CHAPTER XV. THE CAPACITY OF THE SOUL TO MERIT OR DEMERIT. PART 4.
IV. Against this doctrine, some have reclaimed.
The souls in Purgatory, say they, do not voluntarily bear their punishment, and therefore commit sin. That they do not voluntarily bear their punishments is patent from this, that these are to them a cross, what they would not be if borne patiently, for pains grow sweet to those who love God. Again, they say, if the souls in Purgatory voluntarily bore their sufferings, we should not pray for them, since they would love, in place of hating, punishment.
In reply, we say that the souls in Purgatory voluntarily bear their punishment, and on this account do not commit sin. They bear them patiently, because they are filled with the ardent love of God, and with a holy desire of satisfying His justice. But for this love and this desire, they should, like the damned, burn with rage against Him. Though for the love of God they willingly bear their punishments, these are still bitter. These punishments are not so sweet as that the soul does not feel them, and feel them bitterly. Yet, for the love of God, they patiently bear these punishments in the same spirit as the aged Eleazer, who said: (II Machab. vi., 30.) "O Lord, who hast the holy knowledge, thou knowest manifestly that whereas I might be delivered from death, I suffer grievous pains in body, but in soul am well content to suffer these things because I fear thee." St. Augustine, speaking of punishments and the mode of bearing them, sayest (Lib. 10 Confess, cap. 24.) "Thou commandest us to endure them, not to love them ; for no man loves what he endures, although he may love to endure." It is no wonder, then,that the souls in Purgatory should desire to be freed from their punishments, and that the Church prays for this object. There is no wonder, I repeat, in this, for two reasons. First, because their pains are still pains, though willingly accepted, like the Chalice of His Passion, by Jesus Christ. And, secondly, because as long as they endure these pains they are deprived of the beatific vision of God.
Though the souls in Purgatory desire to be liberated therefrom, it cannot on this account be said that they seek their own advantage rather than the honour and glory of God. For they who desire to be liberated from pains, in order that they may praise God better and more, seek not their own advantage or any selfish purpose, but rather to honour and glorify God. Thus they love God, not by the love of concupiscence—not by any selfish love, but by the love of benevolence and friendship. God is the ultimate object of their every desire. But even though we were to grant that the souls in Purgatory seek their own personal advantage in desiring to be free from pain, what is there unlawful in this ? It is allowed to every one to desire and seek his own ad vantage or advancement, provided he do so according to the order instituted by God, and in subjection to His supreme will. Those desires that are lawful for every one in the present life, cannot be unlawful for those in Purgatory.
They object that imperfect souls ought to advance in virtue, and to merit, in order that they may be come perfect. But the souls in Purgatory are imperfect, and on this account should advance and merit. So they argue.
The first reply to this argument is, that it is vain to have recourse to subtle devices, where the will of God, manifested by the Scripture, and the abiding tradition of the Church, is concerned. But the Scripture and tradition, or constant sense of the Church, are entirely on our side.
The second and more direct reply is, that though imperfect souls, while in this life, ought to advance in virtue, and to merit, this is not equally true of those for whom has already arrived the night of death, in which no man can labour. The souls in Purgatory have reached that night, which awaits every one of us now living, when we can do no work. Then, although they may be said to be in one sense in via, or on their journey, inasmuch as they have not yet arrived at heaven, they have already reached their destination or goal, as far as regards an increase of grace and merit.
They pursue their objection, and say, that in Purgatory the soul fears punishment; which shows that it is not perfect, for in the words of St. John,* " Fear is not of charity: but perfect charity casteth out fear." The consequence is, that the soul ought to advance in virtue and become perfect.
To this it may be replied, it does not follow that, because a person fears punishment, he is imperfect. Jesus Christ Himself feared punishment. Through fear of it, He sweated blood, and was in great agony in the Garden. Still He was most perfect. He was in fact perfection itself. Then, when St. John says that ''perfect charity casteth out fear," he is to be understood as speaking of human fear, or the fear of men ; and perplexing fear, which makes us despair of finding mercy with God. The words of the Apostle also embrace servile fear, that is, that fear of sin which is entertained because of the punishment due to it, and not because of the offence offered to God. Perfect charity, by which a person fears sin for the love of God, dispenses with these three kinds of fear. But the words of St John are not to be read as excluding that salutary fear of God } s judgment, to which we are so often treated in Scripture ; or that fear and trembling, with which St. Paul would have us to work out our salvation. Nor are they to be read as containing a censure of fear, pure and simple, since even the most just fear punishments, according to nature, though they may desire and love them according to the spirit. Thus did St. Theresa love and desire punishments, when she longed : " Either to suffer or to die."