Chrysostom on Being Saved Through Fire

1 Cor. 3:12-15 If any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire.

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

Now his meaning is this: If any man have an ill life with a right faith, his faith shall not shelter him from punishment, his work being burnt up. The phrase, shall be burned up, means, shall not endure the violence of the fire. But just as if a man having golden armor on were to pass through a river of fire, he comes from crossing it all the brighter; but if he were to pass through it with hay, so far from profiting, he destroys himself besides; so also is the case in regard of men’s works. For he does not say this as if he were discoursing of material things being burnt up, but with a view of making their fear more intense, and of showing how naked of all defence he is who abides in wickedness. Wherefore he said, He shall suffer loss: lo, here is one punishment: but he himself shall be saved, but so as by fire; lo, again, here is a second. And his meaning is, He himself shall not perish in the same way as his works, passing into nought, but he shall abide in the fire.

He calls it, however, “salvation”, you will say; why, that is the cause of his adding, so as by fire: since we also used to say, It is preserved in the fire, when we speak of those substances which do not immediately burn up and become ashes. For do not at sound of the word fire imagine that those who are burning pass into annihilation. And though he call such punishment “salvation”, be not astonished. For his custom is in things which have an ill sound to use fair expressions, and in good things the contrary. For example, the word “captivity” seems to be the name of an evil thing, but Paul has applied it in a good sense, when he says, Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 And again, to an evil thing he has applied a good word, saying, Sin reigned, Romans 5:21 here surely the term reigning is rather of auspicious sound. And so here in saying, he shall be saved, he has but darkly hinted at the intensity of the penalty: as if he had said, “But himself shall remain forever in punishment”. (Homily 9 on First Corinthians)


  1. The Chrysostom quote above reminds me of something said by Fr. Romanides:

    Augustinian Christians, both Vaticanians and Protestants…were never capable of understanding that God loves equally both those who are going to hell and those who are going to heaven. God loves even the Devil as much as He loves the saint. “God is the savior of all humans, indeed of the faithful” (1 Tim. 4:10). In other words hell is a form of salvation although the lowest form of it. God loves the Devil and his collaborators but destroys their work by allowing them to remain inoperative in their final “actus purus happiness” like the God of Thomas Aquinas.

    The question at hand is not, therefore, whom God loves and saves. God loves all and God saves all. Even human doctors are morally obliged to cure all patients regardless of who and what they are. From this viewpoint hell is indeed salvation, but the lowest form of it. One either chooses or one does not choose to be cured from the short-circuit which makes one religious. The one who chooses cure exercises himself like an athlete who follows the Lord of Glory’s directions for purifying his heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” One cooperates with Christ in the purification of one’s heart and in acquiring the illumination of the unceasing prayer in the heart. This allows love to do away with self-centeredness and selfishness, but at the same time increases one’s dedication to destroying the work of the Devil. When God sees that one is ready to follow the cure which will make him selfless He guides him into the courtyard of glorification and takes him from being a child to manhood, i.e. prophethood (1 Cor. 13:11). One begins with sick love concerned with one’s own salvation and graduates into selfless Love which, like Saint Paul, would forego one’s own salvation for that of others. In other words one either chooses cure or refuses cure. Christ is the Doctor who cures all His patients to that degree of cure they accept, even that of hell. (THE CURE OF THE NEUROBIOLOGICAL SICKNESS OF RELIGION 5)

  2. Agree, I think on a simple level prison here on earth is like hell , prison being the lowest form of continuation of wicked deeds. Congintate of it, many people when released from prison do thinks to go back because they don’t want the outside freedom. A parallel would be that of the great divorce by c’s Lewis . While others who perform acts of wickedness when pushed to the precipice often realize the coming judgement and repent, for some it doesn’t take that much.

    But the enormous degree of Gods love that he even loves Satan and his hinch men, but I think people would not understand this in the proper manner. Because God is love by definition , he by his own nature cannot do otherwise, as made evident by Christ on the cross when he says ” forgive them they know not what they do!”

  3. It seems to me the context of this is Paul’s discussion of the work of various ministers of the Gospel. The “works” are how the ministry is conducted, not personal living (evil or otherwise). In light of that the “being saved though as through fire” has more to do with the “works of ministry” either being acceptable to God or not with personal salvation not really being the issue.

  4. Alec, even with a “stricter” judgement for ministers, there is no reason why this would not apply to everyone.

  5. Michael, I agree that it can be applied to each of us. However, my issue is turning “he himself shall be saved” on its head to mean, “saved but damned”. Nowhere is sozo ever used so in the NT. The image painted for me when I read this in its context is that of a Christian who serves God with his whole heart, makes many mistakes/errors in judgement during the course of ministry. At the judgement these works are tested; those found wanting are burned away, those that are acceptable are purified like gold by the same fire. The Christian himself is not condemned, he suffers loss or gain of reward commensurate with the works that are burned or purified. He passes through this fire of judgement, but is saved in the end. The professor with no surviving works receives no reward at all and is told “Depart from Me you worker of iniquity.’

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