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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Purgatory 101 from Happy Catholic

I'm happy (pun! pun!) to link to this post on Purgatory from Happy Catholic. I invite those who were following my first post on the doctrine and the followup, to visit her blog.

11 comments:

Mark Congdon said...

Jeff,

I am a Protestant, but something of a Catholic sympathizer among Protestants. A good friend and a sibling of mine have both converted to Catholicism in recent years, and as a result I have looked into it closely, and not skeptically.

In general, I have no problem with the doctrine of purgatory. I think it is quite possible that there will be a period of cleansing between my death and my entrance into glory. I don't pray for the dead, but I have no qualms with those who do.

As you can imagine, hearing that, I found your arguments (in your second post) regarding the doctrine of purgatory (equating it with the sanctification process of the living) quite convincing.

Then I clicked through to the page on Happy Catholic, and saw two things that surprised me greatly.

First, I read (in a quote from Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs):

Purgatory takes away the temporal punishment still due for our sins after our Baptism, faith, and repentance have already saved us from the eternal punishment due to our sin, that is hell.

Punishment? I was under the impression that purgatory was a process of change, of purification, of sanctification. But punishment? Isn't that, by its nature, a different animal? I don't think there is any further punishment due us for our sin, once we have been washed clean by Jesus' blood. Our sanctification is a process of molding us, breaking our bad habits, changing us into His image... not punishing us.

This confusion may be related to the other statement that jumped out at me from that post:

Purgatory is for sins that don't deserve absolute punishment.

This is one aspect of Catholic theology that I have never been able to get my head around, this difference between mortal and venial sins.

Is the doctrine of Purgatory tied up inexorably with that distinction? Is Purgatory our punishment for venial sins, while Hell is our punishment for mortal sins? If so, isn't that different than Purgatory being a place of sanctification, whose purpose is to mold us and change us into God's image?

To quote from your second post on the subject:

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.

That makes sense to me. Purgatory as punishment for venial sins doesn't make sense to me. I get confused when the two descriptions are put side by side, as if they are equivalent.

Is there something I'm not understanding correctly about the language that's being used? Can you help me understand this better?

Mark

L P Cruz said...

Mark ,

The common criticism of protestants to Roman catholic doctrine is that there is so much equivocation going on so I am not surprized that you find it confusing.

Jeff, I am not being mean, I am just relaying the point made by my previous pastors to me regarding RC equivocations.

If Jesus said it is finished, then it should be finished, the sacrifice is complete. If I am suppose to pay for my sanctification, then what did Jesus pay for?

In my understanding, the effects of our sin is not removed by God, even though they are forgiven for Christ's sake. God allows the effects of sin to remain (sometimes) to teach us and train us to be holy. This happens here on earth. To the teaching of purgatory counters the good news of the Lord's work, Jesus said it is finished. Blessed be his name.



LPC

Jeff Tan said...

Don't worry about it Lito. When people talk about their faiths, politeness has its limits: it must not get in the way of truth. You're not being mean. You're being sincere and honest. What else can be expected? :-)

Mark, yes, the language can be confusing, and I have to admit that perhaps it could be avoided were everything written, read, and understood in one language. Unfortunately, we are in an English-speaking world and the words that REALLY matter to us, from Scripture and, for Catholics, from the Church Magisterium, are not in English.

I can only think of one simple word that is synonymous to temporal punishment: discipline. Praise God that the word came to me, but it makes sense not only because it is simple and synonymous, but because it is Biblical:

"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives" (Hebrews 12: 5-6)

I think we can agree that the discipline and punishment (also translated as 'rebuke') imposed here is for a sin that is not unto death (1 John 5:16-17), i.e., venial sins, according to Catholic-speak.

The concept of mortal and venial sins is crucial. Only Christ can atone for the wages of sin that leads unto death, e.g., eternal punishment. For those that are not unto death, i.e., venial sin, the demands of justice are not as high: a cruel word can be corrected with a kind word; having broken an expensive vase due to carelessness, we can replace it with a new vase and offer sincere apologies. St. John teaches that prayer can heal these venial sins, too:

If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death

Consider this, too: what if these small sins are not the sort that you can replace from the local supermarket? What if we were waspish towards a stranger that we afterwards cannot find to apologize to? What if we were gluttons and had eaten too much, drank too much, or had indulged in other personal but nonetheless disgraceful ways? In these cases, there is no vase to replace, no fence to fix or repaint, no victim of our cranky Monday to apologize to. Here is where God gives us the opportunity to "pay" for them, to be disciplined for them, perhaps even when we were completely unaware of our errors. Note the context of Hebrews 12 has nothing to do with transgressions that only Christ can atone for, which was discussed in Hebrews 10. Instead the author concentrates on perseverance and explaining that our loving Father will send us loving discipline from time to time for our own correction. If this is about correction, then it is for transgressions, no? And such corrections are for our own good, too:

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
(KJV, Heb 12:7-11)

These small atonements are "payment" but they are not purchase, rather they are "making up" or "giving back." They are not serious sins against God and are within our capacity to "pay" for with disciplines and punishments. Truly we should be thankful that God sends us these disciplines and punishments that allow us not only to satisfy the simple demands of justice in these matters, but to better ourselves on our way to becoming more Christ-like: "that we might be partakers of his holiness" and "afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."

Lito, I clarify here again that this does not look to me to be the sort of payment where God is obliged to give us something back. Nothing can ever oblige God to do anything for us! It's the sort where we owe payment, we need to make it up, we must give back, so the obligation is on us. It is a punishment that is for correction as well as to satisfy the demands of justice, even in these small things, even the last penny.

When I discipline my children, unworthy father as I am, I am not only meeting the demands of correction, to make sure my children remember to choose rightly next time. I also meet the demands of justice, that transgressions do not go unpunished. My children do not come up to me and offer their own punishment, obliging me to forgive them. (He he.. that'll be the day!) No, I catch them at it and I discipline them. They must make amends as much as is possible. If they blew up the house, I don't think I can make them pay for that -- that's something I'll have to pay for myself. But if they were rude to someone who was outside the bus we were on, and I cannot stop the bus and get my kids to get off and apologize, they'll just have to suffer some other punishment to satisfy the demands of discipline.

L P Cruz said...

Jeff,

Very good exposition and helpful. We have no disagreement with the Hebrews passage.

The problem I think is the concept of mortal and venial sins in 1 John 5. The sin unto death is believed by protestants to be that of unbelief as found in Mk 16:16.

Where restitution matters in my view is right here on earth and not in the afterlife, but the teaching of purgatory by RC is such that this can be done after death.

I guess this boils down to the difference between RC and protestants in their view of how are we made right in the sight of God.

Mark Congdon said...

Jeff,

Thank you. That explanation was helpful.

I would never say that I could ever pay adequately for any sin of any type that I have ever committed, no matter how small the white lie or how thoughtless the unkindness. Even one such misdeed is, in my mind, an unthinkable affront toward God that no action on my part or punishment suffered by me can ever atone for. Jesus' blood is what I count on for my atonement for every one of my sins, no matter how small.

God sends us these disciplines and punishments that allow us ... to satisfy the simple demands of justice in these matters

I would never call the demands of justice "simple", no matter the circumstances.

I had not realized until now that Catholics felt that we could (and must) personally atone for some of our own sins... that some sins are small enough that we can, by our own actions, actually make ourselves right again before God with regard to that sin... that there are some sins that Jesus' blood doesn't apply to, but that we must make right ourselves. This is new to me.

Thanks for helping me understand...

As for "discipline", I have always understood that in the sense of God doing what is necessary to change us, to teach us, to make us better... with the understanding that we could never do enough to atone or pay for our actions. As the Hebrews passage you quoted says:

but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

I interact with my children this way, too. I don't punish them to "satisfy justice". I discipline them to help them learn and remember. I force them to make retribution when possible, because that builds character. My discipline is for their profit, not to satisfy the requirements of justice.

Can you point me to somewhere (whether in the Scriptures or the Catechism or wherever) that describes the process of self-atonement for venial sins through punishments we suffer? I'd like to read more about it. Thanks!

Mark

O=onionboy.ca+luminousmiseries.ca said...

Looking forward to digging in to our priest's adpated RCIA class that my family and two other family units will be taking beginning in just a few short weeks. Yup, my days as a Protestant minister are now past. Into the Tiber we go!

Jeff Tan said...

The more I get into this, the more I realize how little I know, and how poorly I might share what I do know. First, here's a pretty good page dealing with punishment, the topic where I went off-track, I think. Here is a more detailed page discussing the concept of sin from the Catholic Encyclopedia and here's the relevant page from the catechism. Finally, The Catholic Catechism by Fr. John Hardon is also a good reference.

