Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What is Purgatory?

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -- each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
Often, in forumland, I have encountered many fictional caricatures of what the Church teaches purgatory to actually be. With an emphasis on Scripture, let's review this doctrine.


PURGATORY DEFINED
All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. (CCC#1030)
I think anyone who chooses to defend or discredit purgatory must remain focused on this core definition.

Perhaps the most common accusation I hear against purgatory is something like: "Purgatory denies the sufficiency of Christ's work on the cross." The logic is if man has to undergo some purification even after he has been joined to Christ's perfect sacrifice, then it means we are "adding" to Christ, calling him insufficient. But as we will see, there is no such thing "adding" to Christ in the teaching of purgatory. And as we shall see, the doctrine of purgatory is most sound theology.


DOES THE IDEA OF PURGATORY DENY THE SUFFICIENCY OF CHRIST'S WORK?

I think the following Scriptural verses express well the purpose of Christ's sacrifice:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Pet. 3:18)

Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. (Tit. 2:13b-14)
Notice that nowhere in these or any Scriptures is a statement that a true Christian will permanently be free of sinful faults or tendencies once he becomes a Christian. Nor is there a Biblical text asserting that a Christian will not suffer from consequences of sin. Verses like the former above that refer to Christ dying for "sins" are distinct from a statement saying Christ erases all consequences of sin or that the purifying power of his death is applied once to a soul, never requiring further sanctification (i.e. holiness).

You will often hear Catholic teaching refer to "temporal" consequences or punishments due to sin. A person should take a moment to reflect on the term "temporal" which is distinct from "eternal." The evangelist John makes such a distinction between what is also called a venial or mortal (sin leading to death) in his epistle: 1 John 5:16-17. Scripture contains a number of examples distinguishing various degrees of sin. Any temporal consequence of sin suffered by a repentant sinner is not forever. Thus, temporal consequences of sin neither conflict with the sufficiency of Christ's work to bring us eternal life.


DO PEOPLE WHO ARE ALREADY GOD'S CHILDREN NEED FURTHER SANCTIFICATION?
Another passage referencing the need even for those who belong to God to incur purification is in Hebrews:
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. ... he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. ... make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for...the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:7-14)
In this passage are very noteworthy statements that douse the accusation that the need for purification even after becoming a Christian should be an affront to Christ's sacrifice.
  1. Those who are already God's "sons" (cf. eg. Gal. 3:26) still endure discipline under God.
  2. One of the purposes for this is to conform His children to "His holiness."
  3. Parts of God's children remain "lame" in need of "healing."
  4. And the holiness to which this leads is that which makes God's children fit to "see the Lord."
A few verses later, the text in Hebrews fortifies this teaching by telling God's children that those who come to their final inheritance have to come to a place dwelt by "the spirits of just men made perfect." (Heb. 12:23)

Purgatory in no way denies that Christ's redemptive work is the means by which all mankind must follow in order to attain heaven. Purgatory, like Tit. 2:14 above, reflects the need for the soul to be purified. And this need can remain even after one becomes a Christian but prior to full union with God in heaven.

As well, in Catholic theology purgation takes place by no other power than Christ. Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote in his book Eschatology in the section on purgatory, in the context of 1 Cor. 3:10-15 (quoted at top):
What actually saves is the full assent of faith. But in most of us, that basic option is buried under a great deal of wood, hay and straw. Only with difficulty can it peer out from behind the latticework of an egoism we are powerless to pull down with our own hands. Man is the recipient of the divine mercy, yet this does not exonerate him from the need to be transformed. Encounter with the Lord is this transformation. It is the fire that burns away our dross and re-forms us to be vessels of eternal joy. (Ratzinger, Eschatology, p. 231)
This ties in well with Hebrews 12 above. The point is, if God should effect purification even after a person becomes His adopted child, it in no way affronts the power of the Crucufixion but rather illuminates its merciful scope.

An example from Romans
Another example can be seen in Paul's letter to the Romans:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh -- for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. (Rom. 8:11-13)
Dr. Scott Hahn expounds thusly on the passage:
[L]ook at this, "we are debtors," we still have a debt to pay; not because Christ hasn't paid it but because Christ has paid it once and for all, and through the Holy Spirit in His mystical body, He applies that. (Hahn, Purgatory: Holy Fire from Answering Common Objections St. Joseph Communications.)
Earlier in his discourse, Hahn foreshadowed the significance of Romans 8 by saying:
...Christ has accomplished our redemption. It's over and done with. He has finished it. But then He sends the Holy Spirit to apply it, and the application of redemption is just as essential
St. John Chrysostom speaks similarly regarding the power of the Spirit, distinct from our power, to cleans us from sin in our suffering:
What sort of deeds then does he mean us to mortify? Those which tend toward wickedness, those which go after vice, which there is no other way of mortifying save through the Spirit. For by killing yourself you may put an end to the others. And this you have no right to do. But to these (you can put an end) by the Spirit only. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 14 on Romans, ca 390 A.D.)
In the letter to the Romans, Paul follows the idea that we in the Spirit are still "debtors" with the following:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:14-17)
So essentially, when we suffer such that we "put to death the deeds of the body" (i.e. sins), it is the Spirit effecting Christ's finished atoning work to us, purifying us from all stain of sin.

This is the essence of Peter's and James' teaching that love "covers a multitude of sins." (1 Pet. 4:8, cf. Jam. 5:20) Whether it be debt or uncleanliness, the essence of the figure is the same. All aspects of the negative must be removed in order to make that soul pure for heaven.


HOW PURE MUST ONE BE TO ENTER HEAVEN?

If one examines the text of Matthew chapter 5, one sees that Christ follows His discourse on the beatitudes by reiterating the commandments as well as other exhortations such as "love your enemy." The chapter is concluded with: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mat. 5:48)

As previously cited, the book of Hebrews (12:23) likewise refers to souls "made perfect" and "the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." There is a certain "degree" of holiness, if you will, necessary to see the Lord. Those in Hebrews 12 who were already God's children, still endured His discipline so that they might achieve that holiness.

If we consider statements referring to heaven itself, we see that "nothing unclean shall enter it" (Rev. 21:27). And if we consider the prayer taught by Christ himself, we know he exhorts us to pray that God's "will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Mat. 6:10) And we have already established that perfection, purity, and holiness are prerequisites to enter heaven.

But isn't Christ's righteousness imputed to the Christian so God doesn't see any blemishes or consequences of sin anyway?

The Hebrews 12 passage is one example that belies this teaching. If God only sees the holiness of Christ in His children, He would not chastise them for the sake of their holiness, because there is nothing imperfect about Christ's holiness.

In Catholic teaching, "Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man." (CCC#1989, Council of Trent 6.7a)

The Church does not consider the common "forensic-only" idea of justification a satisfactory doctrine. For example, 19th century theologian Robert Shaw, expositing on the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646 stated:
Justification, according to the use of the word in Scripture, must be understood forensically. ... [J]ustification does not lie in infusing righteousness into a person, but in declaring him to be righteous on legal grounds; and, like the sentence of a judge, it is completed at once. (Shaw, Exposition of the WCF, p. 147)
Without knowing if Shaw was referring to a particular form of the root word "just" in Scripture, it is still not difficult to find many forms of the term that do not refer to a forensic declaration alone. For example, Mat. 12:37 states: "by your words you will be justified." The Greek word dikaiwyhsh is the verb there in the future tense translated "will be justified." Here, justification is contingent upon action by the individual, not merely a legal declaration apart from actual righteousness (done by the person with grace, of course). As an adjective, the Greek word dikaioi appears twice in the parable of the sheep and goats (Mat. 25:37, 46) in reference to the just persons who did indeed exhibit holiness.

As well, throughout the New Testament we are shown Christ performing a healing juxtaposed with the forgiveness of sins. Take for instance the healing of the paralytic:
And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he said to the paralytic -- "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose. (Mark 2:4-12)
Therefore, we see how a merely forensic acquittal does not satisfy the context of true healing transpiring in the text. Was the paralytic merely "declared" healed while his physical imperfection remained? No, the paralytic was truly healed. Jesus shows the audience he did this for the purpose of showing them that the man's sins had been healed though they could not sensibly perceive so. If we say Christ actually healed the man's physical affliction, but merely declared healed the man's spiritual afflictions, then we do violence to Christ's use of the miracle to show us the unseen.


ARE THERE TEMPORAL CONSEQUENCES TO SIN EVEN AFTER THE GUILT IS FORGIVEN?

One consequence to sin is due to the original sin inherent in all human beings---everyone must undergo temporal death (e.g. Rom. 5:12, 1 Cor. 15:21). Even though death entered the world through Adam, a Christian is not spared this consequence of man's fallen nature simply by becoming Christian.

Another example is when Jesus tells us that sin results in a "slavery" to the sin. (John 8:34) This is another consequence of a sin even if one has repented of the sin. If a lifelong drug addict who treated drugs as a "god" above God offers true repentance, his previous sins against the first commandment will no longer prevent him from entering heaven. The eternal consequences of the sin are taken away. Yet, is such a man always immediately cured of his attachment to the drug? No, this consequence of the sin may remain with him for the rest of his life. He may even take the drugs again and again due to the "slavery" that he fostered from a life of sin. To be freed from the temporal consequences, he should pray for healing, perhaps seek help, and practice discipline.

