Purgatory: Does it exist?
A primary scripture used in support of Purgatory is 1 COR 3: 10 – 15
1 Cor 3:10 – 15, used in posts here, John Paul II’s explanation of Purgatory, and Aquinas’ Summa. Here is that passage:
NRSV 1 Cor 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. • Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.
11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—
13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test • what sort of work each has done.
14 If what • has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.
15 If • the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; • the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
In one reference to this passage of scripture, Aquinas said:
We must therefore say that the very venial sins that insinuate themselves into those who have
a care for earthly things, are designated by wood, hay, and stubble. For just as these are stored in
a house, without belonging to the substance of the house, and can be burnt, while the house is saved,
so also venial sins are multiplied in a man, while the spiritual edifice remains, and for them, man
suffers fire, either of temporal trials in this life, or of purgatory after this life, and yet he is saved
...Some satisfactory punishment must remain for each sin, so as to provide
a remedy against it. Wherefore though, by virtue of the absolution some measure of the punishment
due to a grave sin is remitted, it does not follow that the same measure of punishment is remitted
for each sin, because in that case some sin would remain without any punishment at all: but, by
virtue of the keys, the punishments due to various sins are remitted in due proportion.
... The punishment of purgatory is intended to supplement the satisfaction which was not fully completed in the body.
... There are three reasons why those who will be found living will be able
to be cleansed suddenly. One is because there will be few things in them to be cleansed, since they
will be already cleansed by the previous fears and persecutions. The second is because they will
suffer pain both while living and of their own will: and pain suffered in this life voluntarily cleanses
much more than pain inflicted after death, as in the case of the martyrs, because "if anything needing
to be cleansed be found in them, it is cut off by the sickle of suffering," as Augustine says (De Unic.
Bap. xiii), although the pain of martyrdom is of short duration in comparison with the pain endured
in purgatory. The third is because the heat will gain in intensity what it loses in shortness of time.
Now as venial offenses are called sins as being dispositions to sin, and not as
having simply and perfectly the character of sin, so the punishment which is awarded to them in
purgatory is not a retribution simply, but rather a cleansing, which is wrought separately in the
body, by death and by its being reduced to ashes, and in the soul by the fire of purgatory
The punishment of purgatory is not intended chiefly to torment but to
cleanse: wherefore it should be inflicted by fire alone which is above all possessed of cleansing
power. But the punishment of the damned is not directed to their cleansing.
Here is the context of the passage in question, and I only touch on the Aquinas quotes that reference the 1 Cor passage.
Vv 1-4 the Corinthians were acting as worldly and infants in Christ. They were acting like mere men when they were redeemed men. Their inadequate attitude was demonstrated by inadequate behavior like quarreling and strife, which was caused as a result of one thinking he/she was superior to the other on the basis of who led that person to Christ. Don’t stay in infancy with a superior attitude toward each other and the un-Christ-like behavior that goes with it. This worldly (sarkinos - adj dative pl masc) behavior is consistent with that of infant(nepios - adj dative pl masc) believers and will not provide any benefit to the world we are light to.
Vv 5-9 Since the Corinthians, and the Church by extension, represent God’s field and Paul/Apollos represent His laborers in the field. Given what Paul is showing in this context, neither of those individuals are important. They will each be rewarded for performing their assigned duties but the important person is God, who causes growth in the field. The admonistion is to focus on Christ because God is the only one who brings growth, which is continued life and new life in the field. In v9 Paul shifts analogies from the farm to construction.
Vv 10-15 Since Paul first preached Christ to the Corinthians, he laid the Foundation for their faith; and Jesus is the only foundation for Christian behavior and life. In this second analogy Apollos doesn’t play a role because the thrust is to get the focus on God and the mature spiritual behavior that comes from focus on Him as supreme. Instead the individual believer is instructed to be cautious what he/she does with the Foundation for a new and true life. The sort of works or fruit produced impacts rewards on that Day and must be consistent with mature, spiritual behavior flowing from the right attitude of the heart if rewards are to occur. In that Day, the light and heat of Christ will show each believer what the quality of his/her work is, and then (if you dont read anything into this) the believer will go into eternity.
Further analysis from the passage and Aquinas
The foundation or the corner stone laid by Paul is Jesus Christ. Agree?.
The permanent material will last when tried by fire in the day of the Lord, and the non-permanent material will be consumed by fire. Agree?
