On February 25, 2015, Dr. Lawrence Feingold, Associate Professor of Philosophy & Theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri, and author of The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and his Interpreters and the three volume series The Mystery of Israel and the Church gave a lecture titled “Purgatory” to the Association of Hebrew Catholics. A handout was provided at the lecture, and this handout is available as a pdf file here. The audio recordings of the lecture and of the following Q&A session, along with an outline of the lecture and a list of the questions asked during the Q&A are available below. The mp3s can be downloaded here.
As a preface to the lecture, a few propaedeutic points should be made. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory is of course a doctrine with which many Protestants disagree, and thus the disagreement over this doctrine is an ecumenical challenge for reconciling Protestants and Catholics. Yet in many cases in which Protestants and Catholics discuss the doctrine, at least in my experience, the paradigmatic nature of the disagreement tends to be overlooked. Such conversations overlook, for example, the relation and role of the difference in the Catholic and Protestant doctrines of the nature of Christ’s atonement, the nature of sin, the good (or evil) of participation in Christ’s work of redemption, and the role and authority of Tradition in doctrine and the interpretation of Scripture. Instead, the doctrine of purgatory is defended or criticized, respectively, on each paradigm’s own terms and concepts. But as we have pointed out here at Called To Communion regarding many other points of disagreement between Protestants and Catholics, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is essentially situated within and made intelligible by the Catholic theological paradigm constituted by the Catholic conception of these other doctrines and more underlying second order methodological questions. So below I have in places added some comments in brackets to highlight and explain the paradigmatic nature of both the explanation and defense of the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. I’ve also added at the end some replies to common Protestant objections to the doctrine.
Brief Review: Hell, Particular Judgment (1′)
Pope Benedict’s Spe Salvi: (3′)
What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? (Spe Salvi, 46)
Purgatory gives us a much greater dignity, the dignity of being able to participate in our own purification (7′)
[In the Catholic paradigm, active participation in Christ’s redemption is itself a gift of mercy procured by Christ’s redemption. Redemption is not a zero-sum relation in which any degree of participation on our part is one less degree of provision from Christ. That would imply a kind of soteriological Marcionism, as I’ve explained elsewhere. On the contrary, Christ’s redemptive work provides the grace by which and in which our participation is at the same time both a divine gift and a genuine, active, contributing participation.
The same reason why God allows us to participate in our ongoing sanctification in this present life is the same reason why God allows us to participate in the process of completing our purification after death, should such purification be necessary: mercy. Claiming that the doctrine of purgatory is incompatible with Christ’s work on the cross entails that our participation in our own sanctification in this present life is incompatible with Christ’s work on the cross. But our participation in our sanctification in this present life is found in Scripture and has been believed and taught from the beginning by the Church universal. Therefore the person making this objection must either make an ad hoc distinction between participating in our sanctification after death and participating in our sanctification before death, or he must accept that sanctification in this life is not by grace but is by human work alone, or he must deny that we participate in our sanctification in this present life. All three horns of that trilemma are problematic. ]
Jewish Tradition on Purgatory (7′)
Four elements in the Jewish tradition that are key components of the Catholic understanding of purgatory (10′)
2 Maccabees 12:39-45 (12′)
[On the canon question see Tom Brown’s article titled “The Canon Question,” and Gary Michuta’s Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger. ]
The New Testament on Purgatory (16′)
1 Cor 3:10-15 (16′)
[This interpretation of this passage is supported by St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Gregory, and Origen. This understanding of this passage is intelligible only in the agape paradigm, as distinct from the “list paradigm.” The latter paradigm does not allow a distinction between mortal and venial sins. One Protestant objection to the Catholic understanding of this passage as referring to purgatory is that St. Paul is speaking of works, and does not mention debt or remaining sanctification. But in the Catholic paradigm, these three are not disconnected. Works create both debts [of merit or demerit] and attachments within the soul. ]
Matthew 12:32 (22′)
Sinning against the Holy Spirit, vs. sinning against the Son of Man
Luke 12:58-59 (26′)
Patristic testimony (27′)
The doctrine of purgatory is presupposed by the early Church’s practice of the liturgy, her offering of the sacrifice of the mass for the living and the dead.
[One of the earliest references to prayers for the dead can be found in the early third century, in Tertullian’s De corona militis where he refers to prayers for the dead as an Apostolic ordinance, and in De Monogamia (chapter 10) where he advises a widow “to pray for the soul of her husband, begging repose for him and participation in the first resurrection,” and “to make oblations for him on the anniversary of his demise.”
On the patristic testimony to the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and the priesthood, see the “Proof of a Sacrificial Priesthood” section of Tim Troutman’s article “Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood.”
Also, the early Church’s teaching on the harrowing of hell supports the doctrine of purgatory, because it shows that some defect can hinder the reception of one’s final heavenly reward, even after death. In the case of the Old Testament saints, that defect was the sin of our first parents, by which the gate to heaven was closed even to their descendants who were righteous by faith. (cf. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.5 co.) Christ by His Passion and death has opened that gate. Thus in the Supplement of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica we read:
On the other hand, if it be in the state where it is hindered from receiving its final reward, this is either on account of a defect of the person, and thus we have purgatory where souls are detained from receiving their reward at once on account of the sins they have committed, or else it is on account of a defect of nature, and thus we have the limbo of the Fathers [i.e. Abraham’s bosom], where the Fathers were detained from obtaining glory on account of the guilt of human nature which could not yet be expiated. (Summa Theologica Supp. Q.69 a.7 co.)
Now, after the death of Christ, those who die in a state of grace but having the personal defect of a remaining debt of temporal punishment are also hindered from receiving their heavenly reward until they are completely purified.]
St. Monica’s last request (28′)
[St. Augustine writes:
In the books of the Maccabees we read of sacrifice offered for the dead. Howbeit even if it were no where at all read in the Old Scriptures, of no small weight is the authority of the Church whereby she clearly approves of the custom whereby a commendation of the dead has a place in the prayers which the priests pour forth to the Lord God at His altar. (On the Care of the Dead, 3)
Additional quotations from St. Augustine on purgatory can be found here.]
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (31′)
[Additional quotations from the Church Fathers showing belief in purgatory can be found here and here.
The earliest recorded objection to the Church’s practice of praying for the dead is that of Aërius of Pontus, who lived in the late fourth century, and was an Arian who also rejected the distinction between bishop, presbyter, deacon, and laymen. St. Epiphanius, a contemporary of Aërius, records Aërius’s objection as follows:
Why do you mention the names of the dead [in prayer] after their deaths? If the living prays or has given alms, how will this benefit the dead? If the prayer of the people here has benefited the people there, no one should practice piety or perform good works! He should get some friends any way he wants, either by bribery or by asking friends on his deathbed, and they should pray that he may not suffer in the next life, or be held to account for his heinous sins.” (Panarion 75.3.5)
Aërius’s objection suggests that he doesn’t understand (a) how prayers for the dead benefit them, (b) the distinction between mortal and venial sin, (c) the role of agape in piety and good works, and (d) why it is better to pay any debt of temporal punishment in this present life than in purgatory.
After St. Epiphanius describes the Church’s practice of praying for the dead (75.7.1-4) he then writes:
But I shall take up the thread of this topic [i.e. praying for the dead] once more. The Church is bound to keep this custom because she has received a tradition from the Fathers. And who can violate a mother’s precept or a father’s law? As the words of Solomon tell us, “Hear, my son, the words of thy father, and reject not the precepts of thy mother,” showing that the Father – God, that is – and the Only-begotten and the Holy Spirit taught both in writing and in unwritten form. But our mother the Church had precepts which she kept inviolate, and which cannot be broken. Now since these precepts have been ordained in the Church, and are suitable, and all of them marvelous, this fraud [of Aerius in rejecting prayers for the dead] is confounded in his turn. (Panarion Bk II 75.8.1-3)
Here he shows that the Church’s universal practice of praying for the dead carries the weight of authority of tradition. A few paragraphs earlier St. Epiphanius had written:
But who has better knowledge of these things? The deluded man who has just arrived and is still alive today [i.e. Aërius], or those who were witnesses before us, who have had the tradition in the Church before us and received it in this form from their fathers – and their fathers in turn, who learned it from those before them, just as the Church possesses the true faith and the traditions to this day because she has received them from her fathers? (Panarion Bk II 75.6.3)
As St. Epiphanius explains, the Church’s long-standing and universal practice carries an authority that Aërius as a newcomer does not have. Regarding the patristic witness in support of the doctrine of purgatory, see the “Tradition” section of the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the topic of ‘Purgatory.’ Rejecting this universal practice and patristic testimony would require positing some form of ecclesial deism.]
Magisterial Texts on Purgatory (32′)
Council of Trent on the topic of purgatory (32′)
Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has, following the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught in sacred councils and very recently in this ecumenical council that there is a purgatory, and that the souls there detained are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar, the holy council commands the bishops that they strive diligently to the end that the sound doctrine of purgatory, transmitted by the Fathers and sacred councils, be believed and maintained by the faithful of Christ, and be everywhere taught and preached. (Council of Trent, Session XXV)
There is an accompanying infallible anathema in Canon 30 of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent:
Canon 30. If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema. (Session VI)
[On misunderstandings and the proper understanding of the ‘anathemas’ see comment #53 in the “Van Drunen on Catholic Inclusivity and Change” thread.]
