CHAPTER XIV. THEY WHO GO TO PURGATORY PART 4.
III. Purgatory is due to those alone who go out of this life in the state of grace, and at the same time owe some debt to the justice of God. cont
Some of the Fathers of the fourth century are said to have entertained this view. St. Ambrose would seem to coincide with it, when, though having said: (In Psalm xxxvi.) " Therefore with fire shall be cleansed the sons of Levi, with fire Ezechiel, with fire Daniel," and, " All must pass through flames, whether he may be a John or a Peter ; (In Psalm cxviii., Serm. xx. n. 12.) and also, " Christ alone who is the justice of God, could not feel that fire," he adds to the two latter quotations : " But the fiery sword shall be turned easily to John, because iniquity is not found in him" and, " if there was anything of human vice in him, divine charity hath consumed it." And later on he says : (v. 13.) that to St. Peter, " who had so often offered his death for Christ, it shall be said; Pass, recline." He goes a step further, and says of all in general terms : " He who would have the fire of charity, cannot there fear the fire of the sword." When as we saw above, he says that Christ alone " could not feel that fire," he means that Christ alone by divine right, by right of His divine nature and sanctity, was exempt not only from the purifying fire of Purgatory, but likewise from the trying fire of divine judgment after death. There was no one exempt from the latter fire but Jesus Christ. All others were obnoxious to it, according to the spirit and letter of the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians (i Cor. iii. 13.) "The fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is."
But the words of St. Ambrose are not to be read as implying, that all the just are to be purged with fire after death. This would be opposed to the faith of the Church, as far as concerns infants, who die after having received baptism ; and also the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church believes that such infants have not to endure the fire of Purgatory. She also believes the ever Blessed Virgin to have been exempt from it.
Our adversaries instance St. Hilary too as being opposed to us. But St. Hilary would appear to speak rather of the fire of judgment, than of Purgatory. He asks, (In Psalm cxviii. Litt. 3, n. xii.) indeed, "Whether since we may be about to render an account for every idle word, shall we desire the day of judgment, in which that unwearied fire is to be suffered by us, in which those grave punishments of expiating the soul from sins are to be borne ?" but he explains the sense of this, when after a few words, he again asks: "If that Virgin of God (he speaks of the Blessed Virgin Mary) has become liable to the severity of judgment, who shall dare to desire to be judged by God ?" St. Hilary seems to speak here not of the fire of Purgatory, but of the fire of divine judgment. Later on (Num. xiii.) he makes the supposition, that a person may be in such innocence, " that even safely and without fear he may desire the terror of judgment." Thus the .holy Doctor speaks rather of the fire of judgment, to which with St. Paul he subjects all the sons of Adam, than of the fire of Purgatory.
However, the spotless integrity of the Blessed Virgin during her whole life, would suffer nothing even though we were to admit that St. Hilary speaks of the fire of Purgatory. For it has been very justly observed that though he says the Blessed Virgin may have been "liable to" or have passed through, fire; he does not say that she was burned by it, or suffered in the least from it.
Our adversaries also claim for their side Rupert, (Lib. iii. in Genes, cap. 37.) who looks upon that flaming sword, which God placed in the hand of cherubim before the gate of Paradise, as an emblem of Purgatory, through which all, who wish to enter the heavenly Paradise, must pass. We must allow that Rupert speaks of the fire of Purgatory. He is to be explained however, as admitting that some persons of remarkable justice shall pass through this fire without suffering from it.
Thus, a couple of the Fathers are understood to say that all the just must pass through fire. But they are not to be understood to say that all shall suffer from it. Catching up the notion then entertained by some, they imagined that all, no matter how just or perfect, should pass through fire; but they did not believe that they, who were fully justified, should suffer it, or endure pain from it.
Another couple of the Fathers, whom we have quoted, are to be understood as speaking, not of the fire of Purgatory, but of the fire of divine judgment, through which all, even the most perfect and fully justified, have to pass. Understood in this sense their words offer no objection. But if we must understand those Fathers, or any of them, whom we have quoted, to mean that all, no matter how just and perfect and pleasing to the eye of God, must suffer the fire of Purgatory ; then we must not follow their guidance, we must reject their opinion, and follow the teaching of the Church, as defined in the Council of Florence, and sustained by the general opinion of Fathers and theologians.