Friday, October 14, 2005

Reflections on Penance and Purgatory

[From the 1994 early draft version of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism]

"P" = Protestant


1. Penance

A. John A. Hardon, S.J.

"The virtue or disposition of heart by which one repents of one's own sins and is converted to God. Also the punishment by which one atones for sins committed, either by oneself or by others. And finally the sacrament of penance, where confessed sins committed after baptism are absolved by a priest in the name of God." (6:320)

B. Ludwig Ott

"The virtue of penance, which is insistently recommended in both the Old and New Testaments . . ., and which at all times was a necessary precondition for the forgiveness of sins, is that moral virtue, which inclines the will to turn away inwardly from sin, and to render atonement to God for it. It consists in sorrow of the soul for sins committed, in as much as sin is an insult to God, together with a purpose of amendment. External manifestations of the virtue of penance are the confession of sins, the performance of penitential works of every kind, for example, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, mortifications, and the patient bearing of all trials sent by God." (4:416)

2. Mortification

A. John A. Hardon, S.J.

"The practice of Christian asceticism in order to overcome sin and master one's sinful tendencies, and through penance and austerity to strengthen the will in the practice of virtue and grow in the likeness of Christ. Natural mortification is a normal part of self-discipline; supernatural mortification, based on faith, seeks to grow in holiness through merit gained by co-operating with the grace of God." (6:271)

3. Indulgences

A. John A. Hardon, S.J.

"'The remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned, which the follower of Christ with the proper dispositions and under certain determined conditions acquires through the intervention of the Church, which, as minister of the redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the saints' (Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences).

"As originally understood, an indulgence was a mitigation of the severe canonical penances imposed on the faithful for grave sins . . .

"The measure of how efficacious an indulgenced work is depends on two things: the supernatural charity with which the indulgenced task is done, and the perfection of the task itself .
. .

"Indulgences can always be applied to the dead by way of suffrage, asking God to remit their sufferings if they are still in purgatory." (6:193-194)

"Indulgences presuppose (1) a retributive basis for divine justice, i.e., that sins must have a penalty either on earth or in purgatory, even (it may be) after the sinner has been reconciled with God by sacramental absolution; (2) the existence of the `treasury of merits,' i.e., the infinite merits of Christ, together with the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, which the Church possesses in virtue of the communion of saints; (3) the belief that the Church, by her power of jurisdiction, has the right of administering the benefit of these merits in consideration of the prayers or other pious works undertaken by the faithful." (5:561-562)

"Indulgences presuppose (1) a retributive basis for divine justice, i.e., that sins must have a penalty either on earth or in purgatory, even (it may be) after the sinner has been reconciled with God by sacramental absolution; (2) the existence of the `treasury of merits,' i.e., the infinite merits of Christ, together with the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, which the Church possesses in virtue of the communion of saints; (3) the belief that the Church, by her power of jurisdiction, has the right of administering the benefit of these merits in consideration of the prayers or other pious works undertaken by the faithful." (5:561-562)

A. Bertrand Conway
"Not only must the sinner be truly sorry for his sins, he must also make satisfaction for them. Even when sins have been pardoned by God, there often remains the liability to temporal punishment to atone for the injury done Him, and to bring about the sinner's reformation. God often requires Satisfaction of the sinner for the transgression of His laws, both natural and supernatural. The impure man may be forgiven his sin, and yet be punished for his immorality by ill health; the murderer may be pardoned his crime, and yet have to expiate it in the electric chair. The Scriptures tell us that God pardoned Adam his disobedience, the Israelites in the desert their murmuring and idolatry, Moses his lack of faith, and David his murder, adultery and pride; but they were all severely punished by Him (Gen 3:19; Exod 22:14,27; Num 14:20-23; 20:12; Deut 32:51-52; 2 Sam 12:13-14, ch. 24). St. Paul also speaks of sickness and death as temporal punishments for unworthy communions (1 Cor 11:30-32)." (9:293)

B. John A. Hardon, S.J.

"It is a divinely revealed truth that sins bring punishments inflicted by God's sanctity and justice. These must be expiated either on this earth through the sorrows, miseries, and trials of life, and above all through death, or else through purifying penalties in the life beyond. Moreover, they are to be expiated either by the sinner himself or also by others who make reparation, as far as possible, in his stead.

"The just and merciful God imposes these punishments for the purification of souls, the defense of the sanctity of the moral order, and the restoration of his glory to its full majesty. Every sin, we believe, causes a disturbance in the order established by God, along with the destruction of precious values within the sinner and in the human community. Christians have always regarded sin not only as a transgression of the divine law, which it is; they have also seen it as disregard for the friendship between God and man, an offense against the Creator, and an ungrateful rejection of the love of God shown us in so many ways but especially in the person of Jesus Christ.

"To obtain full remission of sins, therefore, two things are necessary. Friendship with God must be re-established by a sincere conversion of heart, and amends must be made for the injustice committed against his goodness. In addition, however, all the personal and social values and even those of the universal nature that have been diminished or destroyed by sin, must somehow be repaired. Call this reparation or reintegration. The important thing is that the restoration be done either by voluntarily `making up' for the wrong done or freely accepting the punishments demanded by an all-wise and holy Lord. As the Scriptures so eloquently declare, the very existence and gravity of the punishment should impress us with the folly and gravity of sin and its harmful consequences to mankind." (5:560-561)

C. Ludwig Ott
"The virtue of penance, which is insistently recommended in both the Old and New Testaments (cf. Ezek 18:21 ff.; 33:11; Jer 18:11; 25:5 ff.; Joel 2:12 ff.; Matt 3:2; 4:17; Acts 2:38), and which at all times was a necessary precondition for the forgiveness of sins, is that moral virtue, which inclines the will to turn away inwardly from sin, and to render atonement to God for it. It consists in sorrow of the soul for sins committed, in as much as sin is an insult to God, together with a purpose of amendment. External manifestations of the virtue of penance are the confession of sins, the performance of penitential works of every kind, for example, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, mortifications, and the patient bearing of all trials sent by God." (4:416)

"The faithful on earth can, by their good works performed in the state of grace, render atonement for one another.

"The effect of the atonement is the remission of temporal punishment for sin. The possibility of vicarious atonement is founded in the unity of the Mystical Body. As Christ, the Head, in His expiatory sufferings, took the place of the members, so also one member can take the place of another. The doctrine of indulgences is based on the possibility and reality of vicarious atonement . . .

"Even in the Old Testament the idea of vicarious atonement by innocent persons for guilty is known. The innocent person takes on himself responsibility for the displeasure of God which the guilty person has merited, in order by sacrifice to win again the Divine favour for the latter. Moses offers himself to God as a sacrifice for the people who sinned (Ex 32:32). Job brings God a burnt offering, in order to expiate the sins of his children (Job 1:5). Isaiah prophesies the vicarious suffering of atonement of Christ as a ransom, as an offering in atonement for the sins of mankind. The Apostle Paul teaches that also the faithful can rend expiation for one another. Col 1:24: `Who now rejoice in my suffering for you and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ in my flesh for His body, which is the Church.' 2 Cor 12:15: `But I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls.' 2 Tim 4:6: `I am even now ready to be sacrificed' (that is, to suffer a martyr's death) . . .

"The possibility of meriting for others is based on the friendship of God for the just, and on the communion of saints. More effective than such merit is prayer for others. Cf. James 5:16: `Pray for one another, that you may be saved, for the continual prayer of a just man availeth much' (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-4)." (4:317,269)

D. Council of Trent (1545-63)

Session 14, November 25, 1551

On the Most Holy Sacrament of Penance and Extreme Unction

Chapter 8: "On the Necessity and on the Fruit of Satisfaction"

"Finally, as regards satisfaction, - which as it is, of all the parts of penance, that which has been at all times recommended to the Christian people by our Fathers, . . . - the holy synod declares that it is wholly false, and alien from the word of God, that the guilt is never forgiven by the Lord without the whole punishment also being therewith pardoned. For clear and illustrious examples are found in the Sacred Writings (Gen 3:16 ff., Num 12:14 ff., 20:11 ff., 2 Sam 12:13 ff., etc.), whereby, besides by divine tradition, this error is refuted in the plainest manner possible . . .

"For, doubtless, these satisfactory punishments greatly recall from sin and check as it were with a bridle and make penitents more cautious and watchful for the future; they are also remedies for the remains of sin, and, by acts of the opposite virtues, they remove the habits acquired by evil living. Neither indeed was there ever in the Church of God any way accounted surer to turn aside the impending chastisement of the Lord than that men should, with true sorrow of mind, practise these works of penitence (Matt 3:8, 4:17, 11:21, etc.). Add to these things that, whilst we thus, by making satisfaction, suffer for our sins, we are made conformable to Jesus Christ, Who satisfied for our sins (Rom 5:10, 1 Jn 2:1 ff.), from Whom all are sufficiency is (2 Cor 3:5); having also thereby a most sure pledge that, if we suffer with Him, we shall also be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17). But neither is this satisfaction, which we discharge for our sins, so our own as not to be through Jesus Christ. For we who can do nothing of ourselves, as of ourselves, can do all things, He cooperating who strengthens us (Phil 4:13). Thus, man has not wherein to glory, but all our glorying is in Christ (1 Cor 1:31, 2 Cor 10:17, Gal 6:14): in Whom we live; in Whom we merit (cf. Acts 17:28); in Whom we satisfy; bringing forth fruits worthy of penance (Lk 3:8), which from Him have their efficacy; by Him are offered to the Father; and through Him are accepted by the Father . . .

"For the ancient Fathers likewise both believe and teach that the keys of the priests were given, not to loose only, but also to bind (Matt 16:19, 18:18, Jn 20:23). But not, therefore, did they imagine that the Sacrament of Penance is a tribunal of wrath or of punishments; even as no Catholic ever thought that, by this kind of satisfactions on our parts, the efficacy of the merit and of the satisfaction of our Lord Jesus Christ is either obscured or in any way lessened; which when the innovators seek to understand, they in such wise maintain a new life to be the best penance as to take away the entire efficacy and use of satisfaction." (7:104-108)

Canons on the Most Holy Sacrament of Penance

Canon III

"If anyone saith that those words of the Lord the Saviour: `Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained,' (Jn 20:22 ff.) are not to be understood of the power of forgiving and of retaining sins in the sacrament of Penance, as the Catholic Church has always from the beginning understood them; but wrests them, contrary to the institution of this sacrament, to the power of preaching the Gospel; let him be anathema." (7:115-116)

Canon XII

"If anyone saith that God always remits the whole punishment together with the guilt, and that the satisfaction of penitents is no other than the faith whereby they apprehend that Christ has satisfied for them; let him be anathema." (7:120)

Canon XIV

"If anyone saith that the satisfactions by which penitents redeem their sins through Jesus Christ are not a worship of God, but traditions of men, which obscure the doctrine of grace and the true worship of God and the benefit itself of the death of Christ; let him be anathema." (7:120-121)

E. Atonement in the Old Testament (New Bible Dictionary) (P)

"Atonement is secured, not by any value inherent in the sacrificial victim, but because sacrifice is the divinely appointed way of securing atonement . . . The victims cost something, for atonement is not cheap, and sin is never to be taken lightly . . . There are several allusions to atonement, either effected or contemplated by means other than the cultus . . . Thus in Ex 32:30-32 Moses seeks to make an atonement for the sin of the people . . . Phinehas made an atonement by slaying certain transgressors (Num 25:6-8,13). Other passages might be cited." (11:108)

F. Philippians 3:10

"That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death."

G. Colossians 1:24
"Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church."

i) The German Bishops

"Christians can answer for one another by prayer and penance and thereby complete for the body of Jesus Christ, the Church, `what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ' (Col 1:24). Of course, it is not as if Jesus Christ had not done enough for our redemption by his suffering and death. He did more than enough. But he lets us participate in the effects of his saving work so that we may do something on behalf of others for their salvation." (3:348)

ii) George Leo Haydock

"St. Chrysostom: The wisdom, the will, the justice of Jesus Christ, requires and ordains that his body and members should be companions of his sufferings, as they expect to be companions of his glory; that so suffering with him, and after his example, they may apply to their own wants and to the necessities of others the merits and satisfaction of Jesus Christ, which application is what is wanting, and what we are permitted to supply by the sacraments and sacrifice of the new law." (14:1555)

iii) Wycliffe Bible Commentary (P)
"This idea is to be understood from the standpoint of the Hebrew concept of corporate personality illustrated in Jesus' graphic statement concerning his church, `Why persecutest thou me?' (Acts 9:4) . . . Union with Christ involves ipso facto union with Christ's sufferings: [cites Rom 8:17] . . . The corporate `in Christ' reality (Gal 2:20) is to be actualized in individual Christians; thus Paul can speak even of his own death as a sacrifice (Phil 2:17; 2 Tim 4:6)." (13:1339)

iv) New Bible Commentary (P)

"Christ is still suffering through the sufferings of His people. What Paul endures is therefore an extension of the sufferings of Christ. These sufferings are on behalf of the body, the church as a whole, not just the local community." (12:1145)

v) New Bible Dictionary (P)

"Suffering can have a new meaning for those who are members of the body of Christ. They can share in the sufferings of Christ (2 Cor 1:5 ff.; Mk 10:39; Rom 8:17), and regard themselves as pledged to a career or vocation of suffering (Phil 1:29; 1 Peter 5:1-2), since the members of the body must be conformed to the Head in this respect (Phil 3:10; Rom 8:29) as well as in respect of His glory . . . It is entirely by grace, and not in any way by necessity [also the Catholic teaching], that the sufferings in which His people participate with Him can be spoken of as filling up what is lacking in His affliction (Col 1:24), and as giving fellowship in His vicarious and redemptive suffering." (11:1221)

A. Peter Kreeft
"The origin of the Reformation is often said to be Luther's act of nailing ninety-five theses against the sale of indulgences to the door of the church in Wittenberg. This event is celebrated as Reformation Day (October 31, 1517) . . .

"But the scandal of selling indulgences was only the catalyst, not the cause, of the Reformation. The Church soon cleaned up its act and forbade the sale of indulgences at the Council of Trent, agreeing with Luther on this point. But one does not split the Church over a practice; one splits the Church over a doctrine, for the Church can change its practice but never its doctrine. To change a practice, one stays in the Church; to change a doctrine, one must start a new Church." (15:278)

B. The German Bishops
"For a deeper understanding of the doctrine of indulgences underlying the practice, one must first be clear that sin has a double consequence. Serious sin breaks communion with God and forfeits eternal life (the eternal punishment of sin). But it also wounds and poisons the union of man with God, as well as man's life in the human community (the temporal punishment of sin). Neither punishment of sin is `dictated' externally by God; both follow intrinsically from the very essence of sin. The remission of the eternal punishment of sin is effected in the forgiveness of the guilt and the restoration of communion with God. Yet the temporal consequences of sin remain. The Christian must strive to accept these temporal punishments of sin from God's hand in patient endurance of suffering, distress, toil, and finally in conscious acceptance of death. He should struggle to throw off the `old man' and to put on the `new man' through works of mercy and of love, as well as through prayer and different forms of penance (Eph 4:22-24).

"The Church offers the Christian another path to tread in the gracious communion of the Church. The Christian who purifies and sanctifies himself with the help of God's grace does not stand alone. He is a member of the Body of Christ. In Christ, all Christians are one great communion. `If one member suffers, all members suffer with it' (1 Cor 12:26). What is called the treasury of the Church or the treasury of grace is communal participation in the goods of salvation that Jesus Christ and the saints with the help of his grace have earned. In granting an indulgence, the Church speaks on behalf of the individual Christian with her authority to bind and loose as conferred on her by Jesus Christ. The Church authoritatively assigns the penitent a portion of the treasury of merits of Christ and the saints for the remission of sin's temporal punishment. In doing so, the Church wants not only to aid the individual, but also to spur him on to works of piety, penance, and love. Since the faithful departed who are in a state of purification are also members of the one communion of saints, we can support them by way of intercession as they suffer the temporal punishment for their sin." (3:305-306)

C. Pope Paul VI
"[The treasury of the Church] is not like a sum of goods which were amassed in the course of the centuries after the manner of material riches. Rather, it consists in the infinite and inexhaustible value that the atonement and merits of Christ, the Lord, have before God . . . The treasury of th Church is Christ the Redeemer himself insofar as the satisfaction and merits of his work of redemption have their permanence and validity in him. Furthermore, the truly immeasurable, inexhaustible, and always new value that the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints possess before God also belong to this treasury. They have followed in the footsteps of Christ, the Lord; by his grace, they have sanctified themselves and completed the work entrusted to them by the Father. Thus have they worked their own salvation and contributed also to the salvation of their brothers in the unity of the mystical body." (1)

D. James Cardinal Gibbons
"We cannot please our opponents. If we fast and give alms; if we crucify our flesh, and make pilgrimages and perform other works of penance, we are accused of clinging to the rags of dead works, instead of `holding on to Jesus' by faith. If, on the other hand, we enrich our souls with the treasures of Indulgences we are charged with relying on the vicarious merits of others and of lightening too much the salutary burden of the cross. But how can Protestants consistently find fault with the Church for mitigating the austerities of penance, since their own fundamental principle rests on faith alone without good works?" (2:311)

E. Ludwig Ott
"Pope Leo X in the indulgence Decretal `Cum postquam' (1518), bases the Church's power to grant Indulgences on the power of the keys. This must not be understood as referring in the narrow sense to the power of forgiving sins, but rather as referring in the wider sense to the jurisdiction of the Church . . . By its very nature an Indulgence is not a pure act of grace, in which the temporal punishment for sin is remitted gratis without anything being done in return: it implies compensation drawn from the treasury of satisfaction amassed by Christ and by the Saints. The Bishops of the Christian communion are entitled to distribute this spiritual treasure among the faithful. The possibility of vicarious satisfaction derives from the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints." (4:441)

F. Karl Adam
"The Church in virtue of her power of binding and loosing may supplement the poverty of one member out of the wealth of another . . . All the main ideas upon which the doctrine of indulgences is based - the necessity of expiation for sin, the co-operative expiation of the members of the Body of Christ, the Church's power so to bind and loose on earth that her action is valid in heaven - all these ideas are contained in holy Scripture. So that although the historical form of the indulgence has undergone some change . . . and may in the future undergo further change, and although the theology of indulgences has only been gradually elaborated, yet in its substance the doctrine is in line with the pure thought of the Scriptures. Here, as in no other practice of the Church, do the members of the Body of Christ co-operate in loving expiation. All the earnestness and joyfulness, humility and contrition, love and fidelity, which animate the Body are here especially combined and manifested." (1:127-128)

G) James Cardinal Gibbons

"The prerogative of granting Indulgence has been exercised by the teachers of the Church from the beginning of her existence.

"St. Paul exercised it in behalf of the incestuous Corinthian whom he had condemned to a severe penance proportioned to his guilt, `that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord' (1 Cor 5:5). And having learned afterwards of the Corinthian's fervent contrition the Apostle absolves him from the penance which he had imposed (2 Cor 2:6-10).

"Here we have all the elements that constitute an Indulgence. First - A penance, or temporal punishment proportioned to the gravity of the offence, is imposed on the transgressor. Second - The penitent is truly contrite for his crime. Third - This determines the Apostle to remit the penalty. Fourth - The Apostle considers the relaxation of the penance ratified by Jesus Christ, in whose name it is imparted." (2:308-309)

H) George Leo Haydock

"[v.10] The apostle here granted an indulgence, or pardon, in the person, and by the authority of Christ, to the incestuous Corinthian, whom before he had put under penance: which pardon consisted in a releasing of part of the temporal punishment due to his sin . . .

"[v.11] In the name and in the person of Christ, I ordered him to be excommunicated; in the same, I order him now to be re-admitted into your communion, and this for your sake. We ought to take care that the remedies we employ, do not give occasion to the triumph of Satan, by throwing the patient into despair, on account of our too great severity (St. Ambrose)." (14:1523)


A. John A. Hardon, S.J.

"The place or condition in which the souls of the just are purified after death and before they can enter heaven. They may be purified of the guilt of their venial sins, as in this life, by an act of contrition deriving from charity and performed with the help of grace. This sorrow does not, however, affect the punishment for sins, because in the next world there is no longer any possibility of merit. The souls are certainly purified by atoning for the temporal punishments due to sin by their willing acceptance of suffering imposed by God. The sufferings in purgatory are not the same for all, but proportioned to each person's degree of sinfulness. Moreover, these sufferings can be lessened in duration and intensity through the prayers and good works of the faithful on earth. Nor are the pains incompatible with great peace and joy, since the poor souls deeply love God and are sure they will reach heaven. As members of the Church Suffering, the souls in purgatory can intercede for the persons on earth, who are therefore encouraged to invoke their aid. Purgatory will not continue after the general judgment, but its duration for any particular soul continues until it is free from all guilt and punishment. Immediately on purification the soul is assumed into heaven. (Etym. Latin purgatorio, cleansing, purifying)." (6:356-357)

A. C.S. Lewis (P)

"Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him? . . .

"I believe in Purgatory . . . 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.'

"I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don't think suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

"My favourite image on this matter comes from the dentist's chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am `coming round,' a voice will say, `Rinse your mouth out with this.' This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure . . ." (2)

B. Thomas Howard (P)

"The hesitancy about prayers for the dead generally runs something like this: the dead are certainly beyond our reach, and their fate is now in God's hands. It is inappropriate to pray for them, since their story is finished.

"The reply might run like this: which of our requests, big or small, does not touch something beyond our reach? And where else but in God's hands is the fate of anyone, living or dead?

"The notion that a man's whole story is finished at the precise point of physical death and his destiny fixed and sealed is not made clear in the Bible. The text, `. . . it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment,' in Hebrews 9:27, which is often advanced in discussions on this point, tells us nothing more than what is obvious: we die once, and then begins the whole business of `judgment,' whatever that may entail for every soul. The Bible does not vouchsafe us much light on how, much less when, our stories reach completion in the realm beyond death.

"What the Church prays for in its prayers for the dead is twofold. First, it prays for the believing dead, that the work of grace begun in them in this life will go on until they reach `the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Eph 4:13). The Bible does not oblige us to think either that this work of grace halts in its tracks when physical death occurs or that it is suddenly rushed to miraculous completion . . . We deny death as an ultimate barrier.

"Second, the Church prays for all the dead . . . They are still part of the huge fabric of Creation, and nothing in that fabric is beyond the scope of mercy. We cannot tell God what to do with them or speak with any certainty of what He is at any given point doing with them, but we can commend them to the mystery of His mercy, as we command all things thus. We must not be too hasty or fierce or cavalier in reaching conclusions about the judgment that Scripture spells out. God is the judge; we are priests, part of whose ministry is to offer prayer for all people." (8:123-125)

C. Martin Scott

"Many of us depart from this life not altogether saints and yet not altogether sinners. Moreover, some, who have been notoriously wicked repent at the last moment, and God has declared that He will not reject the penitent sinner. Such a penitent, although assured of God's forgiveness, must nevertheless atone for his life-long transgressions. Unless there is a place beyond where atonement can be made, the death-bed penitent would entirely escape chastisement for sin. It is true that Christ forgave the sins of the thief on the cross, and also remitted the chastisement of them. He may do that with every sinner if He so wills. But that is not His ordinary way, as we know from Scripture. God forgave David his sin but chastised him dreadfully nevertheless. So, too, He punished Moses and others after He had pronounced forgiveness of their sins. We have, therefore, the fact that God is just and merciful, and also the fact that not all of us depart this life holy enough for companionship with God, and yet not wicked enough for perpetual banishment from His presence. Scripture declares that nothing defiled can enter heaven. They, therefore, who have lesser sins on their souls, or who have repented but not received chastisement in this life for their wickedness, must be made worthy of entrance into the all-holy presence of God in some place beyond this life. This is what is meant by Purgatory . . .

"A patient of an incurable disease finds no solace in suffering, nothing but the dead weight of pain. But a patient who has the assurance of recovery willingly endures the surgeon's knife or the unpleasant remedies of the physician. Purgatory is the vestibule of heaven. It is the certainty of eternal salvation. All its sufferings are inflicted in love and endured in love. It is because the souls in Purgatory love God so much that they suffer so much. In Purgatory they realize what God is, are drawn to Him most powerfully, and yet repelled from Him by the state of their souls. They cannot themselves hasten their union with God, since the time of meriting ends with life. But they can be helped by the charity of their friends on earth. By the communion of saints we on earth can offer to God our prayers, good works, alms-deeds and sacrifices of one kind and another, in their behalf. Above all, we may assist at the holy sacrifice of the Mass for them, and best of all we may have the holy sacrifice offered up especially for them . . .

"God . . . shows His justice by requiring chastisement for wrong-doing, and His mercy by permitting us to go to the aid of those being chastised . . ." (10:134-135,141-142)

D. James Cardinal Gibbons
"God `will render to every man according to his works,' - to the pure and unsullied everlasting bliss; to the reprobate eternal damnation; to souls stained with minor faults a place of temporary purgation. I cannot recall any doctrine of the Christian religion more consoling to the human heart than the article of faith which teaches the efficacy of prayers for the faithful departed. It robs death of its sting. It encircles the chamber of mourning with a rainbow of hope It assuages the bitterness of our sorrow, and reconciles us to our loss. It keeps us in touch with the departed dead as correspondence keeps us in touch with the absent living. It preserves their memory fresh and green in our hearts." (2:183-184)

E. Bertrand Conway

"It is indeed strange that the Reformers should set aside such a body of testimony, both in Scripture and tradition, for Purgatory and prayers for the dead. But doctrine is so interwoven with doctrine in the consistent Gospel of Jesus Christ, that the denial of one central dogma logically means the denial of many others. Luther's false theory of justification by faith alone led him to deny the distinction between mortal and venial sin, the fact of temporal punishment, the necessity of good works, the efficacy of indulgences, and the usefulness of prayers for the dead. If sin is not remitted, but only covered; if the `new man' of the Gospel is Christ imputing His own justice to the still sinful man, it would indeed be useless to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins. Luther's denial of Purgatory implied either the cruel doctrine that the greater number of even devout Christians were lost, which accounts in some measure for the modern denial of eternal punishment, or the unwarranted assumption that God by `some sudden, magical change' purifies the soul at the instant of death." (9:395-396)

F. Karl Adam

"The poor soul, having failed to make use of the easier and happier penance of this world, must now endure all the bitterness and all the dire penalties which are necessarily attached by the inviolable law of God's justice to even the least sin, until she has tasted the wretchedness of sin to its dregs and has lost even the smallest attachment to it, until all that is fragmentary in her has attained completeness, in the perfection of the love of Christ. It is a long and painful process, `so as by fire.' Is it real fire? We cannot tell; its true nature will certainly always remain hidden from us in this world. But we know this, that no penalty presses so hard upon the `poor souls' as the consciousness that they are by their own fault long debarred from the blessed Vision of God. The more they are disengaged gradually in the whole compass of their being from their narrow selves, and the more freely and completely their hearts are opened to God, so much the more is the bitterness of their separation spiritualized and transfigured. It is home-sickness for their Father; and the further their purification proceeds, the more painfully are their souls scourged with its rods of fire . . .

"Purgatory is only a thoroughfare to the Father, toilsome indeed and painful, but yet a thoroughfare, in which there is no standing still and which is illuminated by glad hope. For every step of the road brings the Father nearer. Purgatory is like the beginning of spring. Warm rays commence to fall on the hard soil and here and there awaken timid life . . . Countless souls are already awakening to the full day of eternal life . . ." (1:110-111)

G. John A. Hardon, S.J.
"In spite of some popular notions to the contrary, the Church has never passed judgment as to whether purgatory is a place or in a determined space where the souls are cleansed. It simply understands the expression to mean the state or condition under which the faithful departed undergo purification . . .

