Friday, July 06, 2007

Is There Real Fire in Purgatory? -An Interview.


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An Interview on Purgatory

Where is Purgatory? How do the fires of Purgatory differ from those of Hell?

-I quote Aquinas. In Book IV of his Commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences (distinction 21, article 1), he asks “Whether purgatory and hell are in the same place.” He answers:

In Sacred Scripture one cannot find anything explicit regarding the location of purgatory, nor is it possible to formulate adequate arguments on this point. However, one can formulate a probable argument, based on the sayings and [private] revelations of the Saints, that the location of purgatory is twofold.

The first is by common law; accordingly, the place of purgatory is a low place conjoined to Hell, such that it is the same fire that both burns the damned in hell and purifies the just in purgatory, although the damned, because they are inferior in merit, are in fact sent to a lower place.

The other is by special dispensation. And thus, sometimes we read that some people are punished in different places, either for the instruction of the living, or for the liberation of the dead, so that, alerting the living, their punishment might be mitigated through the suffrages of the Church.



What are some of the sufferings that a soul in Purgatory has to endure? Is the suffering in Puragatory worse than the most horrendous suffering on earth?

Again, I quote Aquinas. In the same place, he says:

In purgatory there will be a twofold punishment. One is the punishment of [temporary] damnation (poena damni), insofar as the souls are delayed in attaining the divine vision. The other is sense-punishment (poena sensus) as far as they are punished by corporeal fire. And in both respects the slightest punishment in purgatory exceeds the greatest punishment of this life.

This is the case because the more something is desired, the more disturbing its absence, and the affection with which the holy souls, after this life, desire the Supreme Good is most intense, because this affection is not retarded by the bulk of the body. Another reason they suffer is because their goal of enjoying the Supreme Good would already be taking place were it not for the impediment of sin and its consequences, and hence they suffer from the delay.

Similarly, also, because pain is not the same as injury, but rather it is the sensing of injury, the more sensitive something is, the more it suffers pain from injury. Hence, the injuries received in the most sensitive parts are the ones that cause the most pain. Moreover, because the body’s entire capacity to sense comes from the soul, therefore, if something injurious acts on the soul itself, this will necessarily be most afflicting... Therefore, it is necessarily the case that the punishment of purgatory, with regard to both the punishment of [temporal] damnation and the sense-punishment, exceeds all the punishments of this life.


What are indulgences? How do they assist the holy souls?

The Supplement to the Summa Theologiae (Question 13, article 2) establishes that God allows one man to satisfy for another. Again, let us listen:

Satisfactory punishment has a twofold purpose, namely, 1) to pay the debt, and 2) to serve as a remedy for the avoidance of sin. Accordingly, as (2) a remedy against future sin, the satisfaction of one does not profit another, for the flesh of one man is not tamed by another's fast; nor does one man acquire the habit of well-doing, through the actions of another, except accidentally, in so far as a man, by his good actions, may merit an increase of grace for another, since grace is the most efficacious remedy for the avoidance of sin. But this is by way of merit rather than of satisfaction. on the other hand, as regards the payment of the debt, one man can satisfy for another, provided he be in a state of charity, so that his works may avail for satisfaction. Nor is it necessary that he who satisfies for another should undergo a greater punishment than the principal would have to undergo (as some maintain, who argue that a man profits more by his own punishment than by another's), because punishment derives its power of satisfaction chiefly from charity whereby man bears it. And since greater charity is evidenced by a man satisfying for another than for himself, less punishment is required of him who satisfies for another, than of the principal: wherefore we read in the Lives of the Fathers (v, 5) of one who for love of his brother did penance for a sin which his brother had not committed, and that on account of his charity his brother was released from a sin which he had committed. Nor is it necessary that the one for whom satisfaction is made should be unable to make satisfaction himself, for even if he were able, he would be released from his debt when the other satisfied in his stead. But this is necessary in so far as the satisfactory punishment is medicinal: so that a man is not to be allowed to do penance for another, unless there be evidence of some defect in the penitent, either bodily, so that he is unable to bear it, or spiritual, so that he is not ready to undergo it.

And, later, in question 25, article 1, he argues that an indulgence can remit the punishment due for the satisfaction of sins:

All admit that indulgences have some value, for it would be blasphemy to say that the Church does anything in vain. But some say that they do not avail to free a man from the debt of punishment which he has deserved in Purgatory according to God's judgment, and that they merely serve to free him from the obligation imposed on him by the priest as a punishment for his sins, or from the canonical penalties he has incurred. But this opinion does not seem to be true. First, because it is expressly opposed to the privilege granted to Peter, to whom it was said (Matthew 16:19) that whatsoever he should loose on earth should be loosed also in heaven. Hence whatever remission is granted in the court of the Church holds good in the court of God. Moreover the Church by granting such indulgences would do more harm than good, since, by remitting the punishment she had enjoined on a man, she would deliver him to be punished more severely in Purgatory.

Hence we must say on the contrary that indulgences hold good both in the Church's court and in the judgment of God, for the remission of the punishment which remains after contrition, absolution, and confession, whether this punishment be enjoined or not. The reason why they so avail is the oneness of the mystical body in which many have performed works of satisfaction exceeding the requirements of their debts; in which, too, many have patiently borne unjust tribulations whereby a multitude of punishments would have been paid, had they been incurred. So great is the quantity of such merits that it exceeds the entire debt of punishment due to those who are living at this moment: and this is especially due to the merits of Christ: for though He acts through the sacraments, yet His efficacy is nowise restricted to them, but infinitely surpasses their efficacy.