I'll try to answer questions here, but there are many who can answer much better. I'll invite them to respond here or maybe I can get them to post on their own blogs. I am praying very hard that I am not teaching false doctrine below:

Mark said: I would never say that I could ever pay adequately for any sin of any type that I have ever committed, no matter how small..

Very true, which tells me I must have said something wrong! :-(

Earlier we were talking about temporal punishment which is only of use in cases of venial sins. Venial sins are sins "not unto death" which are therefore pardonable (1 John 5:16-17), for example, St. John tells us people guilty of such sins can be helped with prayer. But this is in itself an interesting clue. Prayer is the action of both man and God, although it is God who invites and prayer is but a response. Nevertheless, man prays and God effects. That goes for any action on our part or process involving us, if it is to be of any use. If divine grace works in us, a state we Catholics call "sanctifying grace", then temporal punishment is of value. But what is temporal punishment? It's not about payment for sins. The goal of temporal punishment is our correction, as in Hebrews 12.

This morning, my son Justin told me about Patrick shoving the youngest, Francis. I was at a loss as to what to do with Patrick. There's nothing to pay back for apart from saying sorry. Having kids gives me plenty of opportunities to encounter occasions for justice, punishment and such. Lots of opportunities. :P

I got justice and discipline mixed up. Thanks for straightening me out on that. Patrick got time out in his bedroom to think about how he'd feel if other kids shoved him. That's what that temporal punishment, that time out, was for: discipline, making him confront his punishment for his own correction.

So where do those reparative things that we can do, like replacing the broken vase, stand?

They are acts of charity and justice. Working with divine grace in us, they are also for our correction, and for our sanctification. Through such acts in cooperation with grace, we are already changing. We are being corrected. So please note that these words of mine are wrong:

These small atonements are "payment" but they are not purchase, rather they are "making up" or "giving back." They are not serious sins against God and are within our capacity to "pay" for with disciplines and punishments. Truly we should be thankful that God sends us these disciplines and punishments that allow us not only to satisfy the simple demands of justice in these matters, but to better ourselves on our way to becoming more Christ-like.

What I should say instead is that the discipline of the Lord (in Hebrews 12), which was the topic, is simply for own correction. I got mixed up with the broken vase examples, but that's not about atonement but rather justice and, I think, charity to make up for our lack of charity when we were careless or unthinking towards others. Hebrews 12 is about discipline. Please forgive my error!

Mark said: I would never call the demands of justice "simple", no matter the circumstances.

Sorry again for the confusion. When I said "simple" demands of justice I think I was again thinking about that example of accidentally breaking someone's vase from carelessness, which we can, of course, replace. The actual substance of paying for acts of injustice is never simple, as you have said, if we're talking about sins which required for payment the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Mark said: I had not realized until now that Catholics felt that we could (and must) personally atone for some of our own sins...

No, we cannot personally atone for sins. I'm sorry if I gave that impression. However we can and must personally participate in our purification, as against doing nothing about our offenses, no matter how small. I guess I use "atonement" too lightly and not THE atonement of Christ on the cross. I shall try and avoid that.

But how do we participate? Not to pay for anything but to be corrected. As Scripture tells us, we must patiently endure the discipline and permit ourselves to be corrected. We must practice charity as a means to correct the flaws in our character. If small acts of reparation are possible, e.g., saying sorry, then we are cooperating with our correction.

When I know that I have sinned, I know that I have to do something about it. If it is a mortal sin, then I have lost the state of grace, for a mortal sin which rejects God and rejects charity is a sin unto death. I must go to confession, to receive the sacrament of Penance, it is something that I do, as is the penance that my confessor might impose on me. But I what I do does not pay for anything. That's why a sacrament is necessary, because it is Christ who effects our forgiveness, for only his sacrifice can re-establish our state of grace after mortal sin. To put things in perspective, Christ erects the bridge between us and God, over a chasm that we cannot cross except through that bridge. But Christ will not drag us across against our will. We have to walk across.

If it was a venial sin, then I don't have to go to confession (although that would still be good for my correction), but I must still do something about it. That bridge remains, and through it, the Holy Spirit works in me so that I can do something useful, such as to permit myself to be corrected. And maybe to act justly by doing whatever I can to make it up to someone whom I might have offended. Now I did not construct the bridge which connects me to God, of course, but I must maintain it. How? By avoiding mortal sin, which is sin unto death, because it destroys that bridge by rejecting God. And by permitting myself to be corrected, seeing in that the loving strokes of my Father in Heaven, I strengthen myself against the gravity of venial sin, which can lead me to mortal sin if I reject my own correction.

