The following comes from the Matins lessons in the traditional Roman-rite office for the Monday of the First week of Quadragesima. Twelve-hundred years in advance, Saint Augustine here condemns most emphatically the unbiblical notion of sola fides propagated by the self-styled “reformers” of the sixteenth century. This is not only good apologetics, but also highly motivating spiritual reading, which is why the Church has made use of it in her liturgy. The Church proposes the passage as a commentary on today’s Lenten Gospel reading (Matt 25:31-46), in which Our Lord speaks to us concerning the dread reality of the General Judgment.
The text added in red lettering comes courtesy of the editors of the the Divinum Officium site.
Homily by St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.
On Faith and Works, xv, 4
If, without keeping the commandments, it be possible to attain unto life by faith only, and faith, if it hath not works, is dead, James ii. 17, how can it be true that the Lord will say to such as He shall have set on His left hand Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels? He rebuketh them, not because they have not believed in Him, but because they have not wrought good works. Yea, lest any man should promise himself life eternal by faith only, (and faith, if it hath not works, is dead,) the Lord saith that He will gather together all nations, nations who have lived mingled together in the same countries, that we may seem to hear them which have believed indeed in Him, but have not wrought good works, (as though that their dead faith could, being alone, lead them into life eternal,) that we may seem to hear such crying unto Him, Lord, when saw we thee suffering such and such things, and did not minister unto thee?
If they shall go into everlasting fire who have not done works of mercy, shall not they go who have taken their neighbour’s goods? Or shall not they go who have outraged the temple of God in their own selves, and so been merciless to themselves? As if works of mercy could avail anything without love, contrary to the words of the Apostle Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 1 Cor. xiii. 3. And what manner of love to his neighbour hath he who loveth him as himself and loveth not himself? remembering that he that loveth iniquity hateth his own soul. Ps. x. 6.
Neither dare we say here that by which some delude themselves, namely, that the fire indeed is everlasting, but that they will not burn therein everlastingly. Such men say that they whose faith is dead, will pass through that everlasting fire, and that they are they to whom it is promised that they themselves shall be saved, yet so as by fire. 1 Cor. iii. 15. So that, though the fire itself be everlasting, the burning of the damned therein, that is, the work of the fire upon them, will not be everlasting. As though the Lord were answering this beforehand, the last words of His Sermon are And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. As the fire, so shall the burning be; and the Truth biddeth us know that they shall burn therein, who have lacked, not faith, but good works.