Now one man can satisfy for another, as we have explained above (13, 2). And the saints in whom this super-abundance of satisfactions is found, did not perform their good works for this or that particular person, who needs the remission of his punishment (else he would have received this remission without any indulgence at all), but they performed them for the whole Church in general, even as the Apostle declares that he fills up "those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ . . . for His body, which is the Church" to whom he wrote (Colossians 1:24). These merits, then, are the common property of the whole Church. Now those things which are the common property of a number are distributed to the various individuals according to the judgment of him who rules them all. Hence, just as one man would obtain the remission of his punishment if another were to satisfy for him, so would he too if another's satisfactions be applied to him by one who has the power to do so.

The Church teaches that when the world ends, there will only be heaven and hell. What happens to the souls that live until the end of the world, if they are not yet worthy to witness the Beatific Vision, nor are deserving of eternal damnation? What happens to Purgatory at the end of time?

Sacred Tradition has always affirmed that, in the end, only Heaven and Hell will remain. Consequently, purgatory will cease to be. But the souls in purgatory are predestined to Heaven. In other words, after they have entered purgatory, it is impossible for them to “fall out” of purgatory. Yet, they must be fully purified to go to Heaven. Thus, they must finish their time of purification before the end of the world. St. Augustine says: “Let purification punishments be counted on only before that last and terrible judgment.”

Therefore, the souls on earth that die in sanctifying grace but whose venial sins have not been forgiven or whose punishment for venial sin has not been remitted must be completely purified (perhaps immediately) before the end of the world.

Can the souls in Purgatory pray for each other?

Theologians do not have certainty about this. This topic has been the subject of much speculation among scholastics. It is certain that the souls in purgatory can pray (in general). In fact, it is certain that they can pray for themselves, e.g., for the remission of their venial sins, for the application of the merits of the living for their salvation, etc. Now, Aquinas seems to imply that we can pray to them to seek their assistance (Summa Theologiae II-II.83.4 ad 3):
Those who are in this world or in Purgatory, do not yet enjoy the vision of the Word, so as to be able to know what we think or say. Wherefore we do not seek their assistance by praying to them, but ask it of the living by speaking to them.
And, again, he says (Summa Theologiae I.89.8 ad 1):

The souls of the departed may care for the living, even if ignorant of their state; just as we care for the dead by pouring forth prayer on their behalf, though we are ignorant of their state. Moreover, the affairs of the living can be made known to them not immediately, but the souls who pass hence thither, or by angels and demons, or even by "the revelation of the Holy Ghost," as Augustine says.

Moreover, the Council of Vienna says of the Holy Souls that, “by their suffrages they help us.” Another ecclesial source says “we believe they pray for us to God.”

A probable argument could be made that if they can pray both for themselves and for us who sojourn on Earth, it would seem likely that they are also able to pray for other Holy Souls.


Why does the majority of society today scoff at the Catholic dogma of Purgatory? Because Purgatory can't be proved by reason alone, what is the most clear and concise way that a Catholic can prove to another that it does indeed exist?

Protestant influences have infected our western culture for five centuries now. One of the principal attacks of the “Reformers” against the Catholic Faith was their hatred of anything having to do with our collaboration with redemption. That includes: merits, indulgences, purgatory, the Mass and the sacraments, Our Lady, etc. This is partially why our western culture scoffs at the dogma of Purgatory.

Another influence is simply ignorance. Also due to the Protestant notion of salvation, our society tends to think somehow that all it takes for one to go to heaven is faith alone, and maybe a sign that one has faith is that one is generally good, that one abstains from committing murder and other horrendous acts of that sort. So it is relatively easy, according to our culture, to go to heaven. So the assumption is that God sends you to Heaven automatically as long as you don’t do something terribly evil with a malicious intention. The notions of sanctifying grace, the theological virtues, mortal and venial sin, and even hell do not cross their minds, at least in any serious way. So, in that worldview, Judgment, Purgatory, Limbo (and even Hell) can be dispensed with.

The most straightforward way to prove the existence of purgatory to a Catholic (and I mean a true, well-intentioned Catholic, who accepts in principle the authority of the Pope and Magisterium) is to show him the text of the definition of the dogma from the Council of Trent:

Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod (Sess. VI, cap. XXX; Sess. XXII cap.ii, iii) that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful (Denzinger, Enchiridon, 983).

The teaching of the Magisterium is straightforward. However, it is not the only proof for the Catholic. The Magisterium is what theologians call an “Organ of Sacred Tradition.” In proof of the existence of purgatory you could also quote what theologians call the “Witnesses of Tradition,” which are equally infallible and which are represented by the unanimous consensus of the Fathers, of the theologians, of the faithful, throughout the centuries. These can be easily known through the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and of the Saints, as well as through catechisms, liturgical texts, sacred places, etc. All of Catholic culture cries out that there is indeed a Purgatory.

But, practically speaking, this will hardly do for those who call themselves “Catholic” but do not believe in the authority of the Magisterium. So, if they don’t believe in Sacred Tradition (that is, neither in the Organs nor in the Witnesses of Tradition), you should at least be able to quote the other source of Divine Revelation, namely, Sacred Scripture.

The most obvious text of Scripture for this purpose is 1 Maccabees 12:42-46:

And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain. And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection, (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,) And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.

Now, if you are speaking to a Protestant, he most likely does not believe that the books of the Maccabees are authentic books of the Sacred Scripture (these, and other books of the Old Testament are missing from their Protestant bibles). So you just quote Our Lord Himself (Mt. 12:31):

Therefore I say to you: Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.

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