Another example of temporal consequences after forgiveness is in the Old Testament.
David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." And Nathan said to David, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die." (2 Sam. 12:13-14)
In this passage, David repents of his killing of Uriah and affair with Bathsheba. God puts away David's sin in the sense that David shall not die an eternal death in hell (cf. 1 King. 2:1-10, Rev. 20:14). Yet David is afflicted with temporal consequences. He must live the rest of his earthly years suffering from the death of his son.

In the New Testament, we see a related figure depicted in the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus expresses his faith in Jesus by including the promise: "if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold." (v.8) Jesus responds by rejoicing that "salvation has come" to Zacchaeus' house. Zacchaeus, of course, demonstrates not just an outward repentance for violating another. He seeks due restitution for the violation.

Another short parable appears in various forms regarding imprisonment without release until a debt is paid (Mat. 5:23-26, Luke 12:57-59). A few verses later we see Matthew write: "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mat. 5:48) And immediately after that is the story of when Christ teaches the "Our Father" prayer to the disciples. He says to pray: "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Mat. 6:12) In the Greek, the word translated for debt is ofeilhmata. This word refers to something "owed" or "due." 

SANCTIFICATION ON THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN

From the earliest times of the Old Testament, sin was often presented in a financial light. It became a debt one must pay. In order to make proper restitution for the sin, the sinner was called to atone in various ways, balancing the ledger so to speak, canceling a debt with a credit. Other figures in the OT included sin as a weight that required lifting or as a blemish that needed washing. In one of my theology classes, I did a paper on Proverbs 16:6, pertinent to this subject.
By loyalty and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil. (Proverbs 16:6 (15:27a in LXX))
If we delve into the Greek of this passage, the phrase "loyalty and faithfulness" finds a variety of translations in different Bibles. Often it refers to love and faith. The Greek Septuagint renders the phrase: eleēmosunais kai pistesin. The latter term there, rooted by pistis, is recognizable as the Biblical term for faith. The root of eleēmosunais has 11 occurrences in the New Testament, usually translated as “alms.” Pope John Paul II agrees the term refers to "almsgiving."

The root of the term for "atoned" there is kippēr. Dr. Gary Anderson, in his book Sin: A History, defines this as "to wipe away sin" or in other forms of the verb, "to wash away sin." (Anderson, Sin, p. 16) In fact, the early Church, in both the west and east, interpreted the term in exactly that way. Both St. Cyprian (ca. 250 A.D.) and St. John Chrysostom (ca. 390 A.D.) cross-reference Proverbs 16:6 with the "washing" episode of Luke 11:37-41.
While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. (Luke 11:37-41)
In this passage, Christ identifies almsgiving as a means by which one can “cleanse” that which is “inside.” The Pharisees were concerned about cleaning the physical body, but Christ emphasized cleaning the spiritual body. Almsgiving accomplished the washing of the spiritual body "within."

Proverbs elsewhere refers to the impurity and uncleanliness of earthly natives due to sin: "Who can say, "I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin?" (Prov. 20:9) And we already established that such impurity is incompatible with heavenly union with God.


ARE GOOD WORKS SUCH AS ALMSGIVING IN COMPETITION WITH CHRIST'S WORK?

One might ask, if the transformation in purgatory is an "encounter with the Lord," as Cardinal Ratzinger stated, then how can we purge our sins with alms while still on earth? Isn't that something "in addition" to God who alone sanctifies? How can the Biblical text refer to the cleansing power of almsgiving in both the Old and New Testaments!

First, we must remember, that's what texts like Prov. 16:6 or Luke 11:41 say. Second, we must not consider our works done by the power of grace as something alien to, nor in competition with, Christ. Catholic teaching states the following:
In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere "to the end" and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. (CCC#1821)
A Scriptural passage, among other related ones, comes to mind in light of this teaching. First, is the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28). In the parable, the three servants are given gifts by the master. Two servants are fruitful with their gifts. One buries his gift and is sent where there is grinding of teeth, the figure of hell. The two good servants were only able to accomplish anything of value because of the master's gift. Grace is also a gift of God. Cardinal Charles Journet writes:
God is bound to give grace to all, but he is not bound to give it equally. He gives his servants one, two or five talents, to each according to his capacity (Mt. xxv. 15). (Journet, The Meaning of Grace, III.10.g, 1957) 
If a soul should accomplish something of value, such as giving alms as Christ taught in Luke 11, the soul is not detached from Christ when accomplishing the alms. This is also the figure of the Vine and the Branches (John 15:1-10). The branches can bear fruit only if they are attached to the vine. Branches in a vine bear fruit only because they receive the nutrients from the vine. (cf. Council of Trent, 6.16) To deny the value of a Christian's work is to actually deny the power of the source himself!