Mark said: that some sins are small enough that we can, by our own actions, actually make ourselves right again before God with regard to that sin...

If they are small enough, as St. John says, "not unto death," then those venial sins did not make us lose our state of grace before God. We are not making ourselves right because we are still right before God in the state of grace. But we had better make sure that we allow our correction in whatever discipline God sends us, because that is part of how God keeps us right with Him, purifying us of the flaws that remain in our nature which can still lead us astray and into occasions for mortal sin. If our sins were unto death then we can do nothing of our own to make ourselves right. Only Christ's atonement atones for that, and we must in addition endure the discipline of our Heavenly Father in order to correct our flaws.

Mark said: that there are some sins that Jesus' blood doesn't apply to,

No, Jesus' blood applies to ALL sins. When in mortal sin, it is through Jesus' blood alone that we can be forgiven. When in venial sin, which is not unto death, we remain in the state of grace -- which was possible only through that same blood of the Lamb. But we must be corrected of venial sin because they can lead us astray, towards mortal sin:

"But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world." (1 Cor 11:32)

"While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call "light": if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession." (#1863, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

I know, what constitutes "confession" is a contention among Protestants and Catholics, but that's not the point. The point is that even these venial sins that are not unto death are occasion for due care, and we must recognize (and I fail miserably at this) that these are not "minor" sins but must be examined in order to confront those flaws that led to them.

Jesus' blood applies in ALL cases. What doesn't always apply is the need to restore sanctifying grace, which is not necessary if the state of grace was never lost.

Mark said: As for "discipline", I have always understood that in the sense of God doing what is necessary to change us

You are correct. I think I confused you as well as myself! Discipline, temporal punishment, corrects us. Justice is a separate issue as it pertains to making it up to an aggrieved party. Discipline and justice go together, however, when we trespass against others (not God). It requires temporal punishment in order to correct us, and it requires acting in justice, e.g., making it up to the aggrieved party somehow.

Mark said: I interact with my children this way, too. I don't punish them to "satisfy justice".

I see what you mean. If I impose some punishment to help my kids appreciate the gravity of their misbehavior, then that is imposing discipline in order to correct them. Thanks for reminding me that I must never punish for punishment's sake, in some confusion with satisfying justice.

God does not punish for punishment's sake. He acts always in love. By His love, He seeks to correct us, "that we may be partakers of his holiness." By His love, He also wills to correct the situation with any offended neighbor.

Mark said: Can you point me to somewhere (whether in the Scriptures or the Catechism or wherever) that describes the process of self-atonement for venial sins through punishments we suffer? I'd like to read more about it. Thanks!

That's an interesting way to put it, and I think I messed up the whole notion. I don't mean that we atone for our transgressions in the same way that the Lamb's sacrifice makes peace with God. If we do anything for a venial sin, it is for justice if someone was aggrieved (not God), or it is in permitting or cooperating with our temporal punishment or discipline as imposed by God for our own correction. We do not atone or pay for for crimes against God which are sins unto death. Never.

This whole thing has made me rethink a lot of things which I thought I already understood properly. This calls for more study, prayer and thinking. Any and all contributions to the discussion here would be greatly appreciated.

Anyway I hope the links above help and I really will ask some people I look up to who can clear up the mess I've made in these here comments. You have my sincere apologies for that mess, but I must thank you, Mark, for giving me the opportunity to think these things through more carefully. May such occasions come up often to all of us, for our own benefit. :-)

Jeff Tan said...

Saintos, congratulations and thanks for dropping by. May your crossing be filled with the peace and joy of Christ. I can only imagine the difficulties you faced leading up to this, but you have my sincerest welcome in coming aboard. May the people you meet at RCIA and everyone at your new parish home be better at explaining things than I have. :P

God bless you and your family!

Mark Congdon said...

Jeff,

Thank you for the clarifications. That makes quite a bit more sense to me, now. Thanks for the discussion!

Mark

Douglas_Coombs said...

Did somebody here e-mail Jimmy Akin on this? Either way, the linked to post on the Jimmy Akin blog is germane to this discussion.

http://www.jimmyakin.org/2005/09/purgatory_two_v.html

Doug Coombs

Jeff Tan said...

Yeah, I e-mailed him, and I am grateful that he replied immediately!

What? You think we bloggers know it all? :P