Wednesday after Septuagesima
February 12, 2020
Meditation from Meditations for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas by St. Thomas Aquinas
If any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stoves, wood, hay, stubble, every man’s work shall be manifest. — 1 Corinthians 3:12-13
1. The works that man relies on in matters spiritual and divine are compared to gold, silver and precious stones, things substantial, brilliant and precious, yet they are compared in such a way that gold symbolises those things by which man tends to God Himself by contemplation and love. “I counsel thee to buy of me gold fire-tried” (Revelation 3:18), that is, wisdom with charity. By silver are meant those acts by which man clings to the spiritual realities he must believe, love and contemplate. Whence in the Glossa silver is interpreted as referring to love of one’s neighbour. By precious stones is to be understood the work of the different virtues with which man’s soul is decked.
Those human activities, on the other hand, by means of which man acquires material goods, are compared to stubble, or chaff, worthless rubbish, glittering and easily burnt. There are however grades in this rubbish, some things being more stable than others, some things more easily consumed than the rest. Men themselves, for example, are more worthy than other carnal things, and, by succession, humanity escapes destruction. Men are hence compared to wood. Man’s flesh however is easily corrupted, by sickness and by death, whence it is compared to hay. All things which make for the glory of such a being speedily come to naught, whence they are compared to chaff or stubble.
To build with gold, silver and precious stones is therefore to build, upon the foundation of faith, something related to the contemplation of the wisdom of divine things, to the love of God, to a following of the saints, to the service of one’s neighbour and to the exercise of virtues. To build with wood, hay and chaff is to build according to plans that are no more than human, for the convenience of the body, and for outward show.
2. That men occupy themselves with purely human things may come about in three ways:
(i) They may place the whole ultimate purpose of their life in the satisfaction of bodily needs. Now to do this is a mortal sin, and therefore in this way a man does not so much build as destroy the foundation, and lay another of a different kind. For the end or ultimate purpose is the foundation in all that relates to desires.
(ii) They may in using purely corporal things have nothing else in view but the glory of God. In this case they are not building with wood, hay and chaff, but with gold, silver and precious stones.
(iii) Although they do not place in purely corporal things the ultimate purpose of life, nor because of them will to act against God, they are more influenced by these things than they ought to be. The result is that they are thereby held back somewhat from a care for the things that are God’s, and thus they sin venially. And it is this which is really meant by the phrase about building with wood, hay, and chaff, because activities that relate merely to the care of earthly goods have about them something of a venial fault, since they provoke a love of earthly things that is greater than it should be. It is in fact this love which, according to the degree of its tenacity, is compared to wood, to hay and to chaff. (In 1 Corinthians 3.)