Peter teaches similarly:
As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace. (1 Peter 4:10)
Just as in the above interpretation of the Parable of the Talents, grace is a gift to be utilized (no matter how "much" one receives). Here, Peter exhorts us to utilize grace for "one another." This fits well with Luke 11 when Christ tells us to give alms. This action is done under the power of grace and is nothing "in addition" to the work of Christ. In the words of St. Augustine:
"[O]nly grace works every one of our good merits in us, and God, when He crowns our merits, crowns nothing other than His own gifts." (Augustine, Epistles 194:5:19)
The Council of Trent uses a similar paraphrase:
God forbid that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself, and not in the Lord, whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits. (Council of Trent, 6.16)
Paul teaches that we are members of one body which is Christ himself (Eph. 1:22-23, Col. 1:24). The love we exhibit in that body is an extension of Christ's love, his very Passion:
If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:17)
...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. (Phil. 3:10)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Pet. 4:12-13)


GOLD & SILVER: HOW DOES PURGATORY FIT IN WITH SANCTIFICATION?

In the previous verse from Peter, I also bolded the phrase "fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you." Fire is frequently used in Scripture to reference purification, often in the context of precious metals. Later in that same letter, Peter writes:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:6-7)
Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich... (Rev. 3:18) 
This idea of being "tested (or refined/tried) by fire" is a reference to the ancient process of smelting. In smelting, a precious metal is exposed to fire. The metal is freed from various impurities that burn at different temperatures. The result is pure gold or silver without bits of valueless debris attached to it. The Old Testament references this imagery as well:
The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. (Psalm 12:6)
Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)
In the whole land, says the LORD, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. (Zech. 13:8-9)
Two of the passages from which St. Augustine derived an understanding of purgatory also involved fire and/or gold and silver. He writes:
From these words it more evidently appears that some shall in the last judgment suffer some kind of purgatorial punishments; for what else can be understood by the word, Who shall abide the day of His entrance, or who shall be able to look upon Him? For He enters as a moulder's fire, and as the herb of fullers: and He shall sit fusing and purifying as if over gold and silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and pour them out like gold and silver? (Mal. 3:2-3) Similarly Isaiah says, The Lord shall wash the filthiness of the sons and daughters of Zion, and shall cleanse away the blood from their midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning. (Is. 4:4) (Augustine, City of God, 20.28, ca 415 A.D.) 
Numerous other texts use the same imagery. Keep this idea in mind: Frequently, Scripture communicates purification through the image of fire and gold or silver.

One of the most common passages pointing to the idea of Purgatory is the one quoted in the opening of this article:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -- each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
Notice the imagery of smelting in the passage. There are six materials that fall into two categories. Gold, silver, and precious stones will survive higher temperatures. Wood, hay, and straw will burn up quickly. The result will be pure gold and silver. At the end of the passage, the figure is equated with what happens to the individual––the worthy soul is "saved" after passing through the fire applied on "the Day."

St. Thomas Aquinas explicitly associates this passage with Purgatory.
[H]e shows the means by which it will be disclosed, namely, by fire; hence he continues: because it shall be revealed with fire, namely, the day of the Lord: for the day of judgment will be revealed in the fire which will precede the face of the judge, burning the face of the world, enveloping the wicked and cleansing the just. Ps 96 (v. 3) says of this: “Fire goes before him, and burns up his adversaries round about.” But the day of the Lord which occurs at death will be revealed in the fire of purgatory, by which the elect will be cleansed, if any require cleansing: Job (23:10) can be interpreted as referring to this fire: “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as god.” (Aquinas, Commentary on Corinthians, 164)
His 13th century work follows a long list of Early Church Fathers who also reference this passage to purgatory after temporal death or speak of purifying fire in general. For example:
In his wisdom God employed contradictory means, that is, he used irrational nature as clothing. The garment of skin has all the properties belonging to an irrational nature: pleasure, anger, gluttony, greed, and similar tendencies which allow man to choose between virtue and evil. Man lives by his free will. If he concludes that his nature is irrational and opts for a better manner of life, he cleanses his present existence which is contaminated by evil and vanquishes irrationality through reason. But if man follows his irrational passions with the help of the skins belonging to irrational beasts, he will be advised in another way to choose the good after his departure from the body because he now knows how good differs from evil. He can only partake of the divinity unless he has purged his soul of filth by the cleansing fire.  (St. Gregory of Nyssa, Concerning Those Who Have Died (aka "Sermon on the Dead"), ca 382 A.D.)
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) built upon the precedent of cleansing fire and smelting:
If [Purgatory] is understood in a properly Christian way when it is grasped christologically, in terms of the Lord himself as the judging fire which transforms us and conforms us to his own glorified body, then we shall come to a very different conclusion [than theologian Gnilka who denied a purgatorial interpretation of 1 Cor. 3:10-15]. Does not the real Christianizing of the early Jewish notion of a purging fire lie precisely in the insight that the purification involved does not happen through some thing, but through the transforming power of the Lord himself, whose burning flame cuts free our closed-off heart, melting it, and pouring it into a new mold to make it fit for the living organism of his body? (Ratzinger, Eschatology, p. 229, 1988)
The consistent point in these interpretations related to 1 Cor. 3 are that the purpose of the cleansing fire is to make us fit for heaven.