"The more something is desired, the more painful its absence, and the faithful departed intensely desire to possess God now that they are freed from temporal cares and no longer held down by the inertia of the body; they clearly see that their deprivation was personally blameworthy and might have been avoided if only they had prayed and done enough penance during life.

"However, there is no comparison between this suffering and the pains of hell. It is temporary and therefore includes the assured hope of one day seeing the face of God; it is borne with patience, since the souls realize that purification is necessary, and they do not wish to have it otherwise; and it is accepted generously, out of love for God and with perfect submission to his will . . .

"Parallel with their sufferings, the souls also experience intense spiritual joy . . . There are many reasons for this happiness. The souls are absolutely sure of their salvation. They have faith, hope, and great charity. They know themselves to be in divine friendship, confirmed in grace, and no longer able to offend God.

"Although the souls in purgatory cannot merit, since they are no longer in the state of wayfarers, they are able to pray and obtain the fruit of prayer. Moreover, the efficacy of their prayers depends on their sanctity. This means that most probably they can obtain a relaxation of their own (certainly of other souls') sufferings. They do this not directly but indirectly in obtaining from God the favor that people might pray for them and that suffrages made by the faithful might be applied to them.

"However, it is not probable but certain that they can pray and obtain blessings for those living on earth. They are united, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, with the pilgrim Church in the Communion of Saints. We are therefore encouraged to invoke their aid, with the confidence of being heard by those who understand our needs so well from their own experience and who are grateful for the prayers and sacrifices we offer on their behalf." (5:274-275,278-280)

H. John Henry Newman (P)

"In one sense, all Christians die with their work unfinished. Let them have chastened themselves all their lives long, and lived in faith and obedience, yet still there is much in them unsubdued, - much pride, much ignorance, much unrepented, unknown sin, much inconsistency, much irregularity in prayer, much lightness and frivolity of thought. Who can tell, then, but, in God's mercy, the time of waiting between death and Christ's coming, may be profitable to those who have been His true servants here, as a time of maturing that fruit of grace, but partly formed in them in this life - a school-time of contemplation, as this world is a discipline of active service? Such, surely, is the force of the Apostle's words, that `He that hath begun a good work in us, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ,' until, not at, not stopping it with death, but carrying it on to the Resurrection. And this, which will be accorded to all Saints, will be profitable to each in proportion to the degree of holiness in which he dies . . .

"It will be found, on the whole, that death is not the object put forward in Scripture for hope to rest upon, but the coming of Christ, as if the interval between death and His coming was by no means to be omitted in the process of our preparation for heaven." (16:715-716) (3)


1. Karl Adam, The Spirit of Catholicism, translated by Justin McCann, revised edition, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1954 (orig. 1924).

2. James Cardinal Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers, New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, revised edition, 1917.

3. German Bishops Conference, The Church's Confession of Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults, translated by Stephen Wentworth Arndt, edited by Mark Jordan, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987.

4. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1974.

5. John A. Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Catechism, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975.

6. John A. Hardon, S.J., Pocket Catholic Dictionary, New York: Doubleday Image, 1980.

7. Dogmatic Canons and Decrees, Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1977 (orig. NY: 1912) [Documents of Councils of Trent and Vatican I, plus Decree on the Immaculate Conception and the Syllabus of Errors of Pope Pius IX].

8. Thomas Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough, Nashville: Nelson, 1984.

9. Bertrand L. Conway, The Question Box, New York: Paulist Press, 1929.

10. Martin Scott, Things Catholics are Asked About, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1927.

11. J.D. Douglas, editor, The New Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962.

12. D. Guthrie and J.A. Motyer, editors, The New Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3rd edition, 1970; reprinted in 1987 as The Eerdmans Bible Commentary.

13. Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison, editors, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Chicago: Moody Press, 1962.

14. Douay-Rheims New Testament, Rheims, France: 1582 (translated from the Latin Vulgate). Reprinted: Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1991; commentary compiled by G. L. Haydock.

15. Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988.

16. John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987 (originally 1843: Newman's Anglican period).

1. Apostolic Constitution on the Revision of Indulgences (1967).

2. C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964, 107-109.

3. Sermon: "The Intermediate State," 1836.

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