Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Not a "Pious Belief"

The key words are "Romish" and "punitive." I am referring, of course, to the subject of Purgatory. If by that word someone means "Paradise" or "Abraham's Bosom" as the Lord used those designations in the Gospel According to St. Luke, then I have no objection to make. The Scriptures do give us reason to believe that the children of God will have an opportunity (to put it positively), if I may say it metaphorically, to take a bath and put on clean clothes before entering the King's throne room. Of course, it is reasonable to interpret those passages as having to do with the General Resurrection on the Last Day, in some ways a better fit than squeezing their meaning into an intermediate state. That purification is something that seems to be possible only once we have shed this mortal nature to put on immortality, either before putting it on or in the process of doing so.

The problem with the word "Purgatory" however, is the association it generally carries with a Medieval and strictly western (i.e. not Universal) theory that became, in time, a Roman doctrine. The idea that God, to be just, must assign us "temporal punishment" for sins, even though they are forgiven in some larger sense, makes a complete mockery of the cross. It is not a "Pious Belief."

A "Pious Belief" is something that cannot be taught as doctrine (even though some insist on doing so without any right to impose their views), but that sincere believers might hold to nonetheless. Generally these are identical to the Marian "dogmas" as they are so designated by the Church of Rome, meaning the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, and her Assumption into Heaven. No one has any authority whatsoever to teach these Pious Beliefs as the "teaching of the Church." Nonetheless, many of our own people hold these beliefs without seeking to impose them on others who either find them questionable or who, perhaps, reject them. They are not worth fighting over, especially inasmuch as no one can prove the issues one way or the other, and neither is anyone saved or lost by believing or not believing them. The veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary is really all about the Incarnation of the Word, and for this reason we may rightly speak of both, or either, of those beliefs about Mary as truly pious.

Anglicans, however, have no reason to call the western Medieval "development of doctrine" about a punitive Purgatory a "pious belief." How can we call it that? The Anglican position is stated flatly and bluntly, that it is "a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God (Article XXII)." The Article says it correctly, historically and Scripturally. No Father of the Church ever heard of this lately "developed" "doctrine," inasmuch as the whole idea did not exist in the first millennium of the Church. No Ecumenical Council considered it. It is not a doctrine believed at all in the Eastern Orthodox Church (which condemns it as heresy). It cannot be proved by Scripture.

So "the Romish doctrine of [a punitive] Purgatory" has no support from Scripture, no support in Antiquity, and no Universal Consensus.

Again, the version of Purgatory for which Anglicanism provides no toleration is not the idea of purification (which some do call "Purgatory"), but specifically "the Romish doctrine," that is, the idea that justice requires a punitive process. The term "temporal punishment" means that Purgatory exists strictly to satisfy the requirements of the Law, not to perfect or even help the soul. The desire of the soul for purification, that bath and clean clothes, becomes irrelevant in this distorted, legalistic debtor's prison in which we supposedly pay to God the debt we owe. Indeed, if it were for the good of the soul, why the Treasury, and the indulgences, and so forth, that shorten the time? The answer is, they have thrown away the whole notion of purification for the good of the soul. They have turned God into a legalistic magistrate, someone who simply wants His pound of flesh rather than the Father who has given His only begotten Son to save us.

The dangers and problems of this error are manifold.

1. It trivializes sin.
That is right; it trivializes sin rather than blowing it out of proportion. 

Before getting deeply into this problem, we should first consider a problem of teaching. The Bible classifies "sin unto death" as "willful" (cp. I John 5:16,17 with Hebrews 10:26), by which we may divide sins into venial and mortal. That designation is not the problem, if we bear in mind that genuine mortal sin (i.e. "sin unto death") is willful sin, carried on intentionally with knowledge that it is sinful, and that genuine venial sin is not willful. 

But, the Roman system lists which acts are venial and which are mortal, creating a legalistic approach that has nothing to do with the human heart, the intention of the will and the whole problem of malice. Sins can be committed in complete ignorance (II Chron. 30:18-20), including the sins on Rome's "mortal" list. Sins can be committed with malice, deliberate intention of the will to sin, including sins on Rome's "venial" list. Of course they have theologians able to point out the dangers of treating the lists in too simplistic a fashion; if so, we may hope their message gets through.
.
The idea of a punitive Purgatory, however, makes sin a thing that can be paid for in part with temporal punishments by the sinners themselves. It removes from the whole equation that the first problem with sin is that all sin is committed ultimately against the Infinite and Eternal God. No temporal punishment by the guilty party can ever do justice to God's own holiness. The simple fact is, you are reconciled to God or not. There is nothing in between.

2. It has delayed repentance.
The pastoral problem I have been forced to deal with is a consequence of believing the Medieval doctrine. I have had to disabuse individuals of the notion that they can repent at leisure after death. Perhaps the bus ride in The Great Divorce is possible; but, we must all assume that it is highly dangerous to delay repentance with a hope for which no revelation can give support. The only way to live, for a Christian, is in a state of repentance and faith right now, today, with the knowledge that no one is guaranteed another breath. You could die before finishing this post. You need to be ready to go at any moment, because, frankly, you might just die in the next minute. If belief that it can all be worked out, sweated off, and paid for in a punitive Purgatory delays one from turning to God with hearty repentance and true faith, then the doctrine becomes poison. This I have seen.