Council of Florence in 1439: (35′)
[I]f truly penitent people die in the love of God before they have made satisfaction for acts and omissions by worthy fruits of repentance, their souls are cleansed after death by cleansing pains; and the suffrages of the living faithful avail them in giving relief from such pains, that is, sacrifices of masses, prayers, almsgiving and other acts of devotion which have been customarily performed by some of the faithful for others of the faithful in accordance with the church’s ordinances. (Session 6)
Second Council of Lyon (1274):
This is the true Catholic Faith, and this in the above mentioned articles the most holy Roman Church holds and teaches. But because of diverse errors introduced by some through ignorance and by others from evil, it (the Church) says and teaches that those who after baptism slip into sin must not be rebaptized, but by true penance attain forgiveness of their sins. Because if they die truly repentant in charity before they have made satisfaction by worthy fruits of penance for (sins) committed and omitted, their souls are cleansed after death by purgatorical or purifying punishments, as Brother John * has explained to us. And to relieve punishments of this kind, the offerings of the living faithful are of advantage to these, namely, the sacrifices of Masses, prayers, alms, and other duties of piety, which have customarily been performed by the faithful for the other faithful according to the regulations of the Church. However, the souls of those who after having received holy baptism have incurred no stain of sin whatever, also those souls who, after contracting the stain of sin, either while remaining in their bodies or being divested of them, have been cleansed, as we have said above, are received immediately into heaven. The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, however, immediately descend to hell, yet to be punished with different punishments. The same most holy Roman Church firmly believes and firmly declares that nevertheless on the day of judgment “all” men will be brought together with their bodies “before the tribunal of Christ” “to render an account” of their own deeds [Rom. 14:10 ]. (Denzinger, 464)
First Council of Lyon in 1245: (36′)
Finally, since Truth in the Gospel asserts that “if anyone shall utter blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, neither in this life nor in the future will it be forgiven him” [cf. Matt. 12:32], by this it is granted that certain sins of the present be understood which, however, are forgiven in the future life, and since the Apostle says that “fire will test the work of each one, of what kind it is,” and ” if any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire” [1 Cor 3:13,15], and since these same Greeks truly and undoubtedly are said to believe and to affirm that the souls of those who after a penance has been received yet not performed, or who, without mortal sin yet die with venial and slight sin, can be cleansed after death and can be helped by the suffrages of the Church, we, since they say a place of purgation of this kind has not been indicated to them with a certain and proper name by their teachers, we indeed, calling it purgatory according to the traditions and authority of the Holy Fathers, wish that in the future it be called by that name in their area. For in that transitory fire certainly sins, though not criminal or capital, which before have not been remitted through penance but were small and minor sins, are cleansed, and these weigh heavily even after death, if they have been forgiven in this life. (Denzinger, 456)
Two Different Penalties for Sin (38′)
Mortal and venial sins
[For the explanation and grounding of the distinction between mortal and venial sin see “Why John Calvin Did Not Recognize the Distinction Between Mortal and Venial Sin.”]
The two motions in mortal sin
[The two motions in mortal sin, and their relation to the two penalties for sin, are explained in more detail in “St. Thomas Aquinas on Penance.”]
Thus the two penalties for mortal sin
[In baptism, both the debt of eternal punishment and the debt of temporal punishment are completely removed, as explained in comment #15 of the “Imputation and Paradigms” thread. In the sacrament of penance, the debt of eternal punishment is removed, if the person is repenting of mortal sin, but the debt of temporal punishment is not necessarily removed completely. Again, see “St. Thomas Aquinas on Penance.”]
Why it is fitting that we make satisfaction through sacrifice.
Venial sin (42′): merits only temporal punishment, not eternal punishment
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1472-73 (45′)
The double consequence of sin is explained in the following passages from the Catechism:
1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.
1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.” (CCC, 1472,1473)
Council of Trent (47′)
The Council of Trent infallibly defined the two different kinds of penalty for sin in Session XIV:
[T]he holy council declares that it is absolutely false and contrary to the word of God, that the guilt is never remitted by the Lord without the entire punishment being remitted also. (Session XIV, chapter 8)
Canon 12. If anyone says that God always pardons the whole penalty together with the guilt and that the satisfaction of penitents is nothing else than the faith by which they perceive that Christ has satisfied for them, let him be anathema. (Session XIV, Canon 12)
Canon 15. If anyone says that the keys have been given to the Church only to loose and not also to bind, and that therefore priests, when imposing penalties on those who confess, act contrary to the purpose of the keys and to the institution of Christ, and that it is a fiction that there remains often a temporal punishment to be discharged after the eternal punishment has by virtue of the keys been removed, let him be anathema. (Session XIV, Canon 15)
[For the theological basis for the Catholic doctrine concerning indulgences see “Indulgences, the Treasury of Meric, and the Communion of the Saints.”]
