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PURGATORY AND PRAYERS FOR THE DEAD
BY REV. DEMETRIUS A. GALLITZIN.
WHAT has induced the gentlemen of the pretended Reformation, to discard purgatory from their creed, and to renounce the practice of praying for the deceased, I am at a loss to know. To any man of information, it must be notorious, that the belief and the practice are older than Christianity, almost universal, and far from being impervious to human reason, must, upon a candid examination, meet the approbation of reason.
The Catholic Church, the supreme tribunal of our faith, teaches that there is a purgatory, a place of temporal punishment after death, and that the souls therein detained are helped by the prayers of the faithful, and especially by the holy sacrifice of the mass, Council. Trident. Sess. 25, Decret. de Purg. This decree of the church, assembled in general council, is sufficient for a Catholic to regulate his faith on the present subject, and to convince him fully of the existence of a purgatory, and of the usefulness of prayers for the dead. Still it is a satisfaction to a Catholic, already convinced by the authority of the church, to find that even the plain words of Scripture, and the plainest dictates of reason, are in perfect unison with the declaration of the church Long before the coming of Christ, the people of God prayed and offered sacrifice for the dead. Witness the collection of money made by Judas Macchabaeus, the defender of God s sanctuary; and making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection it is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins, 2 Maccab. xii. 43 46. I know that Protestants reject the Macchabees. But you will permit me to observe that this rejection, made by modern Reformers, can bear no weight, when made in opposition to all antiquity, in opposition to the universal church, the only one extant at the time of the pretended Reformation.
In the earliest ages of Christianity, we find the holy fathers quoting the Macchabees, as well as other Scriptures. Witness St. Clement of Alexandria, lib. 6, Stromaf.; Origcn, lib. 2, de Princi- piis, cap. 1 ; St. Cyprian, lib. de Exhortatione Martyrii; St. Jerom, cap. 23; IsaL; St. Augus tine, lib. 8, de Civltate Dei, cap. 36. St. Isidore Hispalensis says, the Books of the Macchabees, although separated by the Hebrews as Apocrypha, are by the church of Christ honoured, and proclaimed as Divine books, lib. 6. The General Council of Trent, Sess. 4, declares the two Macchabees to be Divine books.*
* The Council of Trent, in defining the Divine Inspiration of those books, has only followed the constant and unanimous tradition of the church, and the examples of other councils, some of which were even general. For those books had been reckoned among the sacred writings by the General Council of Florence, held in 1439, under Eugenius IV.; by a council of seventy bishops, held in Rome in 494, under Pope Gelasius; by Pope St. Innocent I. in his famous epistles, written in 405, to St. Exuperius, bishop of Tholouse ; by the third Council of Carthage, held in 397, at which St. Augustin assisted; by St. Augustin himself, in his work on Christian Doctrine, book xxii. chap. 23, and in the City of God, book xviii. chap 36 ; in a word, by many other fathers.
The belief of a middle state is supported by many other texts of the Old and New Testaments.
Thou also by the blood of thy testament, has sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit, wherein is no water, Zach. ix. 11.
That pit cannot be hell, as out of hell there is no redemption. Consequently it must be a place of temporal punishment from which redemption is had by the blood of the testament.
The Books of Macchabees must be allowed, even by those who do not receive them as canonical, to be, at least, authentic records; as such, then, they bear undeniable testimony of the belief and practice of the Jews of the present day, who, surely, have not borrowed them from Catholics. Seeing, then, the doctrine of purgatory and praying for the dead to have been held by God s people 150 years before Christ, what are we to think of the candour of those who assert it to be an invention of the dark ages?
Every man s work shall be made manifest : for the Lord shall be revealed by fire : and the fire shall try every man s work, of what sort it is. If any man s work abide, which he has built there upon, he shall receive a reward. If any man s work hum, he shall suffer loss : but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire, 1 Cor. iii. 13. 14. 15.
