§ 8. Divine Revelation and Purgatory.
26. The Council of Trent, assembled for the defence and vindication of the ancient faith, branded the audacious innovators of the sixteenth century with the note of excommunication, condemning their nefarious doctrine, and reaffirming Catholic belief in Purgatory. By the declaration of this dogma the Church did not invent a new doctrine, but simply sustained and made an authentic declaration of the faith founded on ancient tradition and on Holy Scripture. She set the seal of her divine authority on it, sustained it by her authoritative declaration, and thus consummated our consolation by her authentic evidence for the existence of Purgatory.
In Holy Scripture we find this evidence even in the Book of Genesis. It informs us that Joseph, on his father's death, ordered the Egyptians to hold a mourning celebration of seventy days, and a funeral celebration of seven days. In the First Book of Kings we read that the inhabitants of Jabez Galaad fasted seven days at the death of Saul, Jonathan and Abner. The learned divines Suarez and Bellarmine declare in conformity with the holy Fathers, that these practices are not to be understood simply as expressions of mourning alone, but must be regarded also as suffrages for the dead. If fasting was nothing but an expression of sorrow, it is difficult to explain why David fasted during the illness of his child, but ceased to fast immediately after its death. It is evident that he was of the opinion that a continuance of his fast was no longer to any purpose, because the child, having died in innocence, was no longer in need of prayer, and good works. The royal prophet describes in a touching manner the doctrine of Purgatory when he refers to the ineffable bliss of those souls that, having passed through the flood and fire of affliction, at length have found the long desired deliverance. The prophet Micheas takes comfort in advance in the consolations of Purgatory, saying: "I will bear the wrath of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He judge my cause and execute judgment for me. He will bring me forth into the light." (Mich. vii. 9.) Hence the declaration of Ecclesiasticus (vii. 37): "A gift hath grace in the sight of all the living; and restrain not grace from the dead."—One hundred and fifty years before the light of the Gospel shed its saving rays on the world, belief in Purgatory finds unmistakable expression in the history of the victorious Machabee, Judas. This renowned hero, having lost a great number of warriors in battle, is not content with honoring them by a pompous burial: he orders a collection to be made, and sends the proceeds—twelve hundred drachmas of silver—to Jerusalem, to have sacrifice offered for the deceased. "For," adds the inspired writer, "if he had not hoped that they who were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from 'sins." (II. Mach. xii. 44—46.) Holy Scripture itself, then, draws from the action of this chieftain the conclusion that Purgatory exists, and that our prayers and sacrifices are accepted in suffrage for the release of the departed.
27. Our Lord Himself, though He was most zealous in correcting abuses, and well knew that the Jews prayed for the dead, not only did not interfere with this practice, but confirmed it. For He said, "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, nor in the world to come." (Matth. xii. 32.) From these words SS. Augustine, Gregory the Great, Bernard, the Venerable Bede and others conclude as follows: Whatsoever may be the nature of this speaking against the Holy Ghost mentioned here as an unpardonable sin, whether it be understood as referring to the obstinacy of the Jews or of the unbelievers in resisting the acknowledged truth : one certain, clear and indisputable fact follows from this passage of the gospel by the very exception made in it: it proves convincingly that certain sins are forgiven in the next world. Now this forgiveness is not obtainable in heaven, because sin does not gain admittance there, nor in hell, whence there is no redemption. There is only one possibility: these sins are forgiven in Purgatory—hence there is a Purgatory.
Moreover, Our Lord exhorts us: "Be at an agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him : lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing." (Math. v. 25, 26.) Many holy Fathers, among them Origen, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose and others, declare that this passage is to be understood not only as referring to a place of eternal punishment, but also to one of temporal atonement in the next world, because deliverance is promised to those that "repay the last farthing."
28. The doctrine of the Apostles agrees with that of their divine Master. Like Him, they never reproved the Jews for believing in a middle state, nor did they ever prohibit prayers for the dead. St. Paul (I. Cor. xv. 29.) mentioning the Jewish custom of pious practices for the dead, refers to these as to a baptism, or religious rite, and draws therefrom the conclusion of a future resurrection. He writes, "What shall they do that are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not again at all ? why are they then baptized for them ?" Thus he teaches us that the custom of praying for the dead is one beneficial to them, and hence to be retained by the Christians. But if there were only heaven and hell in the next world, such prayers would be unprofitable.