Now, in fairness to the Roman Catholic Church, officially they teach that the soul must be prepared for death in every way, and that Purgatory is only for those who die in a state of grace. But, the misunderstanding I have dealt with is a genuine cause for concern, and is easily avoided by not teaching the "Romish doctrine" at all.

3. It denies the Gospel
Whereas purification is an idea we can all be glad for (especially if we see it also as grace), the idea that Christ paid for our sins only in part, and that justice requires a further "temporal punishment" denies the sufficiency of Christ as the Propitiation for our sins. And, if it denies the sufficiency of His sacrifice and death, it denies Him as God in the flesh. If saints, by their alleged merits (another serious problem) can make up for some insufficiency in Christ's sacrifice with further partial payment, than the concept brings Christ down to the level of His creatures who have needed and received His grace. It almost makes one expect to hear somebody listing the Lord among His saints as a mere equal. 

As I said in the post just below: 
"That [the publican] goes home justified is no small matter. The whole theological meaning of justification is of major importance in the New Testament, and the theme receives its greatest development by St. Paul. It is obvious that Paul builds his meaning on the same understanding of justification that is very clear in Christ's parable [of the publican and the Pharisee]...On the cross, as He died, Jesus uttered the word τελέω (teleō), which takes three English words to say: 'It is finished (John 19:30).' In those days, when Greek was the international tongue, the word τελέω was written on a final receipt of payment; so we may conclude that the usage of the word was meant to convey not only the completion or perfection of a thing, but full payment. Christ has paid in full for it all, for 'He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:2).'"

No one else could pay for our sins (Psalm 49:7), because everyone else, even the saints, are all sinners themselves. The saints have received grace, including the grace to acquire virtues; Christ alone of all mankind has merits of His own. Furthermore, because of Who it is that died for us, no further payment is needed. And, if it is paid in full and we are justified, how could God be just in requiring yet more, as if we could imagine the Father finding fault with the sacrifice and death of His only begotten Son? He would be unjust; but as it is, God is "just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:26)."

To be cleansed and able to walk into the throne room of such a loving Father is a joy to consider. So, I am glad for that bath and clean clothes to which we may look forward. It is nothing less than our gratitude and awe move us to desire.

44 comments:

Geo. Southerly said...

"It is finished" and Christ is a complete and perfect sacrifice for our sins. Thanks be to God! How does Colossians 1:24 stand in the light of this?

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my physical body – for the sake of his body, the church – what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ." (NET Bible)

The Net Bible gives a number of interesting cross references in regard to Christ's suffering and how Paul saw his sufferings for the Church. Is there a spiritual dynamic in effect in regard to suffering within the Body of Christ?

"For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort that you experience in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we also suffer. And our hope for you is steadfast because we know that as you share in1 our sufferings, so also you will share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living." (II Cor. 1:5-8)

"For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus1 for the sake of you Gentiles. ... For this reason I ask you1 not to lose heart because of what I am suffering for you, which is your glory." (Ephesians 3:1,13)

These Scriptures bring to mind another Roman Catholic custom of dedicating one's own suffering (ie, going without pain medication during labor) as an adjunct boost to one's prayers for a sick friend) and the old RC saying, 'Offer it (your pain) up!" though they do not relate except possibly indirectly to the theology underlying the dogmas or doctrines of Purgatory and Indulgences.

Fr. Wells said...

Althugh the punitive concept of the Intermediate State is both false and spiritually deadly, I must point out a danger in the common Protestant denial of it. We have worked ourselves around to an equally unBiblical eschatology in which people, at death, just float away to heaven, in some disembodied state, which is commonly called "a better place" (like the yankee who moves to Florida).

N.T.Wright has reminded us that for Christians, the goal is not some vaguely defined "beatific vision" but is the Resurrection of the Body at the consummation of history. There is indeed an interim period of waiting patiently for the Lord, when soul and body are temporarily separated. Our necessary protest against the common notion of purgatory should not obscure this important truth.

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.


Rev. Mr. Wells wrote:

"...Althugh the punitive concept of the Intermediate State ..."


Please define what you see as being puniive in the purgatorial state.

Particularly in light of the teaching of The Church, specifically as articulated by the Holy Council of Trent.

Trent went way out of its way to studiously abstain from speculating on the nature of the existence in purgatory.

Archbishop Sheen does a masterful job of articulating The Church's teaching at http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/sheen/45Purgatory.mp3


SWR

Fr. Wells said...

Mr SWR: Perhaps I should ask you to define the term "punitive," since it
"temporal penalties" is found in the Decrees issued by the "Holy"(are you serious?) Council of Trent, the Baltimore Catechism, and the CCC. So whatever they meant by "temporal penalties," that is what I label a false teaching. It was your side which introduced the word, and therefore your responsibility for defining it. Next question?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Geo. Southerly wrote:

Thanks be to God! How does Colossians 1:24 stand in the light of this?

I expected this question. It would contradict the weight of Biblical doctrine to interpret it as related to atonement for sin. It cannot mean that Paul paid for sins of others, which would make the cross of Christ less than sufficient.

Paul's sufferings were not unlike the sufferings today of our brethren in lands of persecution. That he identified his suffering with that of Christ is tied to intercession. That Paul's suffering, and eventually his death as a martyr, bore testimony to the truth and strengthened the faith of the Church, is tied to the fact that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." It was a service to God that continued, and still continues, in the life of the Church.

That is not about justice nor atonement. It is related to worship, intercession and Christian witness, all of which are part of the life of the Church.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Sean Reed wrote:

Please define what you see as being puniive in the purgatorial state.

Particularly in light of the teaching of The Church, specifically as articulated by the Holy Council of Trent.


Sean, are you reading the same Council of Trent that took place at, well, Trent? Is there some other Council of Trent, a Trent II that I was unaware of? One that was "holy," and that repudiated the doctrine of a punitive Purgatory? If so, the CCC is way out of date in its teaching on Purgatory, the Treasury and Indulgences.

Brian said...

King Charles the Martyr.

Is our ex-Anglican friend suggesting that the content of the Roman faith has changed since the publication of the 1941 edition of the Baltimore Catechism? In answer to the question "Who are punished in purgatory," that work says: Those are punished for a time in purgatory who die in the state of grace but are guilty of venial sin, or have not fully satisfied for the temporal punishment due to their sins.

The punitive nature of the Romish doctrine of purgatory is quite explicit. (Unless Mr. Reed claims to understand Roman teaching better than the Baltimore Catechism's authors.)

Nyoka Gordon said...

Trent was one of fourteen Roman Church-only in-house meetings that Rome calls ecumenical and councils. The Trent meeting took place in segments over nearly 20 years (1545-63) and was presided over by several 'Popes' in order to work out such decisions and decrees as Justification, Baptism, Penance, Extreme Unction, as well as Indulgences, a new Missal and condemnation of Protestantism. Trent occurred well after Rome began to operate on her own recognizance and was not a council of the whole global church, nor did it have authority outside the jurisdiction of the Roman Church.

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.

Session VI of the Holy Council of Trent dealt with this subject quite clearly.

The souls in purgatory will go to heaven. It is not a place of punishment for those who do not die in a state of Grace.

The Council of Trent made most plain the following:

"...that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar;..."


SWR

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Sean:

You have quoted a very small portion of a much larger doctrine. The "temporal punishment" notion of Purgatory may not be part of that one line, but it is the essential teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. It is their expression, not mine. It is in the CCC, which came out in the days of JPII.

Fr. Wells said...

X. Y. Z.

"Session VI of the Holy Council of Trent dealt with this subject quite clearly."

Sean, you really are a blessing. Your comments provide endless material to chew on, which is helpful when the news is slow. You also serve to illustrate why the Vatican is so concerned that you guys get proper catechesis before you become full-fledged RC's.

Let's work with the above quotation. Yes, it all quite clear--except for one detail. When you quote from Trent, what was the source for their information? The ancient and truly Ecumenical Councils were able to cite their source, i. e., Sacred Scripture.
But the Tridentine concept of purgatory has no grounding there at all. Even the cherished text from Maccabees is silent about temporal punishments, indulgences, treasury of merit, and similar fanciful notions. So the clarity of which you boast is only the clarity of good fiction. It is no better than the equally unconvincing clarity of the Book of Mormon.

If you take comfort in believing that the moon is made of green cheese, and find some self-anointed authority which teaches that dogma "quite clearly," then I doubt we can help you.

Anonymous said...

S.O.S.

"...Althugh the punitive concept of the Intermediate State ..."

Please define what you see as being puniive in the purgatorial state.

Particularly in light of the teaching of The Church, specifically as articulated by the Holy Council of Trent.

Trent went way out of its way to studiously abstain from speculating on the nature of the existence in purgatory.


From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Purgatory (Lat., "purgare", to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God's grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions. . . .

That temporal punishment is due to sin, even after the sin itself has been pardoned by God, is clearly the teaching of Scripture. God indeed brought man out of his first disobedience and gave him power to govern all things (Wisdom 10:2), but still condemned him "to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow" until he returned unto dust. God forgave the incredulity of Moses and Aaron, but in punishment kept them from the "land of promise" (Numbers 20:12). The Lord took away the sin of David, but the life of the child was forfeited because David had made God's enemies blaspheme His Holy Name (2 Samuel 12:13-14). In the New Testament as well as in the Old, almsgiving and fasting, and in general penitential acts are the real fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:8; Luke 17:3; 3:3). The whole penitential system of the Church testifies that the voluntary assumption of penitential works has always been part of true repentance and the Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, can. xi) reminds the faithful that God does not always remit the whole punishment due to sin together with the guilt. God requires satisfaction, and will punish sin, and this doctrine involves as its necessary consequence a belief that the sinner failing to do penance in this life may be punished in another world, and so not be cast off eternally from God. . . .

That temporal punishment is due to sin, even after the sin itself has been pardoned by God, is clearly the teaching of Scripture. God indeed brought man out of his first disobedience and gave him power to govern all things (Wisdom 10:2), but still condemned him "to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow" until he returned unto dust. God forgave the incredulity of Moses and Aaron, but in punishment kept them from the "land of promise" (Numbers 20:12). The Lord took away the sin of David, but the life of the child was forfeited because David had made God's enemies blaspheme His Holy Name (2 Samuel 12:13-14). In the New Testament as well as in the Old, almsgiving and fasting, and in general penitential acts are the real fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:8; Luke 17:3; 3:3). The whole penitential system of the Church testifies that the voluntary assumption of penitential works has always been part of true repentance and the Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, can. xi) reminds the faithful that God does not always remit the whole punishment due to sin together with the guilt. God requires satisfaction, and will punish sin, and this doctrine involves as its necessary consequence a belief that the sinner failing to do penance in this life may be punished in another world, and so not be cast off eternally from God.


http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm

Caedmon

Anonymous said...