This text hardly requires any comment. From it appears plainly, that although the works of man have been substantially good, and pleasing to Almighty God, yet on account of many deformities, the effects of human frailty and corruption, man must be cleansed by a purging and punishing, yet saving fire, before he can be admitted into that sanctuary; into which nothing defiled can enter, Apocalypse xxi. 27. But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it, in the day of judgment, Matt. xii. 36. Dear sir, you will hardly say that every idle word will consign man to the everlasting punishments of hell ! If so, who will be saved? There must then be some temporal punishments prepared after this life for trifling faults, which we call venial sins.
According to the same Evangelist there are sins that shall not be forgiven neither in this world nor in the world to come, Matt. xii. 32. Does not this intimate that some sins may be atoned for in the world to come?
Make an agreement with thy adversary quickly, whilst thou art in the way with him : lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence, until thou pay the last far thing, Matt. v. 25, 26.
The last text I am going to quote, establishes the doctrine of a third place so very plainly, that it appears strange how it can be misunderstood.
Christ also died once, for our sins, the just for the unjust, that he might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but brought to life by the spirit, in which also he came and preached to those spirits who were in prison: who in time past had been incredulous, when they waited for the patience of God, in the days of Noe, when the ark was building, &c. 1 Peter iii. 18, 19, 20.
It will hardly be supposed that Christ preached to the damned spirits in hell, as it is acknowledged on all hands, I believe, that there is no redemption for them. How then can the above text be under stood, unless by admitting a place of temporal punishment, in which were confined those, who, in the time of Noah, were incredulous, and who had riot fully satisfied the justice of God before departing this life.
The doctrine of the existence of a third place is founded on the belief, that very often, after the guilt and the eternal punishment are taken away by the mercy of God, upon the sinner s sincere repentance, there still remains, on account of the defects of that repentance, something due to the infinite justice of God, something to be expiated either in this world or in the next. Nothing in deed can be more clearly established in Scripture. Adam was cast out of the earthly paradise and many miseries, after his sin of disobedience had been forgiven, and his right to heaven restored to him.
David was punished .with the death of his child, after his enormous crimes were forgiven, after his sincere repentance. 2 Kings c. xii. C O king, saith Daniel to Nabuchodonosor, redeem thy sins with alms. Dan. c. iv. 24.
If temporal punishments have often been indicted by the justice of God, after the guilt and the everlasting punishments were remitted, it follows of course, that if the person die before he has suffered that temporal punishment, he dies chat much indebted to God s justice, and must undoubtedly discharge that debt before he can enter into heaven.
The writings of the holy fathers of both the eastern and the western church, most clearly prove that from the earliest dawn of Christianity, the belief of a purgatory was general in the church. Tertullian, who lived in the second age, says, No man will doubt but that the soul doth recompense something in the places below, Lib. tie Anima c. 58.
And again, in his book de Corona Militis, we make yearly oblations for the dead.
St. Clement in the same age tells us, St. Peter taught them, among other works of mercy, to bury the dead, and diligently perform their funeral rites, and also to pray and give alms for them, . Epist. 1, de S. Petro.
In the third age, St. Cyprian says, It is one thing to be cast into prison, and not to go out thence till he pay the last farthing ; another, presently to receive the reward of faith ; one thing to be afflicted with pains for sins to be expiated, and purged long with fire ; another, to have purged all sins by sufferings, Epis. 52, ad Antone. In the same age Origen says, though a release out of prison be promised, St. Matt, v, yet it is signified, that none can get out from thence, but he who pays the last farthing. In Epist. ad Roman, and Horn. 35, in St. Luc.
In the fourth age, St. Ambrose, But whereas St. Paul says, yet so as by fire, he shows indeed that he shall be saved, but yet shall suffer the punishment of fire, he may be saved, and not tormented for ever, as the infidels are with everlasting fire, Cap. 3, Epis. ad Cor.
In the same age, this is that (says St. Jerome) which he saith, thou shalt not go out of prison, till thou shalt have paid for even thy little sins, C. v. Matt.
In the same age, St. Cyril of Jerusalem says: We beseech God for all those who have died before us, believing the obsecration of that holy and dreadful sacrifice, which is put on the altar, to be the greatest help of the souls for which it is offered, Catech. Mystagog. 5.