St. Paul affirms this doctrine still more explicitly when he teaches that there are faithful who attain heaven by fire, or, to use his own words, they "shall be saved, yet so as by fire." (I. Cor. iii. 15.) According to the Apostle there are such as make Christ the foundation of their salvation, but build on this foundation an edifice of wood, hay or stubble, that is, they believe in Christ, but mix many imperfections with their good works. "If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." (I. Cor. 111. 15.) "The fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is," whether "gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble." (Ib. 12. 13.) The holy Fathers remark that by gold, silver and precious stones are meant good works, by wood, hay and stubble venial sins and imperfections. Hence St. Augustine says, "Punish me in Thy wrath, that I may be cleansed in this world, and so transformed that I shall not stand in need of the purifying flames like those that are 'saved as if by fire.' Whence this ? Because they built on the foundation with wood, hay and stubble here below. Had they built with gold, silver and precious stones, they would be safe from both fires, not only from the everlasting one that shall torment the wicked forever, but also from the one that purifies those that are saved by fire." The learned commentator Allioli, explaining the above words of St. Paul, says: "Remark well, the fire of which the Apostle speaks cannot be understood to mean the tribulations of this world; for he speaks of a fire burning on the day of judgment, consequently after the time of this life. It cannot be understood to mean the great examination by the Judge, for you are not only examined, but made to burn, so that you suffer by fire. It cannot mean the fire of hell; because, he that suffers by the fire mentioned is saved after suffering loss. It can be understood only as meaning the cleansing fire after death called Purgatory, which burns the soul departed in imperfections, during the time of cleansing, and shall be extinguished at the general judgment in the destruction of the world." Our works, then, shall be subject to examination ; they shall be cleansed from every base alloy in the flames enkindled by divine wrath, the same as gold and silver are purified in the crucible of the refiner. Hence the learned Bellarmine remarks, "It is a doctrine held in common by all divines, that in this passage the words, 'by fire* are to be understood as referring to a temporal fire of purification, to which they are sentenced after death, who, according to the verdict of their particular judgment, have built with wood, hay and stubble. This explanation is not only warranted by the text, but agrees with the general opinion of the Fathers." The renowned theologian then adduces the testimony of SS. Cyprian, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, Anselm, Thomas, Bona-venture, etc.
St. Paul himself gave us- the example of praying for the dead. Having received hospitality at Rome in the house of Onesiphorus, he reminds his disciple Timothy- of it, saying: "The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, because he hath often refreshed me, and hath not been ashamed of my chain ,.. The Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day." (II. Tim. I. 16.18.) Allioli remarks : "The Apostle does not send greeting to Onesiphorus when speaking of his past merits, but to his family. For the deserving man himself he prays that the Lord grant mercy unto him on the day of judgment. Hence it is apparent that at that time the good man was dead, and that the Apostle teaches us by his example to offer up suffrages and prayers for the souls of those that died in the Lord: this, however, can be done only if we believe in a middle state—Purgatory."
29. Hence the existence of Purgatory, demonstrated and proved as it is by reason, revelation and theological evidence, is an accepted Catholic dogma. It is a doctrine contained so unmistakably clear in the sources of revelation, in Scripture and Tradition, and is presented so concisely as the outcome of faith in eternal reward and punishment, that it would be a Catholic dogma even if it had not been declared as such by the authority of the Church. It is a dogma because there is indisputable evidence that the whole Church, in all ages and in all countries, accepted it as such, and because it was declared as such by the solemn declaration of the Church's supreme teaching authority.
The doctrine of Purgatory does away with the foolhardy doctrine of the soul's mortality; it convinces us that death is. but a transient occurrence. "In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die, and their departure was taken for misery . . . Afflicted in a few things, in many they shall be well rewarded, because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of Himself" (Wisd. III. 2. 5.), so that He will not destroy their souls. "My soul shall live." (Ps. cxviii. 175.) For God Dissolves the mortal bonds of the just only to lead them to the place of purification. "As gold in the furnace He hath proved them, and as a holocaust He hath received them" (Wisd. iii. 6.) to open for them the portals of the abode of refreshment, light and peace. "For grace and peace is to His elect." (Wisd. iii. 9.)
We love to hear this doctrine. It brings us consolation in affliction; it renders easy the sacrifices we have to make for virtue; it moves us to joyous praise of the Lord's justice and mercy ; it makes us love our faith ; it elevates us above ourselves and transports us into the land of the living, that is, into the regions of immortality, into the Church suffering and triumphant. On the other hand, denial of this doctrine brings death. Bellarmine observes: "The doctrine of the existence of Purgatory is so catholic a dogma, that they who nevertheless deny it assuredly have to fear not Purgatory, but rather the flames of hell."
And thus we hear faith and nature, all nations and all ages proclaim for the welfare of mankind: "It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins."