|« Prev||4. Doctrine of the Church of Rome.||Next »|
§ 4. Doctrine of the Church of Rome.
Although Romanists reject the doctrine of an intermediate 744state in the sense of the ancient Church, they nevertheless divide the world into which the souls of men enter at death, into many different departments.
The Limbus Patrum.
They hold that the souls of the righteous before the coming of Christ descended into Sheol, where they remained in a state of expectancy awaiting the coming of the Messiah. When Christ came and had accomplished his work of redemption by dying upon the cross, He descended into Hades, or the under-world, where the souls of the patriarchs were confined, delivered them from their captivity, and carried them in triumph to heaven. In other words they hold the common Jewish doctrine as to the state of the dead, so far as the saints of the Old Testament period are concerned. Their views on that subject have an intimate relation, whether causal or inferential is uncertain and unimportant, with their doctrine of the sacraments. Holding, first, that the sacraments are the only channels by which the saving blessings of redemption are conveyed to men; and, secondly, that the sacraments of the Old Testament signified but did not communicate grace, they could not avoid the conclusion that those who died before the coming of Christ were not saved. The best that could be hoped concerning them was that they were not lost, but retained in a salvable state awaiting the coming deliverer. Whether they inferred that the Old Testament saints were not saved because they had no grace-bearing sacraments, or concluded that their sacraments were ineffectual, because those who had no others were not saved, it is not easy to determine. The latter is the more probable; as most naturally they received the doctrine of Sheol from the Jews, as they did so many other doctrines; and being led to believe that the patriarchs were not in heaven, they could not avoid the conclusion that circumcision and the passover were very far inferior in efficacy to the Christian sacraments.
The Limbus Infantum.
This is the name given to the place and state pertaining to the departed souls of unbaptized infants. As this class includes, perhaps, a moiety of the whole human race, their destiny in the future world is a matter of the deepest interest. The doctrine of the Church of Rome on this subject is that infants dying without baptism are not at death, or ever after it, admitted into the kingdom of heaven. They never partake of the benefits of redemption. 745This doctrine is explicitly stated in the symbols of that Church, and defended by its theologians. Cardinal Gousset, for example, says that original sin, of which all the children of Adam are partakers, is the death of the soul. Its consequences in this life are ignorance or obscuration of the understanding, feebleness of the will which can do nothing spiritually good without the assistance of divine grace, concupiscence or revolt of our lower nature, infirmities, sorrow, and the death of the body. Its consequences in the life to come are exclusion from the kingdom of heaven, privation of life eternal, of the beatific vision; “no one can enter into the kingdom of God unless he be born again in Jesus Christ by baptism; ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ This is what faith teaches, but it goes no further. The Church leaves to the discussions of the schools the different opinions of theologians touching the fate of those who are excluded from the kingdom of heaven on account of original sin; infants, for example, who die without having received the sacrament of baptism.”775775Théologie Dogmatique, par S. E. le Cardinal Gousset, Archeveque de Reims, 10th edit Paris, 1866, vol. ii. pp. 95, 96.
Perrone speaking on this subject says, “We must distinguish the certain from the uncertain. What is certain, yea, a matter of faith, we have from the decisions of the Second Council of Lyons and the Council of Florence, both of which declare concerning infants and idiots: ‘Credimus . . . . illorum animas, qui in mortali peccato vel cum solo originali decedunt, mox in infernum descendere, pœnis tamen disparibus puniendas.’ Ita quidem Florentinum ‘in decreto Unionis,’ quod descripsit verba Lugdunensis in fidei professione. De fide igitur est, (1.) parvulos ejusmodi in infernum descendere seu damnationem incurrere; (2.) pœnis puniri disparibus ab illis quibus puniuntur adulti. Quæ proinde spectant ad hunc inferni locum, ad pœnarum disparitatem, seu in quo hæc disparitas constituenda sit, ad parvulorum statum post judicii diem incerta sunt omnia, nec fidem attingunt. Hinc variæ de his sunt patrum ac theologorum sententiæ.”776776Prælectiones Theologicæ, edit. Paris, 1861, vol. i. p. 494. Perrone goes on to show that the Latin fathers represent infants as suffering “pœnam sensus;” while most of Greek fathers say that they incur only “pœnam damni,” a sense of loss in being deprived of the blessedness of heaven. What that involves, however, he says is much disputed among theologians.
The Scriptural proof of this doctrine, as argued by Romanists 746is principally twofold; the first is derived from the doctrine of original sin. They admit that the sin of Adam brought guilt and spiritual death upon all mankind. Baptism is the only means appointed for the deliverance of men from these dreadful evils. Hence it follows that the unbaptized remain under this guilt and pollution. The second great argument is founded upon John iii. 5, “Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This Romanists understand as an explicit declaration that the unbaptized cannot be saved. On this, however, as on all other subjects, their main dependence is upon the decision of Councils and the testimony of the fathers. Besides the Councils of Lyons and Florence, both regarded as ecumenical by Romanists, appeal is made to the canons of the Council of Trent, “Si quis parvulos recentes ab uteris matrum baptizandos negat, etiam si a baptizatis parentibus orti; aut dicit in remissionem quidem peccatorum eos baptizari, sed nihil ex Adam trahere originalis peccati, quod regenerationis lavacro necesse sit expiari ad vitam æternam consequendam.. . . . . anathema sit.”777777Sess. v., canon 4; Streitwolf, vol. i. pp. 18, 19. The Synod of Carthage, A. D. 416, is also quoted, which decided:778778Quoted by Perrone, Prælectiones Theologicæ, III. vi. 599; edit. Paris, 1861, vol. i. pp. 496, 497. “Quicunque negat, parvulos per baptismum Christi a perditione liberari, et salutem percipere posse; anathema sit.” Although the councils declare that the souls of unbaptized infants descend immediately into hell, Cardinal Gousset remarks, it is to be remembered that there are many departments in hell. There was one for the impenitent who died before the coming of Christ, and another for the souls of the righteous who awaited the advent of the Messiah; so there is no reason for denying that there is still another for the souls of unbaptized infants. “We repeat,” he says,779779Gousset, ut supra, p. 96. “that neither the Council of Florence nor that of Lyons pronounces on the nature of the punishment of those who die with only the guilt of original sin, except to show that they are forever excluded from the kingdom of heaven.” We can, therefore, without going counter to the decisions of the Church, maintain the sentiment which exempts such unfortunates from the punishment of hell, and the rather because the opposite opinion is generally abandoned, and this abandonment is in accord with Pope Innocent III., who, distinguishing between the punishment of original and of actual sin, makes the latter to be the pain of 747eternal fire; the former, the simple loss of the beatific (or intuitive) vision: “Poena originalis peccati est carentia visionis Dei, actualis vero pœna peccati est gehennæ perpetuæ cruciatus.”780780Innocent III. Caput “Majores” de Baptismo. On the following page he says, “We will go still further, and say with St. Thomas, that although unbaptized infants are deprived forever of the happiness of the saints, they suffer neither sorrow nor sadness in consequence of that privation.” It is a matter of rejoicing that the doctrine of Romanists on the condition of unbaptized infants in a future life has admitted of this amelioration, although it is hard to reconcile it with the decisions of councils which declare that the souls of such infants do at death immediately descend into hell, if that word be understood according to the sense in which it was generally used when those decisions were made. The current representations of the theologians of the Latin Church are against this modified form of the doctrine. The Council of Trent anathematizes those who say that baptism is not necessary for the expiation of original sin; as that of Carthage those who affirm that it does not save infants from perdition. Romanists, however, of our day, have the right to state their doctrine in their own way, and should not be charged with holding sentiments which they repudiate.
Hell is defined by Romanists as the place or state in which the fallen angels and men who die in a state of mortal sin, or, as it is also expressed, of final impenitence, suffer forever the punishment of their sins.
That the punishment of the wicked is unending they prove from the express declarations of Scripture, from the faith of the Church universal, and from the general belief of men. As to the nature of the sufferings of those who perish, they say they are those of loss; they are deprived of the favour, vision, and presence of God; and those “of sense,” or of positive infliction. To this latter class are to be referred such sufferings as arise from wicked passions, from remorse and despair, as well as those which spring from the external circumstances in which the finally condemned are placed. Whether the unquenchable fire of which the Bible speaks, is to be understood literally or figuratively, is a question about which Romanists differ. Gousset proposes the question, and says that it is one on which the Church has given no decisions. “It is of faith,” he says, “that the condemned 748shall be eternally deprived of the happiness of heaven, and that they shall be eternally tormented in hell; but it is not of faith that the fire which causes their suffering is material. Many doctors, whose opinion has not been condemned, think that as ‘the worm which never dies’ is a figurative expression, so also is ‘the fire that is never quenched;’ and that the fire means a pain analogous to that by fire rather than the real pain produced by fire. Nevertheless the idea that the fire spoken of is real material fire is so general among Catholics, that we do not venture to advance a contrary opinion.”781781Gousset, ut supra, p. 160.
Into this place and state of endless misery do pass, at death, all who die out of the pale of the Catholic Church; all the unbaptized (at least among adults); all schismatics; all heretics; all who die impenitent, or in a state of mortal sin, that is, sin the penalty of which is eternal death, which has not been remitted by priestly absolution.
Heaven, on the other hand, is the place and state of the blessed, where God is; where Christ is enthroned in majesty, and where are the angels and the spirits of the just made perfect. Those who enter heaven are in possession of the supreme good. “The happiness of the saints above is complete; they possess God, and in that possession they find perfect rest, and the enjoyment of all good.” Their blessedness is perfect because it is everlasting. They see God face to face. They will eternally love Him and be loved by Him. “Beatitudo, quæ etiam summum bonum aut ultimus finis nuncupatur, a Boetio782782Consolatio Philosophiæ, Lib. iii, prosa 2; Lyons, 1671, p. 107. definitur: ‘status bonorum omnium congregatione perfectus;’ a S. Augustino,783783Enarratio in Psalmum, ii. 11; Works, Paris, 1835, vol. iv. p. 8, c. ‘Bonorum omnium summa et cumulus;’ a scholasticis autem: ’summum bonum appetivus rationalis satiativum.’”784784Perrone, ut supra, vol. i. p. 467. It is, therefore, heaven in the highest sense of the term, into which the saints are said to enter.
There are, however, degrees in this blessedness. “The elect,” says Cardinal Gousset, “in heaven, see God in a manner more or less perfect, according as they have more or less of merit, ‘pro meritorum diversitate,’ as it is expressed by the Council of Florence, which agrees with the words of our Lord, who says, ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions.’”785785Gousset, p. 132. Into this only a 749few, however, even of true believers, according to Romanists, enter at death. The advocates of the doctrine of an intermediate state, as has been shown, assert that none of the human family, whether patriarch, prophet, Apostle, or martyr, is admitted to the vision of God when he leaves the body; and that none of the wicked goes into the place of final retribution. Both the righteous and the wicked remain in a middle state, awaiting their final doom and location at the second coming of Christ. As to both these points, Romanists are more nearly agreed with the great body of Protestants.
On this point the Council of Florence says: “Credimus . . . . illorum animas, qui post baptismum susceptum nullam omnino peccati maculam incurrerunt, illas etiam animas quæ post contractam peccati maculam vel in suis corporibus, vel eisdem exutæ corporibus sunt purgatæ in cœlum mox recipi, et intueri clare ipsum Deum trinum et unum sicuti est.” This doctrine Romanists assert not only in opposition to those who teach that the soul dies with the body and is revived at the resurrection, but also to those who say that the souls even of the perfectly purified “in aliqua requie degere, donec post corporum resurrectionem adipiscantur æternam beatitudinem, quam interim expectant.” This error, Perrone says, widely disseminated among the Greeks, was adopted by Luther and Calvin.786786Ut supra, p. 473.
Two classes of persons, therefore, according to this view, enter heaven before the resurrection; first, those who are perfectly purified at the time of death; and second, those who, although not thus perfect when they leave this world, have become perfect in purgatory.
According to Romanists, all those who die in the peace of the Church, but are not perfect, pass into purgatory; with regard to which they teach, (1.) That it is a state of suffering. The commonly received traditional, though not symbolical, doctrine on this point is, that the suffering is from material fire. The design of this suffering is both expiation and purification. (2.) That the duration and intensity of purgatorial pains are proportioned to the guilt and impurity of the sufferers. (3.) That there is no known or defined limit to the continuance of the soul in purgatory, but the day of judgment. The departed may remain in this state of suffering for a few hours or for thousands of years. (4.) That souls in purgatory may be helped; that is, their sufferings 750alleviated or the duration of them shortened by the prayers of the saints, and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass. (5.) That purgatory is under the power of the keys. That is, it is the prerogative of the authorities of the Church, at their discretion, to remit entirely or partially the penalty of sins under which the souls there detained are suffering.
This doctrine is deeply rooted in the whole Romish system. According to that system, (1.) Christ delivers us only from the “reatus culpæ,” and exposure to eternal death. (2.) For all sins committed after baptism the offender must make satisfaction by penance or good works. (3.) This satisfaction must be complete and the soul purified from all sin, before it can enter heaven. (4.) This satisfaction and purification, if not effected in this life, must be accomplished after death. (5.) The eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice intended to secure the pardon of post-baptismal sins, and takes effect according to the intention of the officiating priest. Therefore, if he intends it for the benefit of any soul in purgatory, it inures to his advantage. (6.) The pope, being the vicar of Christ on earth, has full power to forgive sin; that is, to exempt offenders from the obligation to make satisfaction for their offences.
Moehler, and other philosophical defenders of Romanism, soften down the doctrine by representing purgatory simply as a state of gradual preparation of the imperfectly sanctified for admission into heaven, making no mention of positive suffering, much less of material fire. Cardinal Gousset does not go so far as this, yet he says:787787Gousset, ut supra, vol. ii. 143. ” It is of faith, (1.) That the righteous who die without having entirely satisfied divine justice, must make satisfaction after this life by temporary pains, which are called pains of purgatory; (2.) That the souls in purgatory are relieved by the prayers of the Church. This is what the faith teaches; but it stops there. Is purgatory a particular place rather than a state, or a state rather than a particular place? Are the pains of purgatory due to fire, or are the pains those which arise from the consciousness of having offended God? What are the severity and duration of those pains? These and other questions of like kind, are not included in the domain of Catholic doctrine. These are questions about which there exists no decision or judgment of the Church. Nevertheless it should be known that in the opinion of the majority of theologians the torments of purgatory consist in part on those of fire, or, at least, in such as are analogous to 751the pain produced by fire. We will add that, according to Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas, whose opinion is generally adopted (dont le sentiment est assez suivi), the pains of purgatory surpass those of this life: “Pœna purgatorii,” says the angelic Doctor,788788See Aquinas, Summa, III. xlvi. 6, 3. “quantum ad pœnam damni et sensus, excedit omnem pœnam istius vitæ.”
Cardinal Wiseman,789789Lectures on the Principal Doctrines and Practices of the Catholic Church. By Cardinal Wiseman. Two volumes in one. Sixth American from the last London edition. Revised and Corrected. Baltimore, 1870. Lecture XI. On Satisfaction and Purgatory. in his lecture on this subject, speaks in the mildest terms. He says nothing of the pains of purgatory except that they are pains. The satisfaction for sin demanded by the Church of Rome, to be rendered in this world, consists of prayers, fastings, almsgiving, and the like; and we are told that if this satisfaction be not made before death, it must be made after it. This is all that the Cardinal ventures to say. He has not courage to lift the veil from the burning lake in which the souls in purgatory are represented as suffering, according to the common faith of Romanists. Although it is true that the Church of Rome has wisely abstained from any authoritative decision as to the nature and intensity of purgatorial sufferings, it does not thereby escape responsibility on the subject. It allows free circulation with ecclesiastical sanction, expressed or implied, of books containing the most frightful exhibitions of the sufferings of purgatory which the imagination of man can conceive. This doctrine, therefore, however mildly it may be presented in works designed for Protestant readers, is nevertheless a tremendous engine of priestly power. The feet of the tiger with the claws withdrawn are as soft as velvet; when those claws are extended, they are fearful instruments of laceration and death.
Arguments used in favour of the Doctrine.
1. Romanists make comparatively little use of Scripture in defence of their peculiar doctrines.790790Cardinal Wiseman says: “I have more than once commented on the incorrectness of that method of arguing which demands that we prove every one of our doctrines individually from the Scriptures. I occupied myself, during my first course of lectures, in demonstrating the Catholic principle of faith that the Church of Christ was constituted by Him the depositary of his truths, and that, although many were recorded in his holy word, still many were committed to traditional keeping, and that Christ Himself has faithfully promised to teach in his Church, and has thus secured her from error.” Lectures, ut supra, xi. vol. ii. p. 45. This resolves all controversies with Romanists into two questions. First, what is the prerogative of the Church as a teacher; and secondly, is the Church of Rome, or any other external organized body, the body of Christ to which the prerogatives and promises of the Church belong? Their main support is tradition 752and the authority of the Church. Cardinal Wiseman cites but two passages from the New Testament in favour of the doctrine of purgatory. The first is our Lord’s saying that the sin against the Holy Ghost shall never be forgiven either in this world or in the world to come. This is said to imply that there are sins which are not forgiven in this life which may be forgiven hereafter; and therefore that the dead, or at least a part of their number, are not past forgiveness when they die. This is a slender thread on which to hang so great a weight. The words of Christ contain no such implication. To say that a thing can never happen either here or hereafter, in this world or in the world to come, is a familiar way of saying that it can never happen under any circumstances. Our Lord simply said that blasphemy of the Holy Ghost can never be forgiven. The other passage is from Revelation xxi. 21, where it said that nothing that defileth shall enter heaven. But as very few, if any of the human family, are perfectly pure when they die, it follows that, if there be no place or process of purification after death, few if any of the sons of men could be saved; or, as Cardinal Wiseman puts the argument, “Suppose that a Christian dies who had committed some slight transgression; he cannot enter heaven in this state, and yet we cannot suppose that he is to be condemned forever. What alternative, then, are we to admit? Why, that there is some place in which the soul will be purged of the sin, and qualified to enter into the glory of God.”791791Lectures, ut supra, vol. ii. p. 49. But does not the blood of Christ cleanse from all sin? Were not the sins of Paul all forgiven the moment he believed? Did the penitent thief enter purgatory instead of paradise? To minds trained under the influence of evangelical doctrine, such arguments as the above cannot have the slightest weight.
2. Great stress is laid upon the fact that the custom of praying for the dead prevailed early and long in the Church. Such prayers take for granted that the dead need our prayers; and thin supposes that they are not in heaven. But if not in heaven where can they be except in a preparatory or purgatorial states To this it may be answered, (1.) That praying for the dead is a superstitious practice, having no support from the Bible. It was one of the corruptions early introduced into the Church It will not do to argue from one corruption in support of another. (2.) Those who vindicate the propriety of praying for the dead are often strenuous opposers of the doctrine of purgatory. Dr. Pusey, or example, says: “Since Rome has blended the cruel invention 753of purgatory with the primitive custom of praying for the dead, it is not in communion with her that any can seek comfort from this rite.”792792An earnest Remonstrance to the author of the “Pope’s Pastoral Letter to Certain Members of the University of Oxford,” London, 1836, p. 25. The Hon. Archibald Campbell, whose work is quoted above, says that all the authorities to which he refers from among the English Bishops and theologians, side with him in defending prayers for the dead and in denouncing purgatory. The early Christians prayed for the souls of Apostles and martyrs, whom they assuredly believed were already in heaven. It was not, therefore, for any alleviation of their sufferings, as Dr. Pusey argues, that such prayers were offered, but for the augmentation of their happiness, and the consummation of their blessedness at the last day.
3. The argument of most logical force to those who believe the premises whence it is derived, is drawn from the doctrine of satisfaction. The Romish doctrine on this subject includes the following principles: “(1.) That God, after the remission of sin, retains a lesser chastisement in his power, to be inflicted on the simmer. (2.) That penitential works, fasting, alms-deeds, contrite weeping, and fervent prayer, have the power of averting that punishment. (3.) That this scheme of God’s justice was not a part of the imperfect law, but the unvarying ordinance of his dispensation, anterior to the Mosaic ritual, and amply confirmed by Christ in the gospel. (4.) That it consequently becomes a part of all true repentance to try to satisfy this divine justice by the voluntary assumption of such penitential works as his revealed truth assures have efficacy before Him.”793793Wiseman, ut supra, vol. ii. p. 40. It will be observed that the Cardinal, in detailing the kind of satisfaction to be made, mentions fasting, alms-giving, and prayer, but says nothing of scourgings, hair shirts, spiked girdles, and all other means of self-torture so common and so applauded in the Romish Church. In this way he softens down and understates all “Catholic Doctrines and Practices,” to render them less revolting to the reason and conscience of his readers. Purgatory with him is a bed of roses with here and there a thorn, instead of the lake of real fire and brimstone which glares through all Church history. In connection with this is to be taken the doctrine of indulgences. This doctrine, we are told, rests on the following grounds: (1.) “That satisfaction has to be made to God for sin remitted, under the authority and regulation of the Church. (2.) That the Church has always considered herself possessed of the authority to mitigate, by diminution or commutation, the penance which she enjoins; and she has always reckoned such a mitigation valid before God, who sanctions and accepts it. (3.) That the sufferings of the saints, in union with, and by virtue of Christ’s merits, are considered available towards the granting this mitigation. (4.) That such mitigations, when 754prudently and justly granted, are conducive toward the spiritual weal and profit of Christians.”794794Ibid. vol. ii. p. 70.
We have thus a broad foundation laid for the whole doctrine of purgatory. God in the forgiveness of sin remits only the penalty of eternal death. There remain temporal pains to be endured in satisfaction of divine justice. If such satisfaction be not made in this world, it must be rendered in the next. The Church has the power of regulating these satisfactions, of directing what they shall be, of mitigating or commuting them in this life, and of lessening their severity or duration in the life to come. The infinite merit of Christ, and the superfluous merits of all the saints, gained by works of supererogation, form an inexhaustible treasury, from which the Pope and his subordinates may draw at discretion for the mitigation, or plenary dispensation, of all the satisfaction due for sin in the way of penance in this life, or the pains of purgatory in the life to come. Now when it is considered that the pains of purgatory are authoritatively and almost universally represented by Romanists to be intolerably severe, it will be seen that no such engine of power, no such means of subjugating the people, or of exalting and enriching the priesthood has ever been claimed or conceded by man. Men really invested with this power, of necessity, and of right, are the absolute masters of their fellow men; and those who wrongfully claim it, who assume without possessing it, are the greatest impostors (consciously or unconsciously) and the greatest tyrants the world ever saw.
4. With Romanists themselves the greatest argument in favour of the doctrine of purgatory is tradition. They claim that it has always been held in the Church; and in support of that claim they quote from the fathers all passages which speak of purification by fire, or of praying for the dead. They usually begin with the Second Book of Maccabees xii. 43, where it is said that Judas Maccabeus sent “2,000 drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice, to be offered for the sins” of the dead. They cite Tertullian795795De Monogamia, 10; Works, edit. Basle, 1562, p. 578. who advised a widow to pray for her husband, and to offer oblations for him on the anniversary of his death; Cyprian,796796Ep. xlvi. p. 114. (?) who says that if a man committed a certain offence, “no oblation should be made for him, nor sacrifice offered for his repose;” Basil, who says of Isaiah ix. 19, “The people shall be as the fuel of the fire,” οὐκ ἀφανισμὸν ἀπειλεῖ, ἀλλὰ τὴν καίθαρσιν ὑποφαίνει, that is, “it does not threaten extermination, but denotes purification;”797797In Esaiæ, ix. 19; Works, edit. Paris, 1618, vol. i. p. 1039, d. Cyril of Jerusalem, 755who says: “Deinde et pro defunctis sanctis patribus et episcopis, et omnibus generatim, qui inter nos vita functi sunt, oramus, maximum hoc credentes adjumentum illis animabus fore, pro quibas oratio defertur, dum sancta et tremenda coram jacet victima;”798798Catechesis Mystagogica, v. 9; Opera, Venice, 1763, p. 328, a, b. that is, “Then we pray for the holy fathers and the bishops that are dead; and, in short, for all those who are departed this life in our communion; believing that the souls of those for whom the prayers are offered, receive very great relief while this holy and tremendous victim lies upon the altar;” Gregory of Nyssa,799799Oratio de Mortuis; Works, Paris, 1615, vol. ii. pp. 1066-1068. who says that in this life the sinner may “be renovated by prayers and by the pursuit of wisdom;” but when he has quitted his body, “he cannot be admitted to approach the Divinity till the purging fire shall have expiated the stains with which his soul was infected;” Ambrose,800800“Dixit: ‘Sic tamen quasi per ignem,’ ut salus hæc non sine pœna sit: . . . . estendit salvum illum quidem futurum; sed pœnas ignis passurum, ut per ignem purgatus fiat salvus, et non sicut perfidi æterno igne in perpetuum torqueatur.” Works, edit. Paris, 1661, vol. iii. p. 351, a. who thus comments upon 1 Corinthians iii. 15, “He . . . . shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” The Apostle says, “‘Yet so as by fire,’ in order that his salvation be not understood to be without pain. He shows that he shall be saved indeed, but he shall undergo the pain of fire, and be thus purified; not like the unbelieving and wicked man, who shall be punished in everlasting fire;” Jerome,801801Comment in c. lxv. Isai. Opera, Paris, 1579, tome iv., p. 502, d, e. who says: “As we believe the torments of the devil, and of those wicked men, who said in their hearts, ‘There is no God,’ to be eternal; so, in regard to those sinners, impious men, and even Christians, and whose works will be proved and purged by fire, we conclude that the sentence of the judge will be tempered by mercy;” and Augustine,802802“Nam pro defunctis quibusdam, vel ipsius Ecclesiæ, vel quorumdam piorum exauditur oratio: sed pro his quorum in Christo regeneratorum nec usque adeo vita in corpore male gesta est ut tali misericordia judicentur digni non esse, nec usque adeo bene, ut talem misercordiam reperiantur necessariam non habere. Sicut etiam facta resurrectione mortuorum non deerunt quibus post pœnas, quas patiuntur spiritas mortuorum, impertiatur misericordia, ut in ignem non mittantur æternum. Neque enim de quibusdam veraciter diceretur, quod non eis remittatur neque in hoc sæculo, neque, in futuro, nisi essent quibus, etsi non in isto, tamen remittetur in futuro.” De Civitate Dei, XXI. xxiv. 2; Works, 2d. Benedictine edition, Paris, 1838, vol. vii. p. 1028, c. d. “Ædificarent autem aurum, argentum, lapides pretiosos, et de utroque igne securi essent; non solum de illo æterno qui in æternum cruciaturus est impios, sed etiam de illo qui emendabit eos qui per ignem salvi erunt . . . . Et quia dicitur, ’salvus erit,’ contemnitur ille guis. . . . . Gravior tamen erit ille ignis quam quidquid potest homo pati in hac vita.” Enarratio in Psalmum, xxxvii. 2, 3; Works, vol. iv. pp. 418, d. 419, a. who says: “The prayers of the Church, or of good persons, are heard 756in favour of those Christians who departed this life not so bad as to be deemed unworthy of mercy, nor so good as to be entitled to immediate happiness. So, also, at the resurrection of the dead, there will some be found to whom mercy will be imparted, having gone through those pains to which the spirits of the dead are liable. Otherwise it would not have been said of some with truth, that their sin shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come, unless some sins were remitted in the next world.” And again: “If they had built gold and silver, and precious stones, they would be secure from both fires; not only from that in which the wicked shall be punished forever, but likewise from that fire that purifies those who shall be saved by fire. But because it is said shall be saved, that fire is thought lightly of; though the suffering will be more grievous than anything man can undergo in this life.” “These passages,” says Cardinal Wiseman, “contain precisely the same doctrine as the Catholic Church teaches;” they may be found in great abundance in all the standard works of Catholic theologians.
With regard to this argument from the fathers, it may be remarked, (1.) That if any one should quote Döllinger, Dupanloup, Wiseman, and Manning in favour of any Christian doctrine, it would have more weight with Protestants than the same number of these early writers; not only because they are, speaking generally, men of far more ability and higher culture, but because they are in more favourable circumstances to learn the truth. The fathers looked at everything through an atmosphere filled with the forms of pagan traditions and ideas. The modern leaders of the Church of Rome are surrounded by the light of Protestant Christianity. (2.) All the ancient writers, quoted in support of the doctrine of purgatory, held doctrines which no Romanist is now willing to avow. If they discard the authority of the fathers when teaching a Jewish millennium, or sovereign predestination, once the doctrine of the universal Church, they cannot reasonably expect Protestants to bow to that authority when urged in favour of the pagan idea of a purification by fire. (3.) The witnesses cited in support of the doctrine of purgatory come very far short of proving the universal and constant belief of the doctrine in question. And. according to Romanists themselves, no doctrine can plead the support of tradition that cannot stand the crucial test, “quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus.” (4.) That purgatory is, what Dr. Pusey calls it, “a modern invention,” has been demonstrated by tracing historically its origin, rise, and development in the Church.757
Arguments against the Doctrine.
1. The first, most obvious, and, for Protestants, the most decisive argument against the doctrine is, that it is not taught in the Bible. This is virtually admitted by its advocates. The most that is pretended is, that having adopted the doctrine on other grounds, they can find in Scripture here and there a passage which can be explained in accordance with its teachings. There is no passage which asserts it. There is no evidence that it formed a part of the instructions of Christ or his Apostles.
2. It is not only destitute of all support from Scripture, but it is opposed to its clearest and most important revelations. If there be anything plainly taught in the Bible, it is that if any man forsakes his sins, believes in the Lord Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, trusts simply and entirely to Him and his work, and leads a holy life, he shall certainly be saved. This the doctrine of purgatory denies. It rests avowedly on the assumption that notwithstanding the infinitely meritorious sacrifice of Christ, the sinner is bound to make satisfaction for his own sins. This the Bible declares to be impossible. No man does or can perfectly keep the commandments of God, much less can he not only abstain from incurring new guilt, but also make atonement for sins that are past.
The doctrine moreover assumes the merit of good works. Here again it is clearer than the sun that the New Testament teaches that we are saved by grace and not by works; that to him that worketh, the reward is a matter of debt; but to him who simply believes, it is a matter of grace; and that the two are incompatible. What is of grace is not of works; and what is of works is not of grace. There is nothing more absolutely incompatible with the nature of the Gospel than the idea that man can “satisfy divine justice” for his sins. Yet this idea lies at the foundation of the doctrine of purgatory. If there be no satisfaction of justice, on the part of the sinner, there is no purgatory, for, according to Romanists, purgatory is the place and state in which such satisfaction is rendered. As the renunciation of all dependence upon our own merit, of all purpose, desire, or effort to make satisfaction for ourselves, and trusting exclusively to the satisfaction rendered by Jesus Christ, is of the very essence of Christian experience, it will be seen that the doctrine of purgatory is in conflict not only with the doctrines of the Bible but also with the religious consciousness of the believer. This is not saying that 758no man who believes in purgatory can be a true Christian. The history of the Church proves that Christians can be very inconsistent; that they may speculatively adhere to doctrines which are inconsistent with what their hearts know to be true.
It is, however, not only the doctrine of satisfaction, but also the absolutely preposterous doctrine of supererogation which must be admitted, if we adopt the creed of the Church of Rome in this matter. The idea is that a man may be more than perfect; that he may not only do more than the law requires of him, but even render satisfaction to God’s justice so meritorious as to be more than sufficient for the pardon of his own sins. This superfluous merit, is the ground on which the sins of those suffering in purgatory may be forgiven. This is a subject which does not admit of argument. It supposes an impossibility. It supposes that a rational creature can be better than he ought to be; i.e., than he is bound to be. Romanists moreover strenuously deny the possibility that Christ’s righteousness can be imputed to the believer as the ground of his justification; and yet they teach that the merits of the saints may be imputed to sinners in purgatory as the ground of their forgiveness.
Another antiscriptural assumption involved in the doctrine is that the pope, and his subordinates, have power over the unseen world; power to retain or to remit the sins of departed souls; to deliver them from purgatorial fire or to allow them to remain under its torments. This is a power which could not be trusted in the hands of an angel. Nothing short of infinite knowledge and infinite rectitude could secure it from fatal abuse. No such power we may be assured has ever been committed to the hands of sinful men.
There are two entirely different things involved in this priestly power to forgive sins. There are two kinds of punishment denounced against sin. The one is the sentence of eternal death; the other is the temporary punishment to which the sinner remains subject after the eternal penalty is remitted.803803In the passage quoted in part on a preceding page, Cardinal Wiseman says: “No fasting, no prayers, no alms-deeds, no works that we can conceive to be by man, however protracted, however expensive or rigorous they may be, can, according to the Catholic doctrine, have the most infinitesimal weight for obtaining the remission of sin, or of the eternal punishment allotted to it. This constitutes the essence of forgiveness, of justification, and in it we hold that man has no power. Now, let us come to the remaining part of the sacrament [of penance]. We believe that upon this forgiveness of sins, that is, after the remission of that eternal debt, which God in his justice awards to transgressions against his law, He has been pleased to reserve a certain degree of inferior or temporary punishment appropriate to the guilt which had been incurred; and it is on this part of the punishment alone, that, according to the Catholic doctrine, satisfaction can be made to God.” Lectures, ut supra, vol. ii. p. 35. With regard 759to both the priest interferes. Neither can be remitted without his intervention. The eternal penalty is remitted in the sacrament of penance The latter is exacted, mitigated, or dispensed with at the discretion of the Church, or its organs. As to the remission of the eternal penalty the intervention of the priest is necessary because he alone can administer the sacrament of penance, which includes contrition, confession, and satisfaction. All are necessary. It is not enough that the sinner be penitent in heart and truly turn from sin unto God; he must confess his sins to the priest. The Church “maintains that the sinner is bound to manifest his offences to the pastors of his Church, or, rather, to one deputed and authorized by the Church for that purpose; to lay open to him all the secret offences of his soul, to expose all its wounds, and in virtue of the authority vested by our Blessed Saviour in him, to receive through his hands, on earth, the sentence which is ratified in heaven, of God’s forgiveness.” Christ also “gave to the Church power of retaining sins, that is, of withholding forgiveness, or delaying it to more seasonable time.”804804Wiseman, Lectures vol. ii. p. 15. “Here is a power, in the first place, truly to forgive sin. For this expression ‘to forgive sins,’ in the New Testament, always signifies to clear the sinner of guilt before God.” “The Apostles, then, and their successors, received this authority; consequently, to them was given a power to absolve, or to cleanse the soul from its sins. There is another power also: that of retaining sins What is the meaning of this? clearly the power of refusing to forgive them. Now, all this clearly implies — for the promise is annexed, that what sins Christ’s lawful ministers retain on earth, are retained in heaven — that there is no other means of obtaining forgiveness, save through them. For the forgiveness of heaven is made to depend upon that which they forgive on earth; and those are not to be pardoned there, whose sins they retain.805805Ibid. pp. 19, 20. This is sufficiently explicit. It is to be remembered the power of forgiveness here claimed has reference, not to the temporary punishment imposed in the way of penance or satisfaction, but to the remission of “the eternal debt.” Now, as to the temporary punishment, which, as we have seen, may last thousands of years and exceed in severity any sufferings on earth, Romanists teach, (1.) That “they are expiatory of past transgression.”806806Ibid. p. 39. (2.) That they are of the same nature with the penances imposed by the discipline of the early Church. That discipline was naturally, perhaps necessarily, very severe; the Church was then surrounded 760by heathenism, and many of its members were heathen converts. What tendencies, and what temptations to unchristian conduct, were unavoidable under such circumstances, may be learned from the state of the Church in Corinth as depicted in Paul’s epistles. The great danger was that Christians should be involved, intentionally or unintentionally, in the idolatrous services to which they had been accustomed. As the worship of idols in any form, was a renunciation of the Gospel, it was against that offence the discipline of the Church was principally directed. One party contended that the “lapsed” ought never to be restored to Christian fellowship; another, which allowed their readmission to the Church, insisted that they should be restored only after a long and severe course of penance. Some were required “to lay prostrate for a certain period of months or years before the doors of the Church, after which they were admitted to different portions of the divine service; while others were often excluded through their whole lives from the liturgical exercises of the faithful, and were not admitted to absolution until they were at the point of death.” These penances Romanists pronounce “meritorious in the sight of God,” they “propitiate his wrath.” This is the doctrine of satisfaction; and such satisfaction for sin is the necessary condition of its forgiveness. (3.) As these penances or satisfactions are imposed by the Church, they can be mitigated or remitted by the Church. (4.) As the pains of purgatory are of the nature of satisfactions, “expiatory,” “meritorious,” and “propitiatory,” they are as much under the control of the Church, as the penances to be endured in this life
This is the true, and it may be said, the virtually admitted genesis of the doctrine of purgatory in the Church of Rome. It is a perversion of the ecclesiastical discipline of the early Christians. To be sure, the genesis, or birth, is spurious; there is no legitimate connection between the premises and the conclusion. Admitting the fact that the early Church imposed severe penances on offenders before restoring them to fellowship; admitting that this was right on the part of the Church; admitting that such penances were of the nature of satisfactions, so far as they were designed to satisfy the Church that the repentance of the offender was sincere; and admitting that these penances being matters of Church discipline were legitimately under the power of the Church, how does all this prove that they were “expiatory in the sight of God, that “they satisfied divine justice,” or that they were the necessary conditions of forgiveness at his bar? 761Satisfactory to the Church as evidences of repentance, and satisfactory to God’s justice, are two very different things, which Romanists have confounded. Besides, how does it follow, because the visible Church has control of the discipline of its members, in this life, that it has control of the souls of men in the life to come? Yet Romanists reason from the one to the other.
3. Another decisive argument against the doctrine of purgatory is drawn from the abuses to which it has led, and which are its inevitable, being its natural consequences. It is à priorievident that a power committed to weak and sinful men which is safe in no other hands but those of God Himself, must lead to the most dreadful abuses. The doctrine, as we have seen, is, (1.) That the priest has power to remit or retain, the penalty of eternal death denounced against all sin. (2.) That he (or the appropriate organ of the Church) has power to alleviate, to shorten, or to terminate, the sufferings of souls in purgatory. That this power should fail to be abused, in the hands of the best of men, is impossible. Vested in the hands of ordinary men, as must be generally the case, or in the hands of mercenary and wicked men, imagination can set no limit to its abuse; and imagination can hardly exceed the historical facts in the case. This is not a matter of dispute. Romanists themselves admit the fact. Cardinal Wiseman acknowledges that “flagrant and too frequent abuses, doubtless, occurred through the avarice, and rapacity, and impiety of men; especially when indulgence was granted to the contributors towards charitable or religious foundations, in the erection of which private motives too often mingle.”807807Lectures, ut supra, xii.; vol. ii. p. 75. The reader must be referred to the pages of history for details on this subject. The evils which have in fact flowed from this doctrine of purgatory and of the priestly power of retaining or remitting sin, are such as to render it certain that no such doctrine can be of God.
4. Romanists, however, confidently appeal, in support of their doctrine, to the express declaration of Christ, “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (John xx. 23.) To the same effect it is said, in Matthew xvi. 19, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt Loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.” The first remark to be made on these passages is, that whatever power is granted in them to the Apostles, is granted in Matthew xviii. 18 to all Christians, 762or, at least, to every association of Christians which constitutes a Church. “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church: but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This power, therefore, of binding and loosing, whatever it was, was not vested exclusively in the Apostles and their successors, but in the Church. But the true Church to which the promises and prerogatives of the Church belong, consists of true believers. This is not only the doctrine of the Bible and of all Protestants at the time of the Reformation, but would seem to be a matter of course. Promises made to the Apostles were made to true apostles, not to those who pretended to the office, and were false apostles. So the promises made to Christians are made not to nominal, pretended, or false Christians, but to those who truly are what they profess to be. If this be clear, then it is no less clear that the power of binding and loosing, of remitting or retaining sin, was never granted by Christ to unregenerated, wicked men, no matter by what name they may be called. This is a great point gained. The children of God in this world are not under the power of the children of the devil, to be forgiven or condemned, saved or lost, at their discretion. Therefore, when Luther was anathematized by the body calling itself the Church, as Athanasins had been before him, it did not hurt a hair of his head.
Secondly, the power granted by Christ to his Church of binding and loosing, of forgiving or retaining sin, is not absolute, but conditional. The passages above quoted are analogous to many others contained in the Scriptures, and are all to be explained in the same way. For example, our Lord said to his disciples; They who hear you, hear me. That is, the people were as much bound to believe the gospel when preached by the disciples, as though they heard it from the lips of Christ Himself. Or, if these words are to be understood as addressed exclusively to the Apostles, and to include a promise of infallibility in teaching, the meaning is substantially the same. Men were as much bound to receive the doctrines of the Apostles, as the teachings of Christ, 763for what they taught He taught. St. John, therefore, says, “He that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us.” (1 John iv. 6.) Nevertheless, although Christ required all men to hear his Apostles as though He himself were speaking; yet no man was bound to hear them unless they preached Christ’s gospel. Therefore St. Paul said, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. i. 8.) If the Apostles taught anything contrary to the authenticated revelation of God, they were to be rejected. If they undertook to bind or loose, to remit or retain sin on any other terms than those prescribed by Christ, their action amounted to nothing; it produced no effect. In teaching and in absolution their power was simply declarative. In the one case, they, as witnesses, declared what were the conditions of salvation and the rule of life prescribed in the gospel; and in the other case, they simply declared the conditions on which God will forgive sin, and announced the promise of God that on those conditions He would pardon the sins of men. A child, therefore, may remit sin just as effectually as the pope; for neither can do anything more than declare the conditions of forgiveness. It once required the heroism of Luther to announce that truth which emancipated Europe; now it is an every-day truth.
There is, of course, a great difference between the Apostles and other Christian teachers. Christ bore witness to the correctness of their testimony as to his doctrines, and sanctioned their declarations, by signs, and wonders, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, thus giving the seal of infallibility to their teachings as uttered by the lips and as we have them recorded in the Bible. And, there is also a difference between the official ministers of the gospel and other men, in so far as the former are specially called to the work of preaching the word. But in all cases, in that of the Apostles, in that of office-bearers in the Church, and in that of laymen, the power is simply declaratory. They declare what God has revealed. What difference does it make in the authority of the message, whether the gospel be read at the bed of a dying sinner, by a child, or by an archbishop? None in the world.
