D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:
Ver. 12-15. Now if any man build, &c. This is a hard place, says St. Augustine, lib. de fid. & Oper. chap. xvi. tom. 6. p. 180. The interpreters are divided, as to the explication and application of this metaphorical comparison, contained in these four verses. St. Paul speaks of a building, where it is evident, says St. Augustine, that the foundation is Christ, or the faith of Christ, and his faith working by charity. The difficulties are 1. Who are the builders. 2. What is meant by gold, silver, precious stones, and what by wood, hay, stubble. 3. What is meant by the day of the Lord. 4. What by fire, how every one's work shall be tried, and how some shall be saved by fire. As to the first, by the builders, as St. Paul had before called himself the first architect, who had laid the foundation of the faith of Christ among the Corinthians, interpreters commonly understand those doctors and preachers who there succeeded St. Paul: but as it is also said, that every man's works shall be made manifest, St. Augustine and others understand not the preachers only, but all the faithful. As to the second difficulty, if by the builders we understand the preachers of the gospel, then by gold, silver, &c., is to be understood, good, sound, and profitable doctrine; and by wood, hay, stubble, a mixture of vain knowledge, empty flourishes, unprofitable discourses; but if all the faithful are builders, they whose actions are pure, lay gold upon the foundation; but if their actions are mixed with imperfections, venial failings, and lesser sins, these are represented by wood, hay, stubble, &c. 3. By the day of the Lord, is commonly understood either the day of general judgment, or the particular judgment, when every one is judged at his death, which sentence shall be confirmed again at the last day. 4. As to fire, which is mentioned thrice, if we consider what St. Paul says here of fire, he seems to use it in different significations, as he many times does other words. First, he tells us, (ver. 13.) that the day of the Lord...shall be revealed; or, as it is in the Greek, is revealed in, or by fire; where, by fire, is commonly understood the just and severe judgments of God, represented by the metaphor of fire. Secondly, he tells us in the same verse, that fire shall try every one's work, of what sort it is. This may be again taken for the examining and trying fire of God's judgments: and may be applied to the builders, whether preachers only or all the faithful. Thirdly, he tells us, (ver. 14. and 15.) that some men's works abide the fire of God's judgments, they deserve no punishment, they are like pure gold, which receives no prejudice from the fire: but some men's works burn, the superstructure, which they built upon the faith of Christ, besides gold, silver, precious stones, had also a mixture of wood, hay, stubble, which could not stand the trial of fire, which met with combustible matter, that deserved to be burnt. Every such man shall suffer a loss, when his works are burnt, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. Here the apostle speaks of fire in a more ample signification: of a fire which shall not only try, and examine, but also burn, and punish the builders, who notwithstanding shall also, after a time, escape from the fire, and be saved by fire, and in the day of the Lord, that is, after life (for the time of this life is the day of men). Divers of the ancient fathers, as well as later interpreters, from these words, prove the Catholic doctrine of a purgatory, that is, that many Christians, who die guilty, not of heinous or mortal sins, but of lesser, and what are called venial sins, or to whom a temporal punishment for the sins they have committed, still remains due, before they can be admitted to a reward in heaven, (into which nothing defiled or unclean can enter) must suffer some punishments for a time, in some place, which is called Purgatory, and in such a manner, as is agreeable to the divine justice, before their reward in heaven. These words of the apostle, the Latin Fathers in the Council of Florence brought against the Greeks to prove purgatory, to which the Greeks (who did not deny a purgatory, or a third place, where souls guilty of lesser sins were to suffer for a time) made answer, that these words of St. Paul were expounded by St. Chrysostom and some of their Greek Fathers (which is true) of the wicked in hell, who are said to be saved by fire, inasmuch as they always subsist and continue in those flames, and are not destroyed by them: but this interpretation, as the Latin bishops replied, is not agreeable to the style of the holy Scriptures, in which, to be saved, both in the Greek and Latin, is expressed the salvation and happiness of souls in heaven. It may not be amiss to take notice that the Greeks, before they met with the Latins at Ferrara, of Florence, did not deny the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. They admitted a third place, where souls guilty of lesser sins, suffered for a time, till cleansed from such sins: they allowed that the souls there detained from the vision of God, might be assisted by the prayers of the faithful: they called this purgatory a place of darkness, of sorrow, of punishments, and pains, but they did not allow there a true and material fire, which the Council did not judge necessary to decide and define against them, as appears in the definition of the Council. (Conc. Labb tom. xiii. p. 515.) (Witham) --- The fire of which St. Paul here speaks, is the fire of purgatory, according to the Fathers, and all Catholic divines. (Calmet) --- St. Augustine, expounding Psalm xxxvii. ver. 1., gives the proper distinction between this fire of purgatory and that of hell: both are punishments, one temporary, the other eternal; the latter to punish us in God's justice, the former to amend us in his mercy.