An objection to the traditional understanding of 1 Cor 3:10-15
One may encounter non-Catholic objections to the traditional understanding of 1 Cor. 3:10-15. 19th century Protestant theologian Adam Clarke offers some objections still in use today:
If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss - If he have preached the necessity of incorporating the law with the Gospel, or proclaimed as a doctrine of God any thing which did not proceed from heaven, he shall suffer loss - all his time and labor will be found to be uselessly employed and spent. (Clarke, Commentary on 1 Corinthians)
Clarke limits the application of the passage to preachers alone. Yet the greater text belies this conclusion. Paul begins the excerpt by referring to the foundation laid by his ministry, followed by the ministry of Apollos, and growth caused by God (3:5-8), which includes Paul's audience, "God's field." (v. 9) The passage is then immediately followed with "Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit dwells in you?" (v. 16) This of course would apply to any Christian. Clarke's interpretation overlooks that all Christians have a responsibility to build upon the laid foundation that is Christ. But in Paul's theology, all those with the Spirit are called to "building up the church." (1 Cor. 14:12, cf. Eph 4:11-12) Clarke concludes the "loss" suffered by the preacher is likely the waste of "his time and labor." Yet this does not appear in the text, nor does it account for v. 15 which states that the person will go through fire.

Clarke continues with an explicit rejection of purgatory.
The popish writers have applied what is here spoken to the fire of purgatory ... The fire mentioned here is to try the man's work, not to purify his soul; but the dream of purgatory refers to the purging in another state what left this impure; not the work of the man, but the man himself; but here the fire is said to try the work: ergo, purgatory is not meant even if such a place as purgatory could be proved to exist; which remains yet to be demonstrated. 
Here, Clarke disembodies the work from the man. He seems to only read the first half of verse 15 but not the second: "If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." In Clarke's understanding, the work and the man are separate alien things. Yet Paul states that the person will be saved "through fire." Elsewhere, Paul uses language expressing the commingling of a work with a person. For example, in his same letter to the Corinthians: "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful." (1 Cor. 13:4) A person is patient or kind. Love cannot exist without a person to exercise it. If we read 1 Cor. 13:4 with the eye Clarke uses for 1 Cor. 3, we would have to say love, and not the person exercising it, is patient or kind. Yet Paul is describing a person by the person's work. If we go back to 1 Cor. 3:15, it now makes sense. The fire will try the works, as in the person with regard to his/her works.

Pope Benedict XVI (the former Cardinal Ratzinger), recognizes this feature of the text in an encyclical:
In this text, 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. (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 46)
Perhaps Clarke's greatest failure in interpretation is in neglecting the figure of purification in the passage––smelting gold and silver. Refer again to the passages at the start of the section labeled "Gold & Silver." Paul echoes the Scriptural tradition of purifying precious metals. Clarke's opposition to purification in the passage also places him at odds with the many ECFs (linked above) who recognize the purifying quality of the imagery.


PURGATORY ILLUSTRATED
In order to capture the basic idea of purgatory, perhaps a visual demonstration may also help.



Certainly, additional Scripture could be cited to support the positions in the above illustration. Of interest, the famous Christian apologist C.S. Lewis embraced the idea of purgatory for the very reason that he acknowledged unclean stains remnant on earth-faring humans.
Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.' (C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964, p. 108-109)
In basic form, the idea unfolds thusly: At Point A, the terrestrial soul retains blemishes and failures, incurs temporal consequences of sin, and remains prone to sin. At Point B, the heavenly soul has been ever purified from such imperfections. Simple reasoning recognizes the necessary transformation from Point A to Point B, simply because Point A and Point B are different. To go from unclean to clean, a cleansing must occur.