There is another class of passages analogous to those under consideration. When our Lord says, Ask and ye shall receive, Whatsoever ye ask in my name I will do it, no one understands these promises as unconditional. No one believes that any prayer 764of the Christian is ever heard, if it be not for something agreeable to the will of God. When then it is said, “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted,” why should it be inferred that no condition is implied? The language is not more explicit in the one case than in the other. As no man’s prayers are heard unless he asks for things agreeable to the will of God; so no man’s sins are remitted unless he truly repents and truly believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. One man has no more power to forgive sins, than another. The forgiveness of sin is the exclusive prerogative of God.
Thirdly, there is another remark to be made about this power of binding and loosing. Christ has ordained that the terms of admission to the Church, should be the same as those of admission into heaven; and that the grounds of exclusion from the Church, should be the same as those of exclusion from heaven. He, therefore, virtually said to his disciples, Whom ye receive into the Church, I will receive into heaven; and whom ye exclude from the Church, I will exclude from heaven. But this, of course, implies that they should act according to his directions. He did not bind Himself to sanction all their errors in binding and loosing; any more than He was bound by his promise to hear their prayers, to grant all the foolish or wicked petitions his people might offer; or by his promise in reference to their teaching, to sanction all the false doctrines into which they might be seduced. If we interpret Scripture by Scripture, we escape a multitude of errors.
Fourthly, Romanists rest their doctrine of absolution and of the power of the keys over souls in purgatory, very much upon the special gifts granted to the Apostles and to their successors. In reference to this agreement it may be remarked, —
1. That the Apostles never claimed, never possessed, and never pretended to exercise, the power assumed by Romanists, in the remission of sins. They never presumed to pronounce the absolution of a sinner in the sight of God. Christ could say “Thy sins be forgiven thee;” but we never hear such language from the lips of an Apostle. They never directed those burdened with a sense of sin to go to the priest to make confession and receive absolution. They had no authority in this respect above that which belongs to the ordinary officers of the Church. They could declare the terms on which God had promised to forgive sins; and they could suspend or excommunicate members, for cause, from the communion of the visible Church. In the case 765of the incestuous man whom the Church in Corinth allowed to remain in its fellowship, Paul determined to do what he censured the Church for not doing; that is, in virtue of his apostolic jurisdiction extending over all the churches, he excommunicated the offender, or, delivered him to Satan, that he might repent. (1 Cor. v.) When the man did repent, the Apostle exhorted the Corinthians to restore him to their fellowship, saying, “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also.” (2 Cor. ii. 10.) He claimed for himself no power which he did not recognize as belonging to them. It was a mere matter of Church discipline from beginning to end. This power of discipline, which all Churches recognize and exercise, the Romanists have perverted into the priestly power of absolution.
2. Admitting, what, however, is not conceded, that the Apostles had special power to forgive sin, that power must have rested on their peculiar gifts and qualifications. They were infallible men; not infallible indeed in reading men’s hearts, or in judging of their character, but simply infallible as teachers; and they had authority to organize the Church, and to lay down laws for its future government and discipline. These gifts and prerogatives, indeed, in no way qualified them to sit in judgment on the souls of men, to pardon or condemn them at discretion; but, such as they were, they were personal. Those who claim to be their official successors, and arrogate their peculiar prerogatives, do not pretend to possess their gifts; they do not pretend to personal infallibility in teaching, nor do they claim jurisdiction beyond their own dioceses. As no man can be a prophet without the gifts of a prophet, so no man can be an Apostle without the gifts of an Apostle. The office is simply authority to exercise the gifts; but if the gifts are not possessed what can the office amount to?
But even if the impossible be admitted; let it be conceded that the prelates have the power of remitting and retaining sin, as claimed by Romanists, in virtue of their apostleship, how is this power granted to priests who are not Apostles? It will not do to say that they are the representatives and delegates of the bishop. The bishop is said to have this power because he has received the Holy Ghost. If this means anything, it means that the Holy Spirit dwells in him, and so enlightens his mind and guides his judgment, as to render his decisions in retaining or remitting sin, virtually the decisions of God; but this divine illumination and guidance can no more be delegated than the 766knowledge of the lawyer or the skill of the surgeon. How can a prophet delegate his power to foresee the future to another man? It is impossible to believe that God has given men the power of forgiving or retaining sin, unless He has given them the power of infallible judgment; and that such infallibility of judgment belongs to the Romish priesthood, no man can believe.
It has already been urged as valid arguments against the Romish doctrine of purgatory, (1.) That it is destitute of all Scriptural support. (2.) That it is opposed to many of the most clearly revealed and most important doctrines of the Bible. (3.) That the abuses to which it always has led and which are its inevitable consequences, prove that the doctrine cannot be of God. (4.) That the power to forgive sin, in the sense claimed by Romanists, and which is taken for granted in their doctrine of purgatory, finds no support in the words of Christ, as recorded in John xx. 23, and Matt. xvi. 19, which are relied on for that purpose. (5.) The fifth argument against the doctrine is derived from its history, which proves it to have had a pagan origins and to have been developed by slow degrees into the form in which it is now held by the Church of Rome.
History of the Doctrine.
The details on this subject must be sought in the common books on the history of doctrine. Here only the most meagre outline can be expected. A full exposition on this subject would require first an account of the prevalence of the idea of a purification by fire among the ancients before the coming of Christ, especially among the people of central Asia; secondly, an account of the early appearance of this idea in the first three centuries in the Christian Church, until it reached a definite form in the writings of Augustine; and thirdly, the establishment of the doctrine as an article of faith in the Latin Church, principally through the influence of Gregory the Great.
Fire is the most effectual means of purification. It is almost the only means by which the dross can be separated from the gold. In the Scriptures it is frequently referred to, in illustration of the painful process of the sanctification of the human soul. In Zechariah xiii. 9, it is said, “I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.” It is in allusion to the same familiar 767fact, that afflictions are so often compared to a furnace, and the trials of God’s people are said to be by fire. “The fire,” says the Apostle, “shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. With the ancient Persians fire was sacred. It became an object of worship, as the symbol of the divinity; and elemental fire was even for the soul the great means of purification. In the Zendavesta, Ormuz is made to say to Zoroaster, “Thine eyes shall certainly see all things live anew. — For the renovated earth shall yield bones and water, blood and plants, hair, fire and life as at the beginning. — The souls will know their bodies. — Behold my father! my mother! my wife! Then will the inhabitants of the universe appear on earth with mankind. Everyone will see his good or evil. Then a great separation will occur. Everything corrupt will sink into the abyss. Then too through the fierceness of the lire all mountains shall melt; and through the flowing stream of fire, all men must pass. The good will go through as easily as through flowing milk. The wicked find it real fire; but they must pass through and be purified. Afterward the whole earth shall be renewed.”808808Kleuker’s Zendavesta im Kleinem, 2 Thl. s. 128.
