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Friday, August 26, 2005

Links on the Purgatory

Rand has written a piece about the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, and he will soon write Part 2. In case you're coming from his blog, I just wanted to provide some links for further reading on the subject written by the following people whom I trust:


Lito said...


It seems the Roman church is standing alone on this concept of purgatory for neither Orthodox nor Protestants accept such a concept.

See http://www.kfuo.org/ie_main.htm on the interview w/ Father John Mathusiak
(August 18).


Jeff Tan said...

Thanks again for dropping by, Lito. :-)

It is only true that the term "Purgatory" is ours alone. Praying for the dead is a practice for the Eastern Orthodox as well as the Jews. The Eastern Orthodox reject only that the purification is literally fiery and that Purgatory involves a place. That is actually acceptable to Catholics because we only use the metaphor of fiery purification based on the words of Sts. Peter and Paul (1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7), and the doctrine speaks of a state, not necessarily a place.

Praying for the purification of the dead (the Mourner's Qaddish) is an ancient Jewish practice, mentioned for example in 2 Macc. 12:46. Ancient Christian literature like the non-canonical Acts of Paul and Thecla (2nd century) mention prayers for the dead, as do surviving words from Tertullian (AD 211), St. Cyprian (AD 256), St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on 1 Corinthians 41:5, AD 392), St. Augustine (City of God, AD 419) and St. Monica (4th century), and of course the oft-mentioned Pope Gregory the Great (6th century), but there is no record of any objection to the practice or the doctrine until the Protestant reformation.

Here's an interesting exercise: what if we were to rephrase the doctrine of Purgatory in this manner: "All who are in God's grace and friendship must undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. .. this final purification of the elect .. is entirely different from the punishment of the damned." I deliberately edited that from the catechism of the Catholic Church which teaches that doctrine in the context of those who died in God's grace and friendship.

Humor me here: let's talk about that doctrine in the context of the living who are in God's grace and friendship. Let's support that case with these:
"Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure" (1 John 3:2-3).
Paul said he rejoiced "in my sufferings for you, and [I] fill up those things that are wanting in the suffering of Christ" (Col. 1:24). Ronald Knox explained this passage by noting that "the obvious meaning is that Christ's sufferings, although fully satisfactory on behalf of our sins, leave us under a debt of honour, as it were, to repay them by sufferings of our own." Paul did not imply there was something lacking in the Redemption, that Christ could not pull it off on his own, and no Fundamentalist misreads Col. 1:24 that way. Analogously, it is not contrary to the Redemption to say we must suffer for our sins; it is a matter of justice. -- Karl Keating
Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life. (from the Southern Baptist Convention)
Would it not beak the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleansed first.' 'It may hurt, you know.' 'Even so, sir.' - C.S.Lewis

My thesis is simple: most Christians have no problem with the concept of needing to become holy, to become pure, to conform to the holiness of God. Most Christians also believe that Christian living will involve suffering from time to time Hebrews (12:6, 11) while in no way diminishing the suffering of Christ on the cross. The notion of God's discipline is crucial because discipline is not about payment: it is about correction. It is about growth and becoming mature. It is about transformation. Jimmy Akin says: "Because we still sin in this life, but will not be sinning when we are in glory, between death and glorification must come purification." Because "nothing unclean shall enter heaven" (Apoc. 21:27).

No one can hide one's muddy rags and immaturity from the God who reveals all things and sees to the heart. No one wants to stand in dirty rags in the presence of the King, petulant and immature, especially if one considers that, when we finally get our chance to do so, we do so forever.

The Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish bone to pick is not the notion of purification itself, but the notion of purification after death. It seems to me that this is repelling to Protestants for a few reasons which should be reconsidered:

1. Does the doctrine of Purgatory claim a second chance for sinners? The answer is a resounding NO. Purgatory pertains only to those who die in God's grace and friendship.

2. Does the doctrine claim that Christ's sacrifice on the cross is insufficient? The answer is also a resounding NO. The purification we undergo to mature in holiness, in justification, has as its source the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. To become Christ-like is our goal. When St. Paul tells us to conform, it is to conform to Christ: his righteousness, his holiness. We already know this concerning the cross that we must take up, the obedience that is due to God, the love that we must manifest in our actions.

Apart from that, there's the natural suspicion that Scriptures do not talk about the dead undergoing any sort of transformation into holiness. Unfortunately, the Catholics and the Orthodox believe that they do. And with the Jews, our traditions do so as well, and these are traditions which pre-date Scriptures while, from our perspective, do not contradict Scriptures. The Bible does not warn against praying for the purification of the dead. One might as well look for Scriptural warnings about praying for the sanctification of the living, in case such intentions are an insult to the finished work of Christ on the cross.