§ 7. Uninterrupted Tradition of the Church and Purgatory.
23. Protestants admit that the belief in purification after death, and the custom of praying for the dead, were both universal in the Church for fifteen centuries. And indeed, if we would but go to the trouble of examining the pages of history, we should find the view correct, as a few proofs from the writings of the holy Fathers, the inscriptions in the catacombs and the decrees of the councils of the Church will show.
St. Chrysostom, in his third homily, says: "The apostles did not ordain without good reason a commemoration of the departed to be made during the celebration of the sacred mysteries; for from it the deceased draw great gain and help. Why should our prayers for them not placate God, when, besides the priest, the whole people stand with uplifted hands whilst the august Victim is present on the altar? True, it is offered only for such as departed hence in the faith."—St. Gregory of Nyssa writes: "The apostles and disciples of Christ have handed down to us what since has obtained the force of law everywhere in the Church of God, namely that the memory of those that died in the true faith be recalled in the celebration of the sacred and illustrious mystery."—In the fourth century, St. Jerome presents to our view the pious Pammachius mourning over the mortal remains of his consort, less with tears than with prayer and by alms. St. Augustine relates with touching emotion the parting words of his mother, St. Monica: "Lay this body anywhere; be not concerned about that. Only this I beg of you, that wheresover you be, you make remembrance of me at the Lord's altar."—Even as early as the second century, Tertullian wrote: "On the anniversaries of the dead we offer the Holy Sacrifice for the departed. Even though Scripture did not warrant this, the custom originates in tradition; it was confirmed by universal adoption and sanctioned by faith."
A touching proof of the belief that the living are able to help the dead is found in the history of St. Perpetua. She beheld her own brother Dinocrates, seven years of age, in the torments of Purgatory. The saint continued assiduously in prayer for him, and in a new vision saw his pain gradually lessened, until he finally appeared to her with a luminous countenance leaving the place of his suffering to engage in childish sport. "I then awoke," she remarks, u and knew that my brother's punishment was over."
24. The catacombs, the subterranean tombs of the martyrs, give eloquent testimony of the belief in Purgatory, which is all the more impressive because it leads us. back to the very cradle of the Church, to the bloody persecutions overcome by the faith and virtue of thousands and thousands of victims. A number of renowned cemeteries, for instance that of SS. Peter and Paul, of St. Priscilla, St. Domitilla, etc., date back to the first century, to the very time of the apostles, and the others are as old. as the second and third century. In the numerous inscriptions found there, abundant proof of the belief in Purgatory is expressed in prayers for the departed. For instance: "Here, dearest son, thy life has come to an end. But Thee, O Heavenly Father, we implore to have mercy, to take pity on the sufferings of our dear one, through Christ, Our Lord." —"To Lucifera! Whosoever of the brethren chances to read this, let him pray to God to take unto Himself her holy and pure spirit."—"Eternal light shine upon thee, Timothea, in Christ"—Verily, the reading of these few specimens among the hundreds of inscriptions dating from the first centuries, present to us in a true mirror the reflection of the faith of the Church of our own times.
But how strange! Dissenters ask us to regard Purgatory as a mere conjecture, which received its form and shape by SS. Gregory and Augustine, and by later councils. In return, the Church points to her constant tradition, as embodied in her ordinances and customs, and triumphantly vindicates the doctrine of Purgatory by her councils.
25. Long ago, the Council of Carthage recommended prayers for the dead; the same Was done by the Roman Synod, in 502; by the Synod of Orleans, in 533; by the Council of Braga, in 563; by the Council of Toledo, in 675; by the Synod of Chalons, in 813; by the Synod of Worms, in 868.—The second Council of Lyons, in 1274, says: "The Holy Roman Church declares and teaches, that when truly penitent souls die in charity before they have atoned for their faults of commission and omission by worthy fruits of penance, they are purified after death in the torments of Purgatory."—The Council of Florence, in 1439, states the same doctrine in the very words of the Lyonese Council. Finally, the Council of Trent, Session VI. 22, 25., declares formally, first, that the faithful are able to assist the souls detained in Purgatory by their prayer and by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Moreover, it threatens with excommunication those who affirm that after receiving the grace of justification the penitent sinner's debt and eternal punishment are remitted in such a manner, that no temporal punishment remains to be undergone in Purgatory.
Thus the belief in Purgatory is clearly and unmistakably expressed in the writings of the holy Fathers, by the testimony of the Catacombs, and the decrees of the Councils. Besides eternal heaven for undefiled souls; besides everlasting hell for souls departing with the guilt of mortal sin on them, there is a middle state—Purgatory. Hence: "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be , loosed from sins."