows all things.  It is written: see Job 5:13, Psalm 93:11.

Let none of you, therefore, boast or glory in the teacher you follow.  All are yours, at your disposal, for your salvation; Paul, Peter, Apollo, all Christian teachers are sent for your instruction and edification.  The world, and all contained in it, is for your use, temporal and eternal.  Life is yours, to prepare for eternity; death is the penance of your sins, and the entrance to immortality; in the present, you have God’s grace, in the future the hope of glory.  All good things, of nature, of grace, of glory, are yours: the world exists for the sake of God’s chosen ones.  You belong to Christ, who has purchased you at the price of his blood.  Christ is God’s son in his Divine nature, God’s servant in his humanity.  Glory, therefore, not in man, but in Christ, the source of all grace,  in God, the giver of all good.

Corallary of Piety

Every human soul in whom Christ dwells by faith, is God’s building.   God is its Architect: His fellow-workers are Apostles, Bishops, Priests.  The foundation is the faith of Jesus Christ: but man’s will is the workman who builds upon the foundation.  What will he build?  Gold, silver, precious stones; works of charity, penance, prayer, for himself and others, for the Church of God and for the holy souls in suffering; chastity: the ascetic perfection of the spiritual life.  There are things which shall stand the fire of the last day; fitting adornment and decoration for the temple whose inhabitant is the Spirit of God.  Wood, hay, stubble: earthly riches, influence, power, popularity, fame, fine houses, costly dresses, spectacles and amusements, races, balls, the trailing on the fringe of regal splendor: classic literature, pagan philosophy, reading and knowledge applied and applicable to no good and holy purpose, nor tending to the glory of God and the advancement of his faith; mere amusement to kill time and occupy the mind; sordid luxury, rough and vulgar play, thoughtless ribaldry and idle talk.  How shall these things help the soul in her hour of trouble; how shall such a building stand the fire of God’s justice?  How can such things as these enter God’s eternal kingdom?  What can such a builder expect but at the best to save his soul by fire, the purgatorial fire of God’s justice?

At worst, let him not ruin the temple of God, the dwelling-place of God’s Spirit.  Whoever lays waste God’s temple, him shall God lay waste.  For his temple is you, and in your heart the glorious presence given you in Baptism still dwells, for your worship and adoration, not for your forgetfulness, neglect, or contempt.

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One Response to Father Bernard de Piconio’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:12-23

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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