DOGMATIC AND SCHOLASTIC - THE VARIOUS QUESTIONS CONNECTED WITH IT CONSIDERED AND PROVED.
|This picture is from 1419 in Heidelberg University Library|
IT IS PROVED FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT. Part 2.
II. In his Sermon on the Mount, Christ says ( Matt. v. 25, 26.) : " Be at 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."
To be sure, these words can be understood of a judge and prison of this earth. But if we refer to the chapter in which St. Luke xii. relates them, the context there will lead us to understand them solely of the judgement of God. There we read: " Be you then also ready : for at what hour you think not, the Son of man will come." (Luke, xii. 40.) This shows us He speaks of a future judgement, against which we should prepare ourselves. When, then, He says : " Thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing," we must understand that there is a prison in the other life, from which the soul is set free after it has paid its small debts—after it has satisfied God in full for them. This is further proved from the scope of the parable, which presents to us one who is in prison, not for any crime such as murder or theft, but for a money debt. When one has paid this, it has been always the custom to set him at liberty. To apply the parable: we should satisfy the justice of God, a thing that we can easily do, while we are in this life, which is the way to eternity. Should we fail to do so, He will deliver us up to Christ, to Whom the Father has given all judgement, and we shall be severely punished by Him in the other life—we shall pay even " the last farthing." Though this interpretation of the parable, as a proof of Purgatory, is not admitted by many, even Catholic, theologians, it is admitted in this sense by many others, and among them the well-known Bellarmine, who cites the Fathers in support of it.
III. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians iii. 11. Saint Paul says : " Other foundation no man can lay but. that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man's work shall be manifest: for the day of the Lord" shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire : and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. . It any man's work abide, which he hath built there on : 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" The foundation, of which mention is made by the Apostle, is Christ and his holy doctrine; or true faith in Him, enlivened by charity. The gold, silver, and precious stones denote the more perfect preaching and practise of the Gospel; the wood, hay, and stubble, the preaching of the Corinthian teachers, who affected human eloquence, and made a great display of words. The wood, hay, and stubble also include that practise of the Gospel, which is mixed with small sins and imperfections. The day of the Lord, and the trial by fire in the particular judgement, which takes place immediately that one dies, shall disclose what sort every man's work has been. It is not easy to form a judgement of a man's work during life ; but after death the fire of God's judgement shall reveal it. They whose works are like wood, hay, and stubble, and on this account cannot stand the fire, shall suffer loss ; how ever, because they built upon the right foundation, having died in true faith and in grace, though with imperfections, they " shall be saved, yet so as by fire" They shall suffer, because they mixed wood, hay, and stubble with their building. Though this text of St. Paul, according to St. Augustine, is difficult to be understood, still we can draw two conclusions from it, First, that there are venial sins, which are denoted by wood, hay, and stubble ; and secondly, what comes more within our present purpose, that there is a Purgatory. Purgatory is a place of punishment, in which they, who have built up wood, hay, and stubble, that is sins differing in degree, but still not mortal, are purified until they are fit for heaven. Such a place the Apostle not obscurely admits in the text cited above. St. Ambrose understands it in this sense. Here are his words: "When Paul says: 'Yet so as by fire,' he shows indeed that he will be saved, but that he shall suffer the punishment of fire, that purified by fire he may be saved, and not like the damned be tormented for ever with eternal fire." Though all the Fathers do not agree with this interpretation, on account of the difficulty of the passage, it is to be preferred for this reason, that it is the more general among the Greek and Latin Doctors, and offers no violence to the words of the Apostle.
Against this interpretation our adversaries say that by fire we are to understand either the trials of this life; or the fire of hell, which shall punish mortal sins, denoted by wood, hay, and stubble; or the judgement of God, which especially at the hour of death approves of true doctrine, as fire proves the gold, and consumes false doctrine, as if it were hay. This is the interpretation of Calvin and Peter the Martyr, who observe, that otherwise the Apostle would have used the word fire in two different senses in the same sentence—once for the judgement of God : " Fire shall try every man's work ; " and once for the fire of Purgatory : "Yet so as by fire."
None of these objections holds. The first—that by fire are understood the trials of this life—does not hold, because the time of this present life is not a certain and specified day, such as the Apostle indicates. The day of which the Apostle speaks is the same as that to which he refers, when he says: "There is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day." (2 Tim. iv. 8.) It is further to be observed, that the space of this life is not called in Scripture the day of the Lord, but our day; whilst, on the other hand, the space of the other life is called the day of the Lord, and not ours. The former is evident from St. Luke xix. 42.: " If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace ; " and again xxii. 53 : " But this is your hour." The latter is evident from Sophonias i. 14. : " The great day of the Lord is near; " as well as from Joel ii. i, 2. : "The day of the Lord cometh ... A day of darkness and of gloominess." Moreover, the Apostle says : that the day of the Lord shall declare what sort each man's work has been. Now the present time does not declare this, for the just suffer tribulations in this life as well as the unjust, and often-times a Stoic seems to bear them more patiently than a Christian. Nor does the second objection hold—that is, that by the fire, of which there is question, we are to understand the fire of hell. The fire, of which the Apostle speaks, shall try every man's work, whether it be of gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or stubble. But the fire of hell can lay no claim to the gold, silver, or precious stones. Neither can it touch the wood, hay, or stubble, for they who build up such things, will be saved, though it be by fire.
The third objection, that by the fire we are to understand the judgement of God, approving of true, and condemning false doctrine, cannot stand, because, the Apostle says, " he shall suffer loss." Now the judgement at the hour of death, by which false doctrine is condemned, and errors are consumed like hay, shall cause no loss, but great gain, for it will lay bare to us the truth. Moreover, in that interpretation, all that would be saved should be saved by fire. But this is against the distinction of the Apostle, who says those only shall be saved by fire who, having held on to the foundation—true faith in Christ—have built on it wood, hay, and stubble. In the Catholic interpretation the word fire is taken in a double sense, once for the divine judgement (fire shall try every man's work), and once for Purgatory (he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire). It is not unusual for St. Paul to use the same word in a double sense. Thus he says in his second Epistle to the Corinthians v. 21. : Him, that knew no sin, for us he hath made sin. Here he uses sin in a different sense, taking it in the latter case for a sin offering, or a victim for sin, whilst in the first case he takes it for an offence against God.
Another objection that has been raised against the sense in which we receive the text is, that when it is said, he shall be saved, yet so as by fire, the words so as express a similitude or likeness, but not the truth, or what really takes place. But to give them this meaning would accord but badly with this other text from the Gospel of St. John i. 14.: " And we saw his glory, the glory, as it were, of the only-begotten of the Father." The Latin for " as it were " is the same as that for so as in St. Paul. The very same Latin word (quasi) is used in each case. In St. John it expresses not the likeness or similitude, but the truth and the reality of the Only-begotten. In like manner we are to understand St. Paul as speaking of what really takes place, when he says that some people " shall be saved, yet so as (quasi) by fire" It may be observed, too, that in the Greek the same word is used in the two texts. If there is a similitude or metaphor in the text of the Apostle, it has reference not to the fire, but to the person who passes through the fire. Then it will come to this, that the man who has built up wood, hay and stubble shall reach heaven, but only in the same way as one reaches a place after having passed through fire to it, that is, he has saved his life, but he is scorched."