Again, in the same age, St. John Chrysostom. says, these things were not in vain ordained by the Apostles, that in the venerable and dreadful mysteries, the mass, there should be made a memory of those who have departed this life; they knew much benefit would hence accrue to them, F-Iomil. 3, in Epist. ad Philip. It would fill volumes to quote all those passages from the holy fathers which prove the belief in a third place, and prayers for the dead, to be coeval with Christianity. Those whom I have quoted lived twelve, thirteen and fourteen centuries before the pretended Reformation, and were of course better judges of genuine apostolical tradition than the late Reformers could be.
If these holy and learned doctors, some of whom were the immediate successors of the Apostles, did not think themselves guilty of superstition in praying for the dead, but declared that in doing so, they followed and obeyed the ordinances of the Apostles; neither are we guilty of superstition in believing and doing as they did.
An objection against purgatory is found in the following words of Scripture : If the tree fall to the south, or to the north, in what place soever it shall fall, there it shall be, Eccles. xi. 3.
Admitting that the Scripture here speaks of the soul after death, which indeed is highly probable, how does this make against purgatory?
We believe, that there are only two eternal states after death, viz. the state of glory and the state of damnation. If the soul departs in the state of grace, it shall be forever in that state, although it may have some venial sins to satisfy for, which may for a while retard the consummation of its happiness. If it dies in the state of mortal sin, and an enemy of God, it shall be ever in torments. Here are two everlasting states, which may be meant by the north and south of the above text. This is the interpretation, of St, Jerome, St. Gregory Pope, St. Bernard, St. Thomas, &c. It is besides so satisfactory that it its surprising that Protestants, instead of -admitting it, vainly endeavour to discover in the text the existence of purgatory. How anyone can see in it the exclusion of our doctrine, I cannot conceive.
I shall now undertake to prove, that the belief in a place of temporal punishment, after death, far from being unreasonable, is perfectly agreeable to the dictates of sound reason, and here I shall borrow the words of the Philosophical Catechism, Art. vii. sect. 4, N. 480.
Here is what a Christian orator and philosopher might say: the soul of man ceasing to dwell upon earth, is summoned to appear before the tribunal of God; his works and virtues speak for him; the law, which he has religiously observed, stands up in his defence to get him crowned in the assembly of the saints. A slight transgression, a foible hardly perceptible, a small failing, inseparable from mortal nature, is perceived in a crowd of meritorious deeds. You, who acknowledge a just God, who adore a merciful God, and yet a God inimical to all iniquity, incapable by nature of admitting into his abode anything sullied with guilt: say, what is to be the fate of this soul, righteous indeed, though stained with sin ; a friend to God, yet bearing in its bosom an enemy to God ? Shall its sins be placed along with its virtues ? Its weakness and its fortitude be crowned alike? Its Christian works confounded with the works of natural frailty? No, you will never "think it; nor have even the adversaries of the tenet of purgatory ever ventured to say it openly. But, must this unfortunate soul be eternally reproved without mercy or resource? Shall the purity of its faith, the liveliness of its hope, the good works without number or measure it has performed, plead for it in vain Far be it from us to think it. By thinking so, we should attack the infinite excellence and perfections of the sovereign Lord of this world. No; never will God rank in the same category, inadvertence and malice, a distraction in prayer and the total neglect of it, an officious lie and a detestable perjury, the man with a few blemishes, and the miscreant sunk over head and ears in profligacy ; he will purify the one and reprobate the other ; he is at once the God of all justice, and the God of all sanctity. A holy soul, but sullied by a stain, shall not enter his mansion, because he is the God of sanctity, and yet shall enter, because he is the God of justice, He, therefore, will reform it, will complete the lustre of its virtues, establish the purity of its works, and then will place it in his glory. There is the solid foundation of the belief of a purgatory, and such is the conclusion we are to draw from the incontestable attributes of our Judge and our God. Hence it is that of all the tenets of the Catholic Church, the most widely diffused, and the most generally admitted, is the tenet of purgatory. The knowledge of a God, both just and holy, has united the most inimical religions, and the most opposite to one another, in the belief of a purgatory, that is, of a certain delay put to the eternal reward, during which the just man is still more sanctified ; an offended God does not damn, for venial sins, because his wrath does not extend to the offender s death, nor a remunerating God confer his rewards immediately, because his liberality is restrained by the faults of a just yet guilty man. This the sages of antiquity have taught in their books, Plato and Timaeo; this the profane, but sublime, poets have sung in their hymns, Virgil s Anedi, L. vi. v. 730 ; this the nations, misled by Mahomet, profess in their Koran; in this the Hebrews, both ancient and modern, agree with the Christians ; and the Greeks, severed from the church by a long and obstinate schism, pray for the dead.
Here then is the greatest part of mankind, all that believe in revelation, except those who follow our late Reformers, and numbers of those who are guided by reason alone, agreed in the belief of a place of temporal punishment, and in the practice of praying for the dead.
If then the Protestant continues to assert that he cannot find either purgatory or the practice of praying for the dead in Scripture, the Catholic Church answer, that they find both the doctrine and the practice very clearly in Holy Scripture.
If the Protestant peremptorily decides, that the belief in purgatory is absurd, and the practice of praying for the dead ridiculous, we, in our sober senses, possessed of common sense as well as our good Protestant neighbours, enlightened by a liberal education as well as many of them, endowed with genius and talents, capable of the most profound disquisitions, in short, endowed, many of us, with all the perfections of the understanding which nature can give, or education improve, we answer, that we find the belief in a place of temporal punishment, and the practice of praying for the dead, perfectly reasonable.
Here then is reason opposed to reason, common sense to common sense, genius and talents to genius and talents; the reason, common sense, &.c. of very many in favour of purgatory opposed to the reason, common sense. &c. of comparatively few against purgatory.
Who shall decide, and decide so as to put the question for ever to rest? None but the great tribunal which Jesus Christ established on earth more than eighteen hundred years ago. When infusing into his ministers the spirit of truth, he promised that that spirit should never depart from them to the end of time. This tribunal, as I have proved above, has decided in our favour, and it is because that supreme and infallible tribunal has decided so, that we believe as we do.
Just as I was going to close the present subject, a little pamphlet fell into my hands, the author of which calls himself an independent minister, in which I find the following objection against purgatory.
This doctrine of purgatory casts a reproach on Christ as a Saviour of sinners, representing his obedience and suffering as insufficient to atone for their sins.
This objection, dear sir, will appear very trifling to you when you know, that the Catholic Church teaches, that the merits of Jesus Christ are of themselves far more than sufficient to atone for all the sins of mankind. But Jesus Christ requires our co-operation; and it depends upon the degree of our co-operation, whether those infinite merits of Christ are applied to us in a more or less abundant measure.
It is in the order of grace as in the order of nature, In the sweat of thy face, shalt thou eat bread, Gen. iii. 19.
God s omnipotence alone gives growth to our grain; yet without casting a reproach on that omnipotence we may safely assert, that, in proportion as we plough and sow, in that proportion we shall reap. So, likewise, although Christ s merits and satisfaction for sinners are of infinite value, yet the benefit we shall reap of those infinite merits will be proportionate to our endeavours in subduing our corrupt nature, out sinful inclinations, and conforming to the will of God.
He who soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly; and he who soweth in blessing shall also reap of blessings, 2 Cor. ix. 6. He, then, who soweth so sparingly in this world as to remain, in his dying moment, indebted to the Divine Justice, will, after his death, be compelled to pay to the last farthing what, by more strenuous endeavours, he might have paid in this world.
I believe, sir, I have fulfilled my promise of proving, that we are not guilty of superstition in believing a purgatory, and praying for the dead. I shall now try to prove, that we are no more guilty of superstition in honouring the saints, and applying to their intercession.
Catholic Publication Society, 1880
"O turn to Jesus, Mother! turn,
And call Him by His tenderest names;
Pray for the holy souls that burn
This hour amid the cleansing flames."
-F. Faber: Hymn to our Blessed Lady
for the Souls in Purgatory. (19th cent.)