As Cardinal Ratzinger put it:
The essential Christian understanding of Purgatory has now become clear. ... It is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints. (Ratzinger, Eschatology, p. 230)

DOES PURGATORY TAKE "TIME"?
Historically, Christians have sometimes referred to measurements of "time" in purgatory.  For instance:
What years of Purgatory will there be for those Christians who have no difficulty at all in deferring their prayers to another time on the excuse of having to do some pressing work! If we really desired the happiness of possessing God, we should avoid the little faults as well as the big ones, since separation from God is so frightful a torment to all these poor souls! (St. John Vianney (1786-1859), Sermon on Purgatory)
However, to measure purgatory by the units of some worldly clock is not part of the essential doctrine. Notice that even in St. John Vianney's excerpt, his reference to "years" corresponds to the severity of faults that need purgation. His theology is accurate insofar as the figure he uses. To give a parallel example, think of how many Christians have referred to heaven "above" or hell "below." Yet the doctrines referenced in this language are not bound to certain geographic altitudes that can be terrestrially located. In similar fashion, the cry of the historical Christian about how "long in purgatory" a soul must spend traditionally corresponds to severity of purgation commensurate with the sinful stains that need cleansing.

Cardinal Ratzinger likewise recognized that earthly time is not part of the doctrine:

The transforming 'moment' of this encounter [Purgatory] cannot be quantified by the measurements of earthly time. It is, indeed, not eternal but a transition, and yet trying to qualify it as of 'short' or 'long' duration on the basis of temporal measurements derived from physics would be naive and unproductive. The 'temporal measure' of this encounter lies in the unsoundable depths of existence, in a passing-over where we are burned ere we are transformed. To measure such Existenzzeit, such an 'existential time,' in terms of the time of this world would be to ignore the specificity of the human spirit in its simultaneous relationship with, and differentation from, the world. (Ratzinger, Eschatology, p. 230)


IF PURGATORY IS AN ENCOUNTER BETWEEN A SOUL AND CHRIST, HOW CAN WE "INTERFERE" BY PRAYING FOR THE DEAD?
In both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, prayers for the dead are common (cf. Macc. 12:38-45; 2 Tim. 1:16-18). Now, reasonably speaking, those in heaven do not need our prayers, and those eternally lost cannot be helped by our prayers. The prayers are therefore offered for those temporarily in some other condition. The Catechism teaches thusly:
From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. (CCC#1032)
Certainly, a third party praying for someone's well being is grounded firmly in Scripture, as even Paul requested others pray for him (see references in prior post Praying to Saints: A Visual Aid). Think also of the above mention of how Christians are members of the same, singular body, which is Christ's body. There is nothing alien about members of the body offering prayers for one another.

Pope Benedict confronts the question directly in his encyclical:
Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no 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. (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 48)

21 comments:

  1. Nice writing, about half way through it and had a question.By the definition, which you cited, it says that purgatory is after death. Yet, I have always wonder if it could be suffer before death. You cite King David and the Prophet Nathan as an example, so do you think that it is possible? I am not trying to disagree with your church of course, since it is clearly the final authority. During my more mystical period in life, I was inflicted with great past sins and had ask a Priest if it was possible and he had reply that he thought so. Any thoughts?

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  2. Hi, Donald - yes, we can certainly be sanctified here on earth as the King David example, or the Hebrews 12 example, or many other examples of suffering in this life demonstrate. These instances are forms of what we call sanctification. The idea of Purgatory is sanctification after death. As far as I know, it is the Church's current understanding that a soul in Purgatory cannot pray for him/herself like a person on earth could. (e.g. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/how-to-help-the-holy-souls-in-purgatory/) All the more that we should pray that they be finally loosened from all stains of sin!

    God bless! :)

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  3. Thanks for clearing that up in my head, don't have confusion(which is of the Devil) but a serious lack of knowledge in the theology sense of matters. Plenty of mysticism(Catholic type) experiences which I only pay-mind to if I can find a Saint of the Church or a decent theologian to help explain matters....that way, I know that it is just the Holy Spirit guiding me and not man(self included) or that snake-in-the-grass(Satan). Thanks again and I will ask all of those(Saints&Angels) who have personally help me this far in life to give you a Special Blessing.

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  4. Ha! Those are great graphics! I teach catechism and draw that sort of stuff during class.

    Your molten gold reminds me of an image I refer to in our Isaiah class:

    http://platytera.blogspot.com/2010/11/isaiah.html

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  5. Thank you! Yes, the graphic in your link is similar. The coal-bearing Seraphim of Isaiah is a great example of fire and the purification of sin going hand-in-hand.

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  6. Purgatory is real!! wether it be here on earth for certain ppl or after death where many many if not most will go.

    The bible says that any man that is chastised by God becomes like a son. And those who have not been chastized for ye are like bastards. For who is a son of God without chastisment?

    When Jesus died he decended down to all the ppl who where in prison/purgatory from the days of noah and preached to them so they too would come to heaven one day. The lenght of yrs from the time of Jesus and the time of noah is very very long, all stuck in prison/purgatory.

    Job had his purgatory on earth and he was the only one on the face of the earth who walked perfectly with God. Look what he went through, how many ppl here can say they are as holy as job? none!

    To truly know the truth is to know a period of long suffering. It is through long suffering wherefore wisdom is earned.

    Everyone will go through purgatory! you'll see!




























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  7. I think this is a pretty good exposition of Purgatory-Lite, as opposed to the traditional conception which seems more like a temporary hell. My first observation would be this. If I were reading a Protestant systematic theology and took out the word "sanctification" and inserted the word "purgatory," I'd pretty much end up with what you've written here. Except for one thing: What about the personal atonement/satisfaction/temporal guilt-due-to-sin piece? That's still part of the "essence" of purgatory even if the "fire" and the "time spent there" parts can all be reinterpreted in a way more palatable to moderns.

    My second observation is this: You make much of the "temporal consequences" that often follow sin. But are these part of Divine Justice? That is, are these punishments that God imposes so that we can satisfy guilt? I ask, because it seems like a category confusion to equate temporal consequences with divine punishment.

    Third observation: I think you're right that we Protestants can often approach this topic in falsely dichotomous ways. So when you point out that there is no necessary conflict between giving alms and Christ's work on the cross, or Fatherly discipline and Christ's work on the cross, etc., I find myself agreeing with you.

    But--and here's the thing--If we're right about distinguishing our status before God (justification) from our individual progress (sanctification), and we are, then to conflate the two into one category as Rome does, may explain why we're so confused about purgatory.

    Here is what I mean by that: I agree with you that there is a certain "degree" of holiness required for entry into heaven, namely absolute perfection. But I disagree with you that this is attainable in this life or in the next. So I'm banking with Paul that it is better to boast, "not in a righteousness of my own" but rather that which comes from God. If we're right, then we already have that perfect righteousness by imputation. If we're right, then we're already clean. So we don't have to attain that perfect standard on our own; rather it has already been attained by Jesus on our behalf.

    But here's where we haven't thought it all the way through. Rome has a theory to explain the change from our earthly existence to our heavenly existence. Rome understands that the process of sanctification must have a postmortem component and that this most likely involves some kind of pain and suffering (perhaps including even the process of death itself). This is why I think Protestants may need to do more work on how sanctification actually is completed if it isn't complete this side of heaven.

    I for one think we can borrow some of Rome's good ideas. But we would need to screen out some of its bad ones. In other words, Rome's purgatory needs its own purgatory before it would be acceptable to us. We can start with the concept of personal atonement/satisfaction for the temporal punishment due to sins. That's just got to go. Unfortunately not even Purgatory-Lite has purged this part of the doctrine, and so it finally remains a false doctrine, albeit with some salvageable true components.

    Other than that, great article! If time permits, I'll try to give you a more sustained reply to some of the particular points you make on my own blog (http://fallibility.blogspot.com/). But it is a long article, so I don't know that I could do it the justice it deserves. Perhaps I'll just comment on some parts of it--your use of scripture, for example, which I found mostly problematic.

    Blessings to you!
    Mike Taylor

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  8. Temporal "consequences" and "punishments" are generally interchangeable terms. So I think I did address temporal consequences, and whether it is because God permits us to suffer here or in the presence of purgation in Purgatory, it is his work, and it is in Him we boast. No qualms there.

    Catholics do not embrace imputed righteousness for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you've heard some. But just one theological example is how when Jesus "healed" someone physically, the person was truly healed, not simply declared healed. When Jesus "heals" someone spiritually, that person is truly healed, grace actually does heal, the person is not simply "declared" healed when he is not truly healed. The story about the paralytic through the ceiling is an excellent example of the Gospels juxtaposing the signs of physical and spiritual healing.

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  9. Hello,

    You said: But just one theological example is how when Jesus "healed" someone physically, the person was truly healed, not simply declared healed. When Jesus "heals" someone spiritually, that person is truly healed, grace actually does heal, the person is not simply "declared" healed when he is not truly healed. The story about the paralytic through the ceiling is an excellent example of the Gospels juxtaposing the signs of physical and spiritual healing.

    Yeah, I saw that example in your article, but it didn't "work" for me at the time because, healing and justification aren't the same thing. In retrospect, I think I can now pin down the reason why I don't think your example refutes imputation. Healing, in its deepest spiritual sense, belongs to sanctification (our progress in growing into Christ). Justification, however, is our standing or status before God and it is not a process, but rather an event. This we have by imputation because the righteous demands of the law that no one in Israel (or outside) could ever fulfill were fulfilled by Jesus, the true Israel on our behalf. So vis-a-vis God's justice, we stand acquitted and justified. God no longer imputes the penalty of sin to us, but rather imputes the righteousness of Christ to us, with respect to our legal standing in God's tribunal. But the "legal" metaphor is only one among many that Scripture uses. It's but one facet of our salvation. There are many more to consider, including our actual holiness. This, as I think all parties agree, is a process of gradual transformation.