Pope Benedict XVI’s Spe Salvi (51′)
In this text [1 Cor. 3:10-15], it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast. (Spe Salvi, 46)
Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire.” But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ. (Spe Salvi, 47)
Implications of denying purgatory (55′)
Denying purgatory is denying a mercy of God
St. Thomas Aquinas on God as Justice and Mercy (56′)
Summa Theologica Q.21 a.4
Pope Benedict XVI: (57′)
The judgment of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgment and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1). (Spe Salvi, 47)
We can do something for the faithful departed (59′)
Solidarity and the communion of the saints (60′)
Opposed to individualism (61′)
Pope Benedict XVI: (62′)
The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? … [N]o man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well. (Spe Salvi, 48)
The meaning of active participation of the faithful in the mass (65′)
Question and Answer:
1. (1′) Was there a time in Church history that was less presumptuous that all would go to heaven, and if so what were some practices of the Church praying for the dead that we can incorporate into our practice today?
2. (5′) With regards to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, are the corporal more meritorious or is there some hierarchy in the order of grace?
3. (7′) Can Gregorian masses benefit a soul who has died having lived outside the sacraments of the Church?
4. (9′) In regard to baptism of desire, are those children lost through miscarriage or stillborn considered baptized if their Christian parents had desired baptism for them and had the intention of having them baptized had they lived?
5. (15′) Don’t priests remove the effects of venial sin at the beginning of the mass, or is that just the forgiveness?
6. (20′) Does the Church believe in different levels of purgatory?
7. (22′) In his literary work The Problem of Pain why did C.S. Lewis suggest something to the effect of annihilationism?
8. (23′) We can conclude that at the cessation of the body, i.e. death, the soul does not cease but perpetually lives by virtue of its nature. Is it correct to assume and profess by faith that through purgatory the soul exists in the presence of the omnipotent God as it awaits the fulfillment of the consummation of salvation history in Jesus Christ?
Objection 1: The Scriptural passages to which Catholics appeal in support of the doctrine of purgatory, at least those passages in the Protestant canon of Scripture, are not sufficient in themselves to establish the doctrine of purgatory.
Response: True. In the Protestant paradigm, if something is not at least logically entailed by Scripture, it does not belong to Christian doctrine. In the Catholic paradigm, however, doctrine is not based only on what can be logically deduced from Scripture alone, because in the Catholic paradigm the Apostolic doctrine was communicated to the Church not only through writing, but orally as well. For this reason doctrine is grounded in the Tradition, both written (i.e. Scripture) and oral, which is handed down in and interpreted by the community to which that Apostolic Tradition was entrusted. The universal liturgical practice of the Church, and the patristic witness, testify to the Apostolic origin of the practice of praying for the faithful departed, and thus to the Apostolic origin of the doctrine of purgatory. They also allow what is implicit within Scripture to be seen. So the objection presupposes a Protestant conception of what counts as divine revelation, how we access that divine revelation, and what is the role and authority of the unwritten Tradition in the interpretation of Scripture. For that reason, the objection presupposes the truth of the Protestant paradigm, and thus presupposes precisely what is in question between Protestants and Catholics. Presupposing the truth of one’s own position, as an objection to an alternative position, is fallacious because it is the equivalent of claiming that the other person’s position must be wrong because it isn’t one’s own position.
Objection 2: The doctrine of purgatory denies the sufficiency and perfection of the work of Christ on the cross. But Christ’s sacrifice was completely sufficient and perfect, and makes all further sacrifices unnecessary. As He said on the cross, “It is finished.” (Jn. 19:30) Therefore, the doctrine of purgatory must be false.
Response: I’ve addressed that objection in comment #455 of the “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement” post. The objection presupposes (a) a monergistic [i.e. God alone acts] conception of what it means for Christ’s sacrifice to be sufficient and perfect, such that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient and perfect only if it excludes the possibility of our active participation in it, (b) an implicit conflation of the distinction between eternal and temporal punishment for sin, and (c) a penal substitution conception of Christ’s atonement, which is not the same as the Catholic conception of the atonement, as explained in the article just mentioned. These presuppositions are not entailed by Scripture, but are instead theological assumptions either brought to Scripture or derived from interpretations of Scripture that themselves depend on such extra-biblical presuppositions brought to Scripture.