S.O.S

Thqe following adiadn't madkqqe it into my last zcommqent:

Nature of punishment

It is clear from the Liturgies and the Fathers above cited that the souls for whose peace sacrifice was offered were shut out for the time being from the sight of God. They were "not so good as to be entitled to eternal happiness". Still, for them "death is the termination not of nature but of sin" (Ambrose, "De obitu Theodos."); and this inability to sin makes them secure of final happiness. This is the Catholic position proclaimed by Leo X in the Bull "Exurge Domine" which condemned the errors of Luther.

Are the souls detained in purgatory conscious that their happiness is but deferred for a time, or may they still be in doubt concerning their ultimate salvation? The ancient Liturgies and the inscriptions of the catacombs speak of a "sleep of peace", which would be impossible if there was any doubt of ultimate salvation. Some of the Doctors of the Middle Ages thought uncertainty of salvation one of the severe punishments of purgatory. (Bellarmine, "De Purgat." lib. II, cap. iv); but this opinion finds no general credit among the theologians of the medieval period, nor is it possible in the light of the belief in the particular judgment. St. Bonaventure gives as the reason for this elimination of fear and of uncertainty the intimate conviction that they can no longer sin (lib. IV, dist. xx, p.1, a.1 q. iv): "Est evacuatio timoris propter confirniationem liberi arbitrii, qua deinceps scit se peccare non posse" (Fear is cast out because of the strengthening of the will by which the soul knows it can no longer sin), and St. Thomas (dist. xxi, q. i, a.1) says: "nisi scirent se esse liberandas suffragia non peterent" (unless they knew that they are to be delivered, they would not ask for prayers).


Caedmon

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.

The Catechism of The Catholic Church makes quite clear, and echoes the work of the Holy and Oecumenical Council of Trent concerning the punishments of Purgatory, and that they are not some type of punitive vengeance, when it teaches "these punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. "

The Temporal Punishment that is due to is expiated either in this world or in the purgatorial state of the soul following the particular judgment.

The purgatorial state is expiatory and not one of literal flame burning and torturing of souls in a punitive action.

The bare fact of separation and waiting expectantly is the primary punishment, and speculating that the punishments are any more than that goes beyond the teaching of The Church - do listen to the audio of Archbishop Sheen - as he does a masterful job of clearly articulating what The Church teaches.


SWR


1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Sean:

Caedmon's longer quotation (longer than your selections) proves that you are dismissing the facts from your consideration. All this really reveals is that you yourself know the RCC doctrine to be repugnant, not only to the word of God, but to your own mind also. You are right to hate it, but wrong to try to deny its ugly existence.

Tiber swimmers have this sort of self-imposed delusion to overcome before they can awake to reality.

Anonymous said...

W.T.H?

Sean, you had initially implied that purgatory was not punitive at all:

Please define what you see as being punitive in the purgatorial state. . . .

Trent went way out of its way to studiously abstain from speculating on the nature of the existence in purgatory.


Having been shown that you didn't know what you were talking about, you are now reduced to contradictory gibberish about "non-punitive punishment."

The Catechism of The Catholic Church makes quite clear, and echoes the work of the Holy and Oecumenical Council of Trent concerning the punishments of Purgatory, and that they are not some type of punitive vengeance. . . .

Time to cut your losses, I'd say.

Cadedmon

Shaughn said...

I don't mean to sound flippant. But. Is Purgatory really a hill worth dying on? Everyone there is saved and going to heaven.

Either a place of purification exists, or it doesn't. Either a place of temporal punishment exists, or it doesn't. We've indicated the clear Christological issues with temporal punishment, and it mostly amounts to: "Your God is too small." As Fr. Hart said elsewhere (I think), it's almost as though that sort of God wants his pound of flesh, and He'll get!

You can wriggle around all you like with the CCC. I pretty much never hear any actual RC cleric or lay person discuss Purgatory these days, and I think it's because most realize it's a moot point. It's not even a dogmatic belief (unlike, say, the Assumption or the Immaculate conception). The Council of Florence even emphasized that it isn't a dogmatic belief.

The best you can come up with is Trent, which says:

30. If anyone says that after the grace of justification has been received the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out for any repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be paid, either in this world or in the other, in purgatory, before access can be opened to the kingdom of heaven, anathema sit ["let him be anathema" or excommunicated].

Ho hum. There's still a great chasm between having some temporal punishment and punishment equal to every venial sin.

So, again. Is this really the hill you want to die on, Sean? Couldn't it at least be something juicy?

Anonymous said...

welshmann said:

Frs. Hart and Wells:

When we say that Christ died for our sins, we mean that He actually took on the burden of our sins, received the stripes that were properly due to us. So the Cross does not in any way represent a lessening of our punishment for sin, but rather a complete vindication of both God's justice and mercy.