The buider will move on from that Day with or without rewards. Agree?
The believer can build the edifice with combustible material or more permanent material that will withstand the fire. Agree?
This passage cant be lifted out of its context to interpret it. Agree?
Aquinas inconsistency #1: Aquinas asserts that the non-permanent building material we put in the house amounts to venial sins and this corresponds to the wood, hay and stubble. I don’t know where he got that but it doesnt appear to be supported from this passage. This passage isnt talking about what we put inside the house but what the building on the foundation consists of. Keeping the context of this passage, the wood, hay and stubble refer to the childish, merely human behavior exhibited by the Corinthians. Paul is not questioning their salvation or need to pay up for sins after conversion over and above what Jesus did for us, and what in this passage implies he is inferring to an after this life purgative cleansing needed for childish, worldlike behavior? Please point out what in this verse, standing by itself without Aquinas interpretation from sacred tradition, supports Purgatory since this is considered a primary passage in support of Purgatory (per Aquinas and Pope John Paul II). If it is a primary passage, then the doctrine should be plain from a clear gramatical reading of the passage.
Question: Honestly trying to set aside everything the Protestant and Catholic theologians have to say about this passage, what in THIS verse demonstrates that the fire represents Purgatory? We dare not reach the point of arguing from the position "I am of Luther" and "I am of Aquinas." Aquinas was right on in his assessment that those actions and motives from my heart that are inconsistent with love for God and love for others reflect a bigger defect in the believer's life than mistakes of eating too much (for example). I am not questioning that. It is how sins committed after conversion are handled that is questioned by me and millions of Protestants.
Aquinas inconsistency #2: The house made with wood, hay and stubble is destroyed in the scripture rather than being saved as Aquinas asserts. The analogy in this passage doesn’t leave anything to the builder using inferior material except the foundation itself ... he is saved as by fire. The burning of the flammable material in his/her/my life at that Day will demonstrate whether that person lived a life worthy of rewards along with the gift of eternal life or just receive the gift of eternal life. The right foundation is still present - believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. The context of the scripture demands we interpret wood, hay and straw in light of it. The material (gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw) used to build the house corresponds to mature/immature, worldly/spiritual behavior based on either a superior attitude toward each other or that maintains the God who gives the increase as the main focus. The analagy cant be taken to far or it takes on a meaning outside the context of the passage. The person whose work is burned up will lose his/her rewards but be saved AS (simile) through fire.
Aquinas inconsistency #3: VV 10-15 relegates the builder using permanent material to “he will receive his reward” and the one who uses inferior material to “he himself will be saved”. Further, the time specified is already given in v 13, “… for the Day will disclose it …” Thus, how does this have anything to do with the hour of our death rather than the Day when the works of each believer (all who build have to be building on the only Foundation possible so they are all equally believers) will be tested = disclosed = made visible = revealed; and all the builders will go to heaven - some with rewards and some without? How does Aquinas get from this passage that the believer upon death can spend even a second apart from God in any kind of torment when this passage doesnt even appear to be dealing with the hour of our death but that Day? So this is all about salvation in general rather than sanctification/purification in specific. Our works after accepting Christ determine our reward but never our standing per this very passage and whether that is an eternal or temporal perspective.
The RCC doctrine of Purgatory is consistent with the belief that the Word of God = scripture + sacred tradition and the doctrine that salvation is by faith + works; and is inconsistent with the views held by most Protestants of sola scripture and sola fides. Aquinas says, “in a broad sense, the payment of the punishment due may be called satisfaction.” The concept is of the believer receiving temporary purgative punishment, to make satisfaction for un-confessed venial sins (from my perspective) takes away from salvation to those who believe that our salvation is by grace through faith alone and thus, again, has everything to do with salvation. So, from a Protestant view of sola fides, the doctrine of Purgatory does a disservice to the completed work of Christ.
Aquinas quotes the scripture "to fill up what was lacking" in Col 1:24. How does one get that the suffering of Paul for the Church in any way adds to the satisfaction attained by Christ's finished work and is just a simple allusion to the fact persecution and martyrdom always points people to Christ? Aquinas said, "The punishment of purgatory is intended to supplement the satisfaction which was not fully completed in the body." Wasnt Jesus work enough already for eternal and temporal satisfactin of God's just demands???
Dan Fugett, Sr Moderator