With the Greek Stoics also, fire was the elementary principle and soul of the world, and they also taught a renovation of the world through fire. With the Stoics, “The universe is one whole, which comprises all things; yet contains a passive principle, matter, τὸ πάσχον, and an active principle, τὸ ποιοῦ, which is reason, or God. The soul of man is part of this divine nature, and will be reabsorbed into it and lose its individual existence. The Deity in action, if we may so speak, is a certain active æther, or fire, possessed of intelligence. This first gave form to the original chaos, and, being an essential part of the universe, sustains it in order. The overruling power, which seems sometimes in idea to have been separated from the Absolute Being, was εἱμαρμένη, fate, or absolute necessity. To this the universe is subject, both in its material and divine nature. Men return to this life totally oblivious of the past, and by the decrees of fate are possessed of a renovated existence, but still in imperfection and subject to sorrow as before.”809809The Mutual Influence of Christianity and the Stoic School. By James Henry Bryant, B. D., St. John’s College, Cambridge, Incumbent of Astley, Warwickshire. The Halsean Dissertation for the year 1865. London and Cambridge, 1866, p. 22. Sir Alexander Grant, in his Ethics of Aristotle, Essay vi., The Ancient Stoics (first and Oxford Essay, 1858), London, 1866, vol. i. p. 246, remarks: “If we cast our eyes on a list of the early Stoics and their native places, we cannot avoid noticing how many of this school appear to have come of an Eastern and often of a Semitic stock. This circumstance in connection with affinity in doctrine, goes to show the eastern origin of the Stoic system. It includes the pantheism of the Orientals with some of the elements peculiar to the religion of the Semitic race as we find them in the Bible. This is an inchoate form 768of the pantheism of the present day. The system as stated is not self-consistent; as it says that the souls of men are to be absorbed into the soul of the world, and yet that they are to return to this life, although oblivious to the past; which amounts to saying that there will be a new generation of men.
The idea of a purification by fire after death became familiar to the Greek mind, and was taken up by Plato, and wrought into his philosophy; he taught that no one could become perfectly happy after death, until he had expiated his sins; and that if they were too great for expiation, his sufferings would have no end.810810Hœpfner, De Origine Dogmatis de Purgatorio, Halle, 1792-98; quoted by Flügge, ut supra, p. 323. That this doctrine passed from the Gentiles to the Jews may be inferred not only from the fact already mentioned that Judas Maccabeus sent money to Jerusalem to pay for sacrifices to be offered for the sins of the dead; but also from the doctrine of the Rabbins, that children, by means of sin offerings, could alleviate the sufferings of their deceased parents.811811Eisenmenger, Endecktes Judenthum, II. vi.; Königsberg, 1711, pp. 357, 358. Some of them also taught that all souls, not perfectly holy, must wash themselves in the fire-river of Gehenna; that the just would therein be soon cleansed, but the wicked retained in torment indefinitely.812812Kabbala Denudata, edit. Frankfort, 1684, vol. ii. part 1, pp. 108, 109, 113. It was in this general form of a purification by fire after death that the doctrine was adopted by some of the fathers. Nothing more than this can be proved from the writings of the first three centuries. Origen taught first that this purification was to take place after the resurrection. “Ego puto,” he says, “quod et post resurrectionem ex mortuis indigeamus sacramento eluente nos atque purgante: nemo enim absque sordibus resurgere poterit: nec ullam posse animam reperiri quæ universis statim vitiis careat.”813813Homil. xv. in Luc. Works, edit. Delarue, Paris, 1740, vol. iii. p. 948, B, a. And secondly, that in the purifying fire at the end of the world, all souls, and all fallen angels, and Satan himself, will ultimately be purged from sin, and restored to the favour of God. In his comment on Romans viii. 12, he says: “Qui vero verbi Dei et doctrinæ Evangelicæ purificationem spreverit, tristibus et pœnalibus purificationibus semetipsum reservat, ut iguis gehennæ in cruciatibus purget, quem nec apostolica doctrina nec evangelicus sermo purgavit.”814814Ibid. Paris, 1759, vol. iv. p. 640, B, b, c. This doctrine was condemned in the Church; but, as 769Flügge815815Ut supra, p. 327. says: “This anathema was the less effective because the eastern views on this subject differed so much from the western or Church doctrine. The former, or Origen’s doctrine, contemplated the purification of the greatest sinners and of the devil himself; the Latin Church thought only of believers justified by the blood of Christ. The one supposed the sinner to purify himself from his desire of evil; the other, asserted expiation by suffering. According to the former, the sinner was healed and strengthened; according to the latter, divine justice must be satisfied.” It is not to be inferred from this, that the Greek Church adopted Origen’s views as to “the restoration of all things;” but it nevertheless maintained until a much later period the views by which it was distinguished from the Latins on the doctrine of the future state.
It was, therefore, in the western Church that the development of the doctrine of purgatory took place. Augustine first gave it a definite form, although his views are not always consistently or confidently expressed. Thus he says: It is doubtful whether a certain class of men are to be purified by fire after death, so as to be prepared to enter heaven; “utrum ita sit,” he says, “quæri potest: et aut inveniri, aut latere, nonnullos fideles per ignem quemdam purgatorium; quanto magis minusve bona pereuntia dilexerunt, tanto tardius citiusque salvari.”816816Enchiridion de Fide, Spe et Charitate, 69; Works, Paris, 1837, vol. vi. p. 382, b. In other places, however, he teaches the two essential points in the doctrine of purgatory, first, that the souls of a certain class of men who are ultimately saved, suffer after death; and secondly, that they are aided through the eucharist, and the alms and prayers of the faithful.817817De Civitate Dei, XXI. xiii.; Ibid. vol. vii., p. 1015, d. Enchiridion de Fide, Spe et Charitate, 110; Ibid. vol. vi. p. 403, b, c.
It was, however, Gregory the Great who consolidated the vague and conflicting views circulating through the Church, and brought the doctrine into such a shape and into such connection with the discipline of the Church, as to render it the effective engine for government and income, which it has ever since remained. From this time onward through all the Middle Ages, purgatory became one of the prominent and constantly reiterated topics of public instruction. It took firm hold of the popular mind. The clergy from the highest to the lowest, and the different orders of monks vied with each other in their zeal in its inculcation; and in the marvels which they related of spiritual apparitions, 770in support of the doctrine. They contended fiercely for the honour of superior power of redeeming souls from purgatorial pains. The Franciscans claimed that the head of their order descended annually into purgatory, and delivered all the brotherhood who were there detained. The Carmelites asserted that the Virgin Mary had promised that no one who died with the Carmelite scapulary upon their shoulders, should ever be lost.818818Mosheim, Historia Ecclesiæ, Sæculum XIII. pars ii. 2, 29; edit. Helmstadt, 1764, p. 454. The chisel and pencil of the artist were employed in depicting the horrors of purgatory, as a means of impressing the public mind. No class escaped the contagion of belief; the learned as well as the ignorant; the high and the low; the soldier and the recluse; the skeptic and the believer were alike enslaved.819819All experience proves that infidelity is no protection against superstition. If men will not believe the rational and true, they will believe the absurd and the false. When the writer was returning from Europe, he had as a fellow passenger a distinguished French diplomatist. One evening when admiring the moon shining in its brightness, that gentleman adverted to the idea of creation, and pronounced it absurd, avowing himself an atheist. But he added immediately, “Don’t misunderstand me. I am a good Catholic, and mean to die in the faith of the Catholic Church. You Protestants are all wrong. You tell every man to think for himself. Ho! then I’ll think what I please. I want a religion which tells me I shan’t think; only submit. Well! I mean to submit, and be buried in consecrated ground.” From this slavery the Bible, not the progress of science, has delivered all Protestants.771
|« Prev||4. Doctrine of the Church of Rome.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version