The RCC concept of purgatory talks about "temporal penalties" that are due, even after God has worked the miracle of Atonement, but then it says that the penalties due are remedial, and that they can be lessened by indulgences, good works, the prayers of the saints, etc.

Properly speaking, then, the penalty due for sin cannot be lessened, period. The "temporal penalties" found in RCC Purgatory don't sound like penalties at all, but rather chastisement, which can be increased or lessened as needed to bring about true repentance, not because of some supposed penalty due.

So why did Rome paint herself into this corner in the first place? Why blur the line between punishment or penalty on the one hand, and chastisement on the other?

welshmann

Fr. Wells said...

In a previous career I was organist for a large RC parish and in that role I attended at least a dozen Requiem Masses (now called "Mass of the Resurrection," with white vestments, Easter hymns, Paschal candle, etc) Not once did I hear a syllable about Purgatory in the homilies. The preaching was the same pablum one might hear in a liberal Protestant church ("Your mother is now in a better place, all her pain is over," etc) So SWR is defending a type of RC'ism which exists mostly in memory and in strange little ghettoes like the SSPX.

The Roman Church has redefined the Intermediate State in a manner which no Anglican or real Evangelical can criticize. Fr Benedict Groeschel has well said, "Purgatory is not a temporary hell, but a preliminary heaven."

But the old doctrine was very powerful and still lingers with those who quote the "holy" Council of Trent. And I will never trust a Church whose doctrine is a nose of wax.

Yes, Fr. Shaughn, there is something at stake in this debate. In a previous debate over at T19 several years back, I pointed out to my opponent that as a Gospel-preaching priest, I can look the bereaved in the eye and say, "Your loved one is now with Christ and all pain and suffering are over and done with." (I go on to affirm the final resurrection.) His response was to say that he didnt like to use empty platitudes and preferred to explain those "temporal penalties" and the value of our prayers to relieve their discomfort.

So we have here two ultimately irreconcilable religions.

Speaking of such prayers for the faithful departed, they are legitimate as long as we believe the promises of the Gospel, namely, that to depart and be with Christ is "far better." If those prayers spring from lack of trust in His finished work and a false idea that our paltry human efforts relieve "the poor souls in the firey flames of purgatory," they are unfaithful to the Gospel of Jesus.

We may say "May the souls of the faithful depart, through the mercy of God, rest in peace" only if we are truly certain that we are asking for something that is indeed certain. (Cf. "Thy kingdom come.")

Anonymous said...

In the previous post, Fr. Hart wrote, “Anglicans are not Lutherans[…]. But, on the great problem raised by the sale of indulgences by Johan Tetzel […] , there should be no problem agreeing entirely with Luther and his Ninety-five Theses.”

Luther wrote, “Let him be anathema and accursed who denies the apostolic character of the indulgences” (thesis 71); and (73) “In the same way, the pope rightly excommunicates those who make any plans to the detriment of the trade in indulgences.” And (38) “the pope’s remission and dispensation are in no way to be despised, for, as already said, they proclaim the divine remission.” And, (26) “The pope does excellently when he grants remission to the souls in purgatory on account of intercessions made on their behalf […]”, for (17) “Of a truth, the pains of souls in purgatory ought to be abated, and charity ought to be proportionately increased.”

I quote from the B.L. Woolf translation as reprinted in ‘Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings’ (1961), ed. J. Dillenberger, who may perhaps be excused for saying (p. 489), “neither a casual nor a careful reading suffices to understand them.” He also briefly reports (p. xxii) that (apparently prior to Luther’s 1519 Leipzig debate), “the Vatican clarified its understanding of indulgences and purged some of the most offensive practices.”

Welcoming any elucidation,

Semi-Hookerian

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Semi-Hookerian:

Welcoming any elucidation

Certainly. Context is everything. First of all the word "indulgences" had undergone a corruption of definition by Luther's time, which persists. As I pointed out before, the original idea was one of dispensations. What Luther was affirming was the power of Absolution, which any pope as a priest and bishop actually does possess. The issue was whether it was merely an official power, or whether salvation required faith on the part of each individual.

AFS1970 said...

Purgatory is seldom talked about for much of the same reason that TEC has lost interest in sin. If we never tell people that they have done anything wrong, then they will be happy and put more in the collection plate. I hate to say such things, but it is becoming obvious.

Now in the case of TEC this is all part of the larger slide into total heresy. In the case of the RCC it seems to be lets keep this belief, even though it is an error and let's not talk about it much, so people will ignore it. I am not sure which is worse.

If it is a truly held belief that is never talked about or taught then does it not put the ultimate salvation at risk of those that are not taught it? If it is not a truly held belief but it is still taught is not the same true?

All this dancing around about non punitive punishment is more smoke and mirrors. Maybe the RCC has realized they are wrong on this one and is quietly letting this belief fade away with older generations. This way they never have to admit to being wrong.

Fr. Wells said...

Semi-Hookerian: Please remember what the 95 Theses were: Not so much a statement of Luther's position as a list of proposition for debate. He was not above irony or even heavy sarcasm. To detect Luther's position at this stage, consult the Tracts which he published in 1520. Had Luther ever wrote a word in favor of Indulgences, his Roman critics would have found it long ago.

Fr Hart: Dispensations and Indulgences? Yes and No. Dispensations pertain to church law, canons and rubrics, which have a human source. Indulgences pertain to moral law, which is Divine in its origin. Indulgences are predicated on the antiChristian notion of a treasury of merit. Dispensations are predicated only on ecclesiastical authority. One would need a dispensation in order to get married during Lent, but would need an Indulgence if guilty of committing adultery and forgetting to confess it.
You may have a point, however, in that perhaps the fairly benign notion of a dispensation was misapplied to the moral law and to the afterlife.

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.

Rev. Mr. Wells wrote:

"... One would need a dispensation in order to get married during Lent, but would need an Indulgence if guilty of committing adultery and forgetting to confess it..."

An indulgence would be of no benefit with regard to the temporal punishment due to the sin in question, as long as the guilt due to the sin remains.

The guilt is remitted through the Sacrament of Penance, requiring a good and worthy confession. If a sin was truly overlooked in confession, then it must be included in the next confession.

The temporal punishment due to sin is addressed through a variety of ways which could include (among many other ways) an indulgence.

Unless you you are making reference to a partial indulgence, for a plenary to be obtained, it must be under the usual conditions which would include the Sacrament of Penance.


SWR

Fr. Robert Hart said...

You may have a point, however, in that perhaps the fairly benign notion of a dispensation was misapplied to the moral law and to the afterlife.

I was tracing it on a historical line, how it began and what it morphed into. What began as dispensations went through a process that the Blessed Apostate called "Doctrinal Development." The confusion between canon law and unchangeable moral commandments is fairly typical in such a "development."

George said...

So I am going to ask cause I am not totally clear on this in trying to read through the post and the comments. What is "general" understanding of Purgatory/Intermediate State for Anglicans? I know their are diverging views but at the least the basis is what i am looking for and if there is even one.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Generally, as simply stated by St. Paul: "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord (II Cor.5:8)." And, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21)." A lot of useless speculation makes people lose sight of this.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

While I have sympathy with the criticisms levelled here against common conceptions of Purgatory, having made similar ones myself (which can be found through the Apologetics link at the side of our main page), I also have some reservations to record.

1. I do not think, in the light of 1 Corinthians 3 :11-15, that we can put painful post-mortem discipline for Christians who die in grace in the "maybe" category. The word translated "suffer loss" here comes from a Greek word (zemioo) associated consistently with punishment in the LXX Old Testament. That this passage most naturally refers to final judgement at the Resurrection rather than particular judgement at death does not disprove an asociation with the intermediate state once we recognise the eschatological focus of the Apostolic writers. Given that they were expecting the Return very soon, it was natural for them not to distinguish between the two judgements, and, in fact, they never refer directly and unambiguously to the process of judgement immediately after death. So, when this passage is considered in conjunction with Matthew 5:25-26, Mark 9:49, 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Hebrews 12:5-11, it seems clear that chastening/disciplining, with an element of suffering and fiery trial, is Biblically revealed as quite possible for Christians in the intermediate State.

2. Once we accept that such an aspect of the Intermediate State is either probable or certainly revealed, the objection to the word "punitive" becomes harder to make into an absolute. Once we accept that there is or may be painful Fatherly chastening for the Church Expectant, denying outright that it is in any way just punishment becomes very hard to maintain. After all, the alternative is that it is suffering unjustly given. Do we wish to say that the Father's chastening is unrelated to what the chastened have done or become as a result of their doings? I think not.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

3. There is in fact a lot of Patristic support for such chastening after death for Christians, and for the idea it is specifically related to their sins, though they be forgiven. These ideas can be found in Tertullian, Augustine, Gregory the Great and many others in the first Millenium

4. The Old Testament has abundant evidence for sinners being forgiven but still receiving punishment (e.g., 2 Samuel 12:13-14). Parents will forgive their children without necessarily omitting all punishment. The New Testament passages already referred to show that this principle still operates in some sense. It is therefore not wrong to distinguish "temporal penalties" from eternal guilt and punishment. The key is to realise that Purgatorial punishment is of a radically different nature, including on RC assumptions, to eternal punishment. The RCC does teach that this punishment is Fatherly discipline for our purification, not just the act of a Judge for retribution. After all, the RCC has always taught that an act of contrition associated with an intense love for God can take away all the temporal penalty, and that all Christian self-offering and penance is insufficient of itself but sufficient through union with Christ's infinite Merits, which reveals that "strict justice" and the "need" for God to get his "pound of flesh" are not really part of the doctrine. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that popular presentations have obscured this at times.

5. The RCC specifically teaches, and has always taught in its traditional moral theology, that "mortal sins" materially will not be "mortal sins" formally if performed in ignorance of their sinfulness. And that malicious will to oppose God can turn venial sins into mortal sins.

6. The question as to how the merits of the saints (whether capital S Saints in heaven, or small s ones on earth) could possibly assist if the chastening is for sanctification not mere retribution is not that hard to answer. And it has been answered in the RCC. The saints assist those in Purgatory by their prayers. The more sanctified and conformed to the Cross the saint, the more powerful their "priestly" prayers. Since the omnipotent God can sanctify people in different ways, these prayers can enable the post-mortem purification to be less or not at all painful. After all, is it not the case that even here on Earth we can learn to be better people the hard way, through humbling suffering which detaches us from sin, or an easier way, through humbly observing and receiving the sacrificial kindness of others?

