§ 1. Eternity.
1. There is no doubt but that the question of our existence after death is the most important and consequential of all questions. It is the fundamental question of life, decisive of our eternal destiny. Therefore it ever was, and must be, the ultimate and essential purpose of Religion to answer this question.
Eternal thanks to Our Divine Redeemer! We Catholics have the reasons of the faith that is in us implanted deeply in our hearts. Christ, "the Way, the Truth and the Life," who dispels all darkness, lifted the veil that covers the next world and expressed Himself in the most emphatic manner that annihilation is not our destiny, but that we are created for an everlasting life, either of bliss or of torment. "And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just into life everlasting." (Matth. xxv. 46.)
2. The body, taken from the earth, returns to dust; but the soul, the spirit breathed into man by his Creator, appears, after death, before God's tribunal to be judged. The soul is immaterial, invisible, a spirit, created in the likeness of God, and immortal. As a child that resembles its parents is the image of its father or mother, because it has similar features, etc., thus man is the image of God, because he possesses similar (not the same) attributes as God. "And God created man to His own image." (Gen. i. 27.) Like God, man was to be pure, immaculate, an heir of the kingdom of heaven; he was to be gifted with great knowledge and to be free from concupiscence, misery, pain, and even from death. Thus was the being, which is by nature an immortal spirit, endowed with reason and free will, gifted by the Creator with supernatural qualities. But sin destroyed the work of God. It dishonored heaven and thinned out the ranks of the angels; it destroyed paradise and man's eternal happiness, until the former was regained and the latter restored by the Son of God at the price of His Most Precious Blood. . Joseph was the savior of Egypt from famine: Jesus Christ became the Saviour of mankind from eternal damnation. Joseph was persecuted by his brethren, ill-treated by them and sold for twenty pieces of silver: Jesus was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and sold for thirty pieces of silver. After many trials and tribulations Joseph was placed over all Egypt, for Pharao said to him: "Seeing God hath shewed thee all thou hast said, can I find one wiser and one like unto thee? Thou shalt be over my house, and at the commandment of they mouth all the people shall obey: only in the kingly throne will I be above thee. And again Pharao said to Joseph: Behold I have appointed thee over the whole land of Egypt. And he took his ring from his own hand, and gave it into his hand: and he put upon him a robe of silk, and put a. chain of gold about his neck. And he made him go up into his second chariot, the crier proclaiming that all should bow their knee before him, and that they should know he was made governor of the whole land of Egypt. And the king said to Joseph: I am Pharao; without thy commandment no man shall move hand or foot in all the land of Egypt. And he turned his name, and called him in the Egyptian tongue the Saviour of the world." (Gen. xw. 39—45.) Now Joseph had power over life and death in the land of Egypt. To him all had to go that desired to escape the pangs of hunger; even his father and his brethren had to bow before him and accept of him the necessaries of life. Pharao's order was, "Go to Joseph!" Although Joseph opened the full granaries and provided Egypt with bread, yet those only were saved that made personal application to him and received the gift out of his own hand. Therefore all the people flocked to him; old and young, relatives and strangers, friends and foes, flocked to him from all countries to purchase provisions.
4. Our Lord Jesus Christ also had to suffer, and His sufferings were greater than those of Joseph in Egypt, because He was to be the Saviour of all mankind from eternal death. But He showed Himself as the "Wonderful," as the valiant Hero of whom Isaias foretells, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen." (Isai. ix. 2.) "For a Child is born to us, and a son is given us, and the government is on his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God, the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of peace. His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace: he shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice from henceforth and forever." (Isai. ix. 6, 7.)—Jesus "received from God the Father honor and glory, this voice coming down to Him from the excellent glory: This is my beloved Son, in whom I have pleased myself; hear ye Him." (ii Peter 1. 17.) —Jesus says of Himself: "All power is given to me in heaven and on earth" (Matth. xxviii. 18.)—"For which cause God also hath exalted Him, and has given Him a name which is above all names: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those in heaven, on earth and under the earth." (Philip. II. 9,10.) His victory was accomplished in sacrificial death. Redemption was achieved when Jesus, in view of heaven and earth, exclaimed dying on the cross, "It is consummated." (John xix. 30.)
5. Then death, man's eternal ruin caused by sin, was overcome through the victory of Christ, and life was restored by Him "Who was delivered up for our sins and rose again for our justification." (Rom. iv. 25.) The power of darkness was destroyed; mankind was delivered from disgraceful captivity; the abyss of hell was closed, and the gates of paradise were reopened. Christ's treasury of atonement is superabundant and for ever inexhaustible; it is not diminished or depleted even if millions upon millions draw from it grace upon grace, health and strength, light and life. As all the country flocked to Joseph, thus do men "of all nations, and tribes, and peoples" (Apoc. vii. 9.) come to Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, to obtain the eternal heritage of heaven. Without the command of chaste Joseph "no man shall move hand or foot in all the land of Egypt;" without the will of Jesus Christ no man shall enter paradise recovered for us by Him.
To attain salvation all must obey Him; we must personally use the means of grace instituted and ordained by Him; we must, moreover, co-operate with the graces He grants us. On this depends our eternal destiny.