Regarding the first presupposition, the completeness and perfection of Christ’s sacrifice does not mean or entail that we are not called to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, (Rom. 12:1) or that each Christian is not called to “purify himself, as He is pure.” (1 Jn. 3:3) Again, Christ’s work is not a zero-sum commodity, as the objection presupposes, but is that precisely by which and in which our real sacrifices, offered in the way God prescribes, are acceptable and efficacious, not superfluous. Just as Christ’s work on the cross does not mean that we do not participate in our on-going sanctification in this present life by working out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), so Christ’s work on the cross does not mean that we may not participate in that purification after death if we die with some debt of temporal punishment remaining. (See footnote #4 below.) In no place does Scripture teach that the satisfaction that Christ made on the cross eliminates the possibility or necessity of believers making satisfaction for the debt of temporal punishment due to sins they commit after baptism. Sufficiency is always with respect to a designated purpose. For example, Christ’s sacrifice is not sufficient in the sense that it guarantees that all who come to faith in Christ are exempt from suffering in this present life. That’s because keeping us from all suffering in this present life is not the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice. Nor does the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice mean that believers need not pray, forgive those who sin against them, care for widows and orphans, etc. That’s because the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was not to do all things for us. Likewise, the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was not to guarantee that believers never pay any debt of temporal punishment. Hence His sacrifice was not insufficient or imperfect in relation to its designated purpose. Christ’s work was so perfect that it allows saints truly to participate in it, for the edification of the Body, because Christ is not jealous, not even in His work of redemption, and does not take to Himself the sole causality of the salvation of the world, but generously shares that causality with His Body, through the grace He gained for us through His Passion and Death. The concept of ‘perfection’ according to which Christ does it all Himself, is a question-begging notion in the objection. Likewise, claiming that the sufficiency of Christ’s satisfaction eliminates the possibility of purgatory presupposes that the purpose of Christ’s satisfaction is to guarantee that believers never pay a debt of post-baptismal temporal punishment. But that presupposition is not found in Scripture; rather, it is a presupposition the claimant brings as a background assumption to the process of interpreting Scripture, while treating it as if derived from Scripture.
Regarding the second presupposition, conflating eternal and temporal punishment creates the impression that the way in which our eternal debt of punishment is removed is also always precisely the way in which our debt of temporal punishment is removed. In no place, however, does Scripture teach either that there is no distinction between eternal and temporal punishment or that after baptism believers cannot accrue a debt of temporal punishment through sin, or that believers cannot make satisfaction for such a debt.
Regarding the third presupposition, conceiving of Christ’s atonement in the penal substitution paradigm implies that if any suffering remains necessary for our salvation, Christ’s work was defective and His blood not sufficiently powerful. The satisfaction account, by contrast, has no such implications. One reason why the notion of believers paying a debt of temporal punishment seems contrary to the work of Christ is that given a penal substitution conception of Christ’s atonement, the notion of any remaining punishment implies that the wrath of God for the sins of believers was either not fully poured out on Christ, or that Christ’s bearing that full wrath was not sufficient to satisfy it, such that God still has more wrath to pour out, particularly on those persons in purgatory. But as the Catechism says, the punishment in question “must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin,” (CCC, 1472) and what sin does to the sinner. (Cf. CCC 1459, 1865). In the satisfaction account, there remaining some punishment or suffering for the believer for post-baptismal sins does not entail that God is indisposed to the believer, or has any wrath toward that believer for those sins. Nor does it entail that Christ’s satisfaction was insufficient if in fact the suffering the persons in purgatory endure is a mercy that allows them to participate in making amends for the consequences and effects of post-baptismal sins, thereby participating in God’s work of freeing them of any remaining debt of temporal punishment and rectifying any disordered attachments within them.
As for Christ’s statement “It is finished,” in the Catholic paradigm He was in that statement referring only to His earthly mission of suffering and dying for us: He was not saying that believers would never need to suffer, either in this life or in purgatory, or never need to work out their salvation in fear and trembling. Thus in these three ways the objection (i.e. Objection 2) presupposes the truth of the Protestant paradigm, and thus presupposes precisely what is in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church.
Objection 3: If there were souls in purgatory when Christ returned, then either He would have to wait for them to be cleansed, or they could be cleansed right away. But if they can be cleansed right away, then the faithful departed now need not endure some period of cleansing after death. Likewise, since the living who are still alive when Christ returns do not need to go through purgatory, apparently, therefore neither do any believers who die before Christ returns.
Response: This objection is addressed in the Supplement of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. Whereas the first destruction of the world was by water (2 Pet. 3:6), so the final destruction will be by fire (2 Pet. 3:10), and that fire will cleanse both those still alive on earth, and those in purgatory. The fire of the final conflagration affects each of the three groups of remaining persons differently:
This fire of the final conflagration, in so far as it will precede the judgment, will act as the instrument of Divine justice as well as by the natural virtue of fire. Accordingly, as regards its natural virtue, it will act in like manner on the wicked and good who will be alive, by reducing the bodies of both to ashes. But in so far as it acts as the instrument of Divine justice, it will act differently on different people as regards the sense of pain. For the wicked will be tortured by the action of the fire; whereas the good in whom there will be nothing to cleanse will feel no pain at all from the fire, as neither did the children in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3); although their bodies will not be kept whole, as were the bodies of the children: and it will be possible by God’s power for their bodies to be destroyed without their suffering pain. But the good, in whom matter for cleansing will be found, will suffer pain from that fire, more or less according to their different merits. (Summa Theologica Supp. Q.74 a.8 co.)
Why can those still living who need cleansing be cleansed suddenly?