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Finally, there is no question in RCism of Christ paying part of our debt and us paying the rest, properly speaking. Christ's Merits are considered infinite and the basis of all Christians' "merits" (see Canon 32 of Trent of the "Canons concerning Justification").

However, it is believed that our appropriation of Christ's merits to deal with the "remains" of sin can require graced works for those who have sinned after justification. That is, our reception of the grace of the Cross is partly conditioned on and made effectual by taking up our own Cross (Romans 8:13-17).

So, I believe the RC doctrine of purgatory, when all its traditional qualifications and elements are considered, is orthodox. Nevertheless, I do not deny that it has often been expressed inadequately and taught poorly.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

...Given that they were expecting the Return very soon...

"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand (II Thess. 2:1,2)."

...reveals that "strict justice" and the "need" for God to get his "pound of flesh" are not really part of the doctrine.

Then, if it is about fatherly chastening instead, why any indulgences that rob people of the useful chastening?

First of all, the doctrine of punitive Purgatory and the Treasury is not revealed, but the result of mere human logic. Second, the idea of merits cannot exist without the error of supererogation. Third, my objection above stands. Why apply indulgences that rob people of Fatherly chastening if it is not about legalistic "justice?"

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.


Fr. Hart wrote:

"...Then, if it is about fatherly chastening instead, why any indulgences that rob people of the useful chastening?..."


It would be because The Church presents a balanced approach to the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. It has never taught that all souls go to purgatory. The purgatorial purification is for those who have not taken care of the temporal punishment due to sin before the Particular Judgment.

The Treasury of Merit is in-exhaustible because the merits of Calvary are in-exhaustible. The temporal punishment due to sin may be expiated in this life or the life to come.

With plenary indulgences so freely and easily available, coupled with trials in this life, and voluntary penances and self denials, there is little reason to die with un-expiated temporal punishment due to sin, save lack of effort.

On top of all of this, there is the Apostolic Plenary Indulgence in the Hour of Death that any priest in communion with the Holy See can impart.

The Church goes out of her way to keep souls from Purgatory, but then goes on to provide a means to help souls that end up there to speedily attain unto the Beatific Vision.





SWR



PS - The Holy Council of Trent had this in their final decree:

"...
DECREE CONCERNING INDULGENCES.
Whereas the power of conferring Indulgences was granted by Christ to the Church; and she has, even in the most ancient times, used the said power, delivered unto her of God; the sacred holy Synod teaches, and enjoins, that the use of Indulgences, for the Christian people most salutary, and approved of [Page 278] by the authority of sacred Councils, is to be retained in the Church; and It condemns with anathema those who either assert, that they are useless; or who deny that there is in the Church the power of granting them.

In granting them, however, It desires that, in accordance with the ancient and approved custom in the Church, moderation be observed; lest, by excessive facility, ecclesastical discipline be enervated. And being desirous that the abuses which have crept therein, and by occasion of which this honourable name of Indulgences is blasphemed by heretics, be amended and corrected, It ordains generally by this decree, that all evil gains for the obtaining thereof,--whence a most prolific cause of abuses amongst the Christian people has been derived,--be wholly abolished.

But as regards the other abuses which have proceeded from superstition, ignorance, irreverence, or from what soever other source, since, by reason of the manifold corruptions in the places and provinces where the said abuses are committed, they cannot conveniently be specially prohibited; It commands all bishops, diligently to collect, each in his own church, all abuses of this nature, and to report them in the first provincial Synod; that, after having been reviewed by the opinions of the other bishops also, they may forthwith be referred to the Sovereign Roman Pontiff, by whose authority and prudence that which may be expedient for the universal Church will be ordained; that this the gift of holy Indulgences may be dispensed to all the faithful, piously, holily, and incorruptly."

Fr. Robert Hart said...

SWR:

Very creative. The Treasury is not about Calvary, but about saintly supererogation, crediting the merits of human beings (as if such merits existed) to the accounts of other human beings. In fact, it stand in direct contradiction to Christ's cross. Very clever to try to direct it back to the cross and make it appear orthodox. But, the fact is, all you have presented is proof of tortured logic in the worst kind of scholasticisim.

This is one example of the Eastern Orthodox quite rightly rejecting western scholasticism. On this matter Orthodoxy and Protestantism agree, despite Rome's attempt to project yet one more of her innovations back into Antiquity, where, in fact, it did not exist. The claim that indulgences, as they had become defined in the time of Trent, existed in Antiquity simply because the word was used, is very deceptive indeed. The word was used, but as I have said above, to mean something entirely different.

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.

Father Hart wrote:


"...Very creative. The Treasury is not about Calvary, but about saintly supererogation,..."


Father -


Where do you get this notion? Your idea of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church does not agree with the plain, specific and clear teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1476 We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church's treasury, which is "not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the 'treasury of the Church' is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ's merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy."88


1477 "This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission in the unity of the Mystical Body."89

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Why Fr. Kirby would defend the Tridentine version of indulgences is beyond me. The belief gives all power to one office, the papacy in Rome. No Anglican bishop, no ACC bishop to be exact, would pretend to grant such an indulgence. Just what church does he claim to belong to then?