Eternity! Eternity!—Heaven or Hell, one of the two we must choose by our lives. Because "the unjust"— such either by transgression or through unsatisfied justice — "shall not possess the kingdom of God" (i Cor. vi. 9.), the ineffable mercy of God, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ, created, in the next world, a place of purification for those who, at the time of their death, are not entirely pure: this place is called Purgatory.
§ 2. Purgatory.
6. Between Heaven, "the place of refreshment, light and peace," and Hell, the abode of eternal torment, there is, till the day of general judgment, a middle state, called Purgatory, for those souls that depart this life justified, but still in need of final purification. In this place of punishment and purification, of justice and mercy, dwell the souls that have venial sins to expiate, or temporal punishment to undergo, or both. The doctrine of the Catholic Church concerning Purgatory is expressed in the following two sentences:
1) There is, in the next world, a temporary place for the atonement of such venial sins, and temporal punishments of sin, as man is found guilty of on his departure from this world.
2) The faithful can, by prayer and good works, especially by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, assist the souls suffering in Purgatory.
Concerning the location of Purgatory, the nature of its torments, the extent of its suffering, etc., the Church has made no official declarations, hence only the two above sentences are dogmas which we must believe under pain of excommunication. Nevertheless we should be guilty of culpable temerity if we were to reject the generally accepted doctrine of the holy Fathers and of notable spiritual writers relative to some other points concerning Purgatory.
7. In connection with the Catholic doctrine concerning Purgatory it is necessary to bear in mind the doctrine of remission of sins. With the remission of mortal sin there is necessarily connected the remission of its eternal punishment. But the case stands quite differently with regard to the temporal punishment of sin which God permits to remain even after the remission of its guilt. The sinner who committed a mortal sin and thereby became an enemy of God becomes, through the sacrament of penance, a friend, a child of God; his eternal punishment is condoned, but a temporal punishment remains. It is, however, the general doctrine of theologians that at least a part of the temporal punishment is remitted, every time, in the tribunal of penance, and that this part is in proportion to the contrition and penitent disposition of the repentant sinner. The remaining part must be atoned for in this world by penance, or in the next by the torments of Purgatory.
8. Both the temporal punishment yet due to sin remitted, and the stain of venial sin yet unremitted are, in the sight of God, a defilement of the soul. Venial sin, to which man is so prone, is not remitted by merely external works of penance without true contrition; its remission depends on the interior disposition of the penitent soul, on perfect charity, patience and resignation to the will of God. "Whether remission is obtained gradually by means of repeated acts," says Deharbe (Explanation of the Catechism, vol. II. p. 409) "or at the parting of the soul from the body through one act of perfect charity, is a question on which theologians do not agree. Suarez defends the latter opinion, because such an act is followed by an increase of charity or sanctifying grace, and may be made so perfectly as to cleanse the soul from every inclination to sin."
9. We must not, however, conclude from this that all souls shall be excluded from the beatific vision of God until they shall have passed through the fiery furnace of Purgatory. Such a view is untenable. Unquestionably true as it is that many souls are banished forever from the presence of God immediately after the particular judgment, it cannot, on the other hand, be denied that they that were cleansed from all their faults in this life, soar up, after the particular judgment, into the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of peace, whose inhabitants are blissful in love.
Moreover, from the fact that a soul is sentenced to Chastisement in Purgatory the conclusion is not to be drawn that it will be inferior in heavenly glory to souls admitted to heaven without undergoing purification by fire. The most precious stones and metals sometimes need longer and more thorough purification than less valuable ones. The degree of their value depends on their interior worth and not on the dross and corrosion that surrounds them. Thus also the degree of heavenly glory depends on the merit of each saint. Thus it may happen that souls eminent for works of penance and full of merit, may nevertheless have to remain in Purgatory longer, and yet, after their purification, they may attain to a higher degree of glory than such as were not in need of purification. Each one shall receive his reward according to his merit, after having paid the last farthing of his debt, being "purified as if by fire."
10. The religious innovators of the last centuries, by denying the existence of Purgatory, made an attempt indefensible both before the tribunal of religion and of reason. They desire to replace this consoling doctrine by one more pleasing to the " father of lies," only for the sake of innovation, and instigated by pride, avarice, envy, sensuality, etc. The rebels dare to weigh God's mercy and judgment in the scales of their darkened reason. By rejecting prayer for the dead and the doctrine of temporal punishment of sin, they disrupt one of the most sacred bonds with which faith has encircled mankind, viz. the communion of saints. The Church militant, suffering and triumphant in its entirety composes the mystical body of Christ, who is the Head, whilst the faithful are the members. The departed, then, who died in the Lord, are an integral part of this great mystical body, either as saints in heaven, or as suffering souls in Purgatory. But the misguided innovators have only the darkness of the grave to place between the human heart and its departed loved ones. Their presumption is condemned by divine revelation and the constant tradition of the Church, by the unanimous belief of all nations, and by Non-Catholics themselves, by reason and by sentiment. Leaving these gloomy and rebellious men to deny the Suffering Souls a prayer, we shall seek to prove in the following pages how all nations and all ages concur in the sentiment: " There is a Purgatory; and 'it is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.' " (II. Mach. xii., 46.)