There are three reasons why those who will be found living [when Christ returns] will be able to be cleansed suddenly. One is because there will be few things in them to be cleansed, since they will be already cleansed by the previous fears and persecutions. The second is because they will suffer pain both while living and of their own will: and pain suffered in this life voluntarily cleanses much more than pain inflicted after death, as in the case of the martyrs, because “if anything needing to be cleansed be found in them, it is cut off by the sickle of suffering,” as Augustine says (De Unic. Bap. xiii), although the pain of martyrdom is of short duration in comparison with the pain endured in purgatory. The third is because the heat will gain in intensity what it loses in shortness of time. (Summa Theologica Supp. Q.74 a.8 ad 5)
So according to the Supplement, those still living when Christ returns will receive this by the fire of the final conflagration if they need additional purification. And though this fire be shorter in time than would be their stay in purgatory, nevertheless, their suffering through this fire is more intense than that of those in purgatory. So in this way they too go through a kind of purgatory. And if Christ is able to do this for the persons still living, how much more is He able to do this by this same fire for those who are in purgatory when He returns. The objection therefore presupposes that if persons still alive or still in purgatory when Christ returns are purified quickly, then all those who die yet needing further sanctification must likewise be purified quickly. Not only does that conclusion not follow from that premise, but it is an extra-biblical assumption brought to the interpretive process, not one entailed by Scripture itself.
Objection 4: The Scripture teaches that Christ’s blood and death perfectly expiates all our sins. St. Paul writes, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14) The author of the letter to the Hebrews writes, “After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Heb. 1:3) And the Apostle John writes, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) But the doctrine of purgatory implies that some sins of believers remain unexpiated, that Jesus did not pay the price for all of our sins. Therefore the doctrine of purgatory must be false.
Response: Objectively Christ’s death perfectly expiates the sins of the whole world. Subjectively we receive the grace He won for us on the cross through the sacraments. As explained above, in baptism both the debt of eternal punishment and the debt of temporal punishment are completely removed. But after baptism, the debt of temporal punishment for sins committed after baptism is not completely removed through the sacrament of penance. The doctrine of purgatory does not imply or entail that objectively Christ did not make satisfaction for some sins of believers (or unbelievers); it has to do with the subjective application of Christ’s objective work. Regarding the verses in question, Hebrews 1:3 is referring to the objective work of Christ as High Priest, and is thus fully compatible with the doctrine of purgatory. In Colossians 2:13-14 St. Paul is speaking of what the Colossian believers received through baptism, as is clear from the immediately preceding verse, which reads, “and you were buried with Him in baptism ….” And this cancelling of all debt at baptism is fully compatible with the doctrine of purgatory. The fact that post-baptismal sins are not forgiven at baptism is shown by the fact that in the Lord’s Prayer, which is the prayer Christ taught us to pray, not only do baptized believers ask for our “daily bread,” we also ask for the forgiveness of our sins, which would not make sense if all our future sins were already forgiven at baptism. Regarding 1 John 1:7, the seventeenth century Catholic Scripture commentator Cornelius à Lapide writes, “It means that He has cleansed us from our sins by baptism, that He cleanses us (at the present time) from venial sins, and will cleanse us hereafter from the peril of mortal sins, and at last will cleanse in heaven from all concupiscence.” The present cleansing for those walking in the light of agape refers to the forgiveness of the guilt of venial post-baptismal sins, but not the debt of temporal punishment for such sins. So these Scripture passages are each fully compatible with the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Hence the objection presupposes a Protestant interpretation of these passages of Scripture, informed by extra-biblical assumptions brought to the text of Scripture, and in that way this objection presupposes what is in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church.
Objection 5: St. Paul wrote “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) The doctrine of purgatory contradicts St. Paul’s statement, because the doctrine of purgatory replaces the gospel of salvation by grace with the notion of works righteousness and merit-based salvation.
Response: This objection presupposes that because we are saved by grace, and St. Paul contrasts salvation by grace and salvation by works, therefore our salvation must be monergistic, and cannot involve participation on our part. But this presupposition is itself based on the assumption that what St. Paul means by ‘works’ is entirely unqualified, as though grace and works of any sort are immiscible like oil and water. But according to the Tradition with which these epistles were also received, and the community that received them, the Apostle was not excluding a salvific role to acts done in agape out of a heart already infused with living faith and sanctifying grace, themselves gifts of God. Nor by ‘works’ [ἔργων] was he referring to the sanctifying value of sacrifices and sufferings offered to God in agape by those already in a state of grace. Rather, the works to which he was referring are acts done apart from living faith in Christ and apart from sanctifying grace. Moreover, though in purgatory the human will consents in loving obedience to this cleansing, the cleansing is the work of God through the fire of His love. Purgatory is not a merely human work, but a divine work in the soul, freely consented to and lovingly received by the recipient who is already in a state of grace. Though merit is possible for those still living on earth, no one merits in purgatory. So the objection (i.e. Objection 5) is based on particular extra-biblical presuppositions brought to the interpretation of Scripture. Nothing about the doctrine of purgatory contradicts any passages of Scripture, though of course it contradicts certain interpretations of Scripture that depend on certain non-biblical assumptions that are contrary to the Catholic paradigm.