In Antiquity, despite the nonsense in Trent, the word "indulgence" meant nothing more than what we call today a dispensation from church discipline, whether from a hard penance or something such as fast days, etc. And, any bishop could grant one. It had nothing to do with any kind of Purgatory whatsoever. From that use of the word, the Council of Trent speaks of indulgences in Antiquity, though those men at Trent had to know that they were lying. They had to know that their entire usage of the word was entirely different from how the Church used it in ancient times.

Or, maybe they were honest and ignorant. Either way, it amounts to a boatload of hogwash.

SWR, you may quote Trent all you want. But, we do not recognize it as authoritative. Its words do not impress us. It is so utterly scholastic in its source that it wreaks. About this Romish doctrine, tortured logic, papal power and mere human speculation are the sum total of its parts. Not a word of Scripture supports it. No wonder it is not a doctrine of the Universal Church and never has been.

Fr. Wells said...

"The Church goes out of her way to keep souls from Purgatory, but then goes on to provide a means to help souls that end up there to speedily attain unto the Beatific Vision."

Purgatory becomes less and less credible the more that SWR writes about it. One the one hand, we are told that Purgatory is a fairly benign place of "fatherly correction (a "preliminary heaven," in Fr Groeschel's words). On the other hand, it is a place which anyone can avoid, where prayers are helpful in securing relief, where we can look forward to experiencing "fire."
So which is it?

As Luther wrote, if the Pope has authority to release souls from suffering, then he is cruel not to release them all right now.

SWR's description of purgatory makes me think of a kid having a miserable time in summer camp who calls his Dad and asks to come home. Dad says, "No, it will make a man out of you." But Mom intercedes and Dad relents.

And that adverb "speedily" arouses my curiosity. Are the "poor souls" in purgatory in eternity or still in time? Our Anglican conception is that the Intermediate State is from physical death until the Resurrection of our Bodies at the Last day.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Where do you get this notion? Your idea of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church does not agree with the plain, specific and clear teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

They have tried to make it somehow orthodox in modern times, granted. But, other than Absolution (John 20:23), a sacrament we also administer, Christ's power to forgive sins in strictly in His own hands. The idea that the Bishop of Rome can reach into the inexhaustible merits of Christ Himself, by any power other than the same priestly power to absolve a sincere penitent that he shares with every other priest, has no basis in Divine revelation.

The we have another problem, as you quoted:

"This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints...

Now we have added to Christ a Co-Redemptrix and a whole host of Co-Redeemers. Here again, one almost expects to hear Christ named among His saints as a mere equal. Here, the "merits" of saints have the same power as Christ's; but He alone has true merits.

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.

Fr. Hart wrote:

"...Now we have added to Christ a Co-Redemptrix and a whole host of Co-Redeemers. ..."


You may have added it but the Roman Catholic Church has not. Co-Redemptrix is not a teaching articulated by The Church - shame on you - you know better.


The plain teaching in 1476 will not be occluded by your obsfucations:


"...We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church's treasury, which is "NOT the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the 'treasury of the Church' is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ's merits have before God. "



SWR

Fr. Robert Hart said...

So, they didn't mean this part after all?

"This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints...

If it is about Christ's merits, then it is not about fatherly chastening, inasmuch as Christ paid in full. As for the saints and their valuable good works, it is like the following:

"Son, take all your medicine so you can get well. However, if your big sister takes a little extra medicine, you may be allowed to take a little less than all of yours."

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.

Fr. Hart -

The Treasury is infinite from the merits of Calvary and on top of the infinity, "this treasury includes as well " the prayers and good works of the saints, and in particular the prayers and good works of the Blessed, Glorious, Immaculate and Ever-Virgin Mary.


SWR

Fr. Robert Hart said...

...and on top of the infinity, "this treasury includes as well"...

Why is the obvious self-contradiction hidden to you?

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Actually, it is quite possible to really add a finite amount to an infinite quantity, it's just that one has not increased the quantity by doing so. E.g., geometrically intersecting an infinite line with a finite interval.

Fr Hart's question about how fatherly chastening can be diminished by the prayers and loving offerings of others is one I have in fact answered. All God's chastening is beneficial to the chastened, but, in the redeemed, no particular such benefit could only be achieved by chastening. God has other ways that involve the prayerful flow of love in the Communion of Saints, all founded on the grace of Christ, merited fundamentally and in toto by Him.

On the matter of who can grant indulgences, the reservation to the Pope, as I understand it, is seen by the RCC as a matter of current discipline, not doctrine.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Finally, I disagree that it would be right for the Church to "apply" plenary indulgences to the living automatically, without putting conditions relating to faith acting through love. It would be unfitting and counter-productive to discipline.

And it cannot even pretend to do so for the dead, since (as many have apparently forgotten) indulgences are said to applied to the dead by way of request, not by a priestly power like that of absolution. The Church has no reason to believe God would grant a trivialising request that all post-mortem chastening be simply done away with regardless of the Church's commitment to prayer and works of love. So, no, on RC princilpes it is not possible for the Pope to simply "empty" purgatory.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr Hart's question about how fatherly chastening can be diminished by the prayers and loving offerings of others is one I have in fact answered.

Yes, and you may notice that I wrote all this anyway. It is my way of telling you that impeccable logic is useless at best, deceptive at worst, when built on a flawed premise. For, any doctrine without clear Scriptural foundation is no teaching of the Church.