CHAPTER XV. THE CAPACITY OF THE SOUL TO MERIT OR DEMERIT. PART 5.
IV. Against this doctrine, some have reclaimed. continued
Our restless adversaries urge still further, that those souls must be imperfect, whereas they are punished; for if they were perfect they should not be punished.
If the souls be compared with other souls in Purgatory, or with some souls on earth, or with their own future state in heaven, we grant they may be said, in this sense, to have less charity, and, consequently, to be less perfect. In comparison with some other souls in Purgatory, or with some favoured souls on earth, or with their own future happiness in heaven, they may be said to be imperfect. However, they are, in fact and absolutely, constituted perfect in charity, because they love God with all their affections, and with all their strength. Still this love, this charity of theirs, will be augmented when they arrive at glory. But this increase of charity springs from the beatific vision of God, and shall be the reward due to the merits they purchased for themselves while in this life, and not to any merits acquired after death. That increase of charity, like the beatific vision itself, from which it springs, is deferred till after full satisfaction has been rendered to the justice of God. Hence it is that Bellarmine (Lib. 2, cap. 3.) says : " Charity is increased doubly: one way in the genus of grace, that man may be more inclined to merit more, and this increase is not given after this life : another way in the genus of glory, that all past merits may be rewarded, and this will be done in beatitude itself. For a part of the reward will be, as Augustine says, .... such an abundance of charity, that he who shall be endowed with that abundance of charity, can never fall away from beatitude and justice."
Although St. Peter (I Peter, iv. 8.) says that " charity covereth a multitude of sins," his words are no obstacle to our still believing that perfect spirits should be some times, or often, punished. We may instance the case of David to sustain this assertion. He surely had charity. So intense was it, that it washed his soul from sin, and reconciled him with God. Nevertheless he was subsequently punished, and heavily punished. If charity covers a multitude of sins, it does this, as to their guilt and the eternal punishment they deserve, but it does not always do it, as to the temporal punishment due to them. Charity of itself obliterates sin, with the eternal punishment that follows in its track. But it obliterates the temporal punishment due to sin, by those works of satisfaction to which it leads us. Sometimes, indeed, it happens, that charity remits not only all sins, but even all the punishments due to them. However, this is not always, nor generally, the case ; for it most frequently happens that charity does not suffice in full satisfaction of our sins.
Again, it does not follow, that, as our adversaries allege, because a person has perfect charity, and, as a result thereof, the desire of satisfying the divine justice, God should accept this desire of making satisfaction, when he has not the power of performing satisfactory works. God in truth accepts a person's desire of making satisfaction, but only according to the law He has established. That law is, that if a person does not satisfy His justice in this life, he must satisfy it, or suffer for it, in the next. Unhappily, too, the desire of making satisfaction