    So yes, when Christ heals us, it's a real healing, not a legal one. The healing actually takes place, it's not imputed to us. So ultimately I'd say it's just a category mistake to put all facets of salvation under the heading of imputed righteousness. To the extent that Protestants give Roman Catholic the impression that this is all salvation is, we surely err. But to say that imputation isn't there at all, as many in Rome now do, is likewise just as wrong.

    It seems to me that Roman Catholics like Newman and Schmaus attempted to combine Tridentine justification with elements of Protestant imputation. So what God *declares* actually takes effect, ontologically speaking. Thus you are legally righteous in God's court of law, but a genuine substance of righteousness or holiness actually adheres to your soul. It's an intriguing theory, but one that seems to be born out of the necessity of reconciling Trent to the Bible. Paul, on the other hand, had so such categories of substance and accident to work with; rather he uses dikaoo in its declarative sense as virtually all New Testament scholars (regardless of confession) now acknowledge.

    But not to worry. For if you asked Paul if he thought that it was good enough to simply be declared righteous and that there was no imperative to actually become what we've been declared to be, two words come to mind: me genoito! (May it never be!). The example of Paul's life testifies to the fact that the Christian life is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. There are many on your side of the Tiber who are doing that much better than we are, whether they have the right theological theory properly grasped in the intellect or not.

    Blessings to you,

    Mike Taylor

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  10. Was just scouring the web for a good visual of purgatory to use for my students (8th grade) during a lesson on the saints tomorrow and, wah-la, found this page! And I'm certainly glad I did! Your visual will be a great help tomorrow.

    Thanks, and keep up the great work for the Lord!

    In Christ,
    Greg Aitchison
    http://catholicreligionteacher.com

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  11. Thanks, Greg - I hope it is helpful!

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  12. Hello
    This was very useful to me coming from a Protestant background. I am finding that in spite of what I have always heard it is Catholic theology that actually is more true to Scripture.

    My Protestant friends often bring up the episode of the Good Thief in reference to Purgatory asking "if purgatory is necessary how could Jesus promise a sinner, however repentant, that he would be with Him in paradise this very day?" I realize this is an older blog post but I am wondering if you have any thoughts about how this instance seems to disprove the idea of Purgatory. Thanks!

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  13. To add o my comment above: I did understand (sort of) the point about earthly time duration not really applying and that the process could take place in an instant. But in that case why would it help the dead that we pray for them if their purgation happened in an instant and is now in the past?

    A friend of mine was quite emotionally disturbed and took his own life months ago. I would like to pray for him and some other people who have passed but if they are no longer in Purgatory because the refining purgation happened in an instant, then they are in heaven and there is no longer any need to pray for them. If the process does take time then what about the Good Thief? I am asking because I really need to know. Thanks!

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  14. Hello, Anonymous. A few things about the Good Thief story.
    1. Using the good thief to disprove Purgatory does not wipe out the other Scriptures that refer to our purification, as described above and other apologetics. Thus the "proof" is a guess that fails the scrutiny of other texts.
    2. It is possible the Good Thief did not go to purgatory. After all, he made his confession, received his forgiveness, and certainly endured tremendous suffering on the cross for the remaining minutes of his life––if he offered that up, he could have offered due penance for his sins.
    3. You mentioned "in an instant" - but if you refer back up to my article about whether or not Purgatory "takes time," you will see that in Catholic theology it is not necessary to measure Purgatory in earthly time measurements. What may seem like an instant here could be many "years" (for lack of a better word) in Purgatory, or some sort of equivalence. As the above article describes, it can be counterproductive to try to impose some physical time measurement on an event that is a mystery to us.

    So ultimately, the Good Thief may or may not have gone to Purgatory. This passage does not tell us one way or the other. I would certainly pray for your friend.

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  15. p.s. As to your second comment about "in the past," God, who receives our prayers, exists without the boundaries of time. Any prayer God receives, He can effect as He wills, to any person, time, or place. So I encourage you to avoid using earthly time concepts when thinking about Purgatory.

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  16. Thank you- that makes sense. I will continue to pray for my friend and others who have passed as an expression of hopeful expectation on their behalf and also in affirmation of that interconnectedness that pope Benedict wrote so beautifully about in the quote above.

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  17. Purgatory was invented by the church to scare people and to take their money. There are no references to it in the Bible. Nor is it to hell. Gehenna was a valley outside Jerusalem.

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  18. Anonymous - Thanks for visiting. The first two sentences you make are rebutted in the above blog post.

    And hell is indeed not the same as purgatory - Catholics do not claim otherwise.

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  19. Awesome! This is so informative and timely. Thanks foro your efforts to share this.

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  20. Come back to me 2012, i missed you! you were the best years of my life. ;-;

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