Objection 6: The doctrine of purgatory is a safety net that allows Catholics to live evil lives and then get everything sorted out after death in purgatory. But persons who live evil lives go to hell. Therefore the doctrine of purgatory is false.
Reply: This objection is based on a misunderstanding of the doctrine of purgatory. As was explained in the Feingold lecture above, at the moment of death the will of every man instantly becomes permanently fixed (i.e. inflexible, set, immovable) with respect to his chosen ultimate end. Those who die in a state of mortal sin, that is, those who die having themselves or any other created good as their chosen ultimate end, are judged at that moment in what is called the Particular Judgment, and permanently enter hell. They do not enter purgatory. Only persons who die in a state of grace, having agape in their will and thus having God as their chosen ultimate end enter purgatory if they have any remaining debt of temporal punishment. So a person, whether Catholic or not, who lives an evil life and dies in a state of mortal sin does not go to purgatory, and while in a state of mortal sin cannot justifiably assume on the basis of the doctrine of purgatory that were he to die in such a condition he would be able to go to purgatory to “get everything sorted out.” In order to believe justifiably that one will have an opportunity to get things sorted out in purgatory, one must remain in a state of grace, which requires not living in a condition of mortal sin. So the objection is based on a straw man of the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Could the Church do a better job at catechesis with respect to the doctrine of purgatory? Of course. But the solution to inadequate teaching of an orthodox doctrine is not rejection of that doctrine but improved catechesis.
Objection 7: Hebrews 9:27 reads, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Also, Hebrews 12:23 refers to “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” Similarly, St. Paul “would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8) In Philippians 1:21-23 he writes, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” These passages thus teach that after death comes judgment. That leaves no room for a time of purification between the moment of death and the Judgment. Moreover, Jesus says to the repentant thief, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Therefore, this thief had no need for purgatory, but went straight to heaven with Jesus. Therefore the doctrine of purgatory does not fit with the Bible.
Reply: Regarding Hebrews 9:27, if the judgment in view is the particular judgment (CCC 1021-1022), which takes place at the moment of death, this is fully compatible with their being a time for purgatory after the particular judgment for those who need additional purification. If, however, the judgment in view is the Last Judgment (CCC 1038-1041), one could deduce that non-existence of purgatory only by way of a fallacious argument from silence. Such a deduction would have the consequence of entailing something like soul sleep between the moment of death and the Last Judgment. And that consequence contradicts the other passages quoted in this objection. “[T]he spirits of the righteous made perfect” in Hebrews 12:23 consists of persons who either needed no cleansing after death or who already entered heaven from purgatory. Thus this verse in no way entails that there is no purgatory. As for 2 Cor. 5:8 and Phil 1:21-23, we are speaking here of Saint Paul, the apostle whose sufferings on behalf of Christ were already numerous, as he recounts in 2 Corinthians 11, and though the last to become an apostle (1 Cor 15:8), yet he “worked harder than any of them.” (1 Cor 15:10) Given his sanctity and sufferings which he embraced for the sake of Christ, and his possibly foreseeing his martyrdom, St. Paul may very well have known that he did not have any debt of temporal punishment, or that any remaining debt of temporal punishment would be removed by his martyrdom. If so, then what he says in these two passages is fully compatible with the doctrine of purgatory, for he speaks there for himself and for the righteous who need no additional cleansing after death. Regarding the repentant thief, the Catechism teaches the following: “A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.” (CCC 1472) So in the Catholic paradigm, a person who converts with fervent charity can by that act attain such a purification that no debt of temporal punishment remains. For that reason, if the repentant thief did not go through purgatory, this would be fully compatible with the truth of the doctrine of purgatory. Each of these verses is therefore fully compatible with the doctrine of purgatory. They become incompatible with the doctrine of purgatory only when interpreted on the basis of extra-biblical assumptions that presuppose the falsehood of the Catholic paradigm.
Objection 8: “In Christ, we have already been “rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the Son” (Col 1:3). “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). “Therefore since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1) “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). “You have been raised with Christ . . . where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Col 3:1). Since believers are united with Christ, and clothed with His righteousness, not only do believers have no need for purgatory, the doctrine of purgatory denies what these verses teach.
Reply: Regarding Col 1:3, those in purgatory have been “rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the Son.” They are in a state of grace, not at enmity with God, just as in this present life those who are in a state of grace but still being sanctified have already been “rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the Son.” So the doctrine of purgatory is no more incompatible with this verse than is the doctrine of progressive sanctification in this present life. Regarding Romans 8:1, the ‘condemnation’ there refers to the condemnation of eternal damnation, not to temporal punishment. St. Paul is not saying in Romans 8:1 that everyone who is in Christ (i.e. in a state of grace) has no debt of temporal punishment. So in order to treat this verse as incompatible with the doctrine of purgatory, one would have to bring to the interpretive process the extra-biblical presupposition that ‘condemnation’ also includes temporal punishment. Likewise, regarding Romans 5:1, those in a state of grace, whether or not they are free of all debt of temporal punishment, are at peace with God, just as those in this present life who are in a state of grace but still in need of further sanctification are at peace with God. One is at peace with God if one has agape in one’s heart (Rom. 5:5), and everyone in a state of grace has agape in his heart. The same applies to 2 Cor 5:17, Phil 3:20, and Col 3:1. What makes us a new creation, establishes our citizenship in heaven, and raises us with Christ, is the infusion of sanctifying grace and agape. That’s true even of those still in need of further sanctification, whether on earth or in purgatory. That infused agape is the righteousness of Christ with which we are clothed. But again, that does not preclude the need for further sanctification. So these verses are fully compatible with the truth of the doctrine of purgatory. Only by bringing extra-biblical presuppositions to the interpretive process
can one arrive at interpretations that are at odds with the doctrine of purgatory.
Objection 9: That Bible says that in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:52) Therefore if we require any remaining purification, God will accomplish it immediately, in the twinkling of an eye. That contradicts the doctrine of purgatory.
Reply: In the Catholic interpretive tradition, the change St. Paul is referring to there is the glorification of the body. Two verses prior, in verse 50 he writes, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” And in the succeeding verse he writes, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Cor. 15:53) The instantaneous glorification of the body does not mean or entail that the soul must likewise be instantly cleansed. Moreover, since the instant St. Paul is referring to is the moment of the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns, if this were the moment that all departed souls too were cleansed, then during this intermediate time these departed souls that are not fully sanctified could not enter heaven, for nothing unclean shall enter there (Rev. 21:27), and only the pure in heart can see God (Mt. 5:8; Heb. 12:14). This would entail either soul sleep or something even worse than purgatory, namely, a period of waiting for heaven while in an unclean condition with no opportunity for growing in sanctification. In short, the objection depends on reading into this verse something it itself does not say, namely, that the cleansing of the soul takes place instantaneously.
Objection 10: First, the gospel by the very meaning of the term is “good news.” But purgatory does not sound attractive or desirable. A gospel that includes the doctrine of purgatory is not good news, because it does not truly save anyone; it only makes salvation possible for those who work hard enough and suffer enough. In contrast to this doctrine of purgatory, the Reformed gospel shows itself to be the gospel (the “good news”) because the Reformed gospel guarantees that no believer has to go through purgatory at death. Instead at the moment of death we are immediately and painlessly completely sanctified and immediately enter into the blessedness of heaven. Second, it is our fallen human nature to want to contribute something, to earn or merit our salvation in some way. Fallen man does not want to accept the full and complete sufficiency of Christ’s work, but instead seeks to add his own efforts to Christ’s completed work. In this way, the doctrine of purgatory is something attractive to fallen man, because it gives him an opportunity to boast and take pride in his own accomplishment. But for precisely this reason we must reject it.
Reply: Notice the catch-22 in this objection. The doctrine of purgatory cannot be true because it is undesirable, and the doctrine of purgatory cannot be true because it is desirable. Heads I win; tails you lose. This shows that such appeals to desirability / undesirability are ad hoc. Both aspects of the objection are forms of kerygmatic consumerism. And kerygmatic consumerism is based not on Scripture per se but on interpretations that essentially depend on extra-biblical assumptions. These assumptions include man-made theological claims that judge what message is the gospel by how good the message seems to one’s own [fallen] human reason, or by how bad it seems to one’s own [fallen] reason. Each approach, relying on man-made assumptions that seek to identify the gospel by what we do or don’t want, rather than by what God has revealed, is a form of rationalism that presupposes what is in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church.
In short, each of the ten objections above depends either on presupposing the falsehood of the Catholic paradigm, a failure to understand the Catholic doctrine, or on extra-biblical assumptions brought to the interpretive process. But division between Christians cannot be justified on the basis of extra-biblical assumptions brought to the text of Scripture, or in a toss-up between paradigms. When a separation between Christians is based on extra-biblical assumptions, the default position is that of the Catholic Church, as Carl Trueman points out when he writes:
[W]e need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day.
As I have shown above, however, these ten objections are not “good, solid reasons.” They either misunderstand the doctrine or they presuppose the falsehood of the paradigm to which they object.
May the Lord in His mercy help Protestants and Catholics overcome what still divides us, and may we find agreement in the truth concerning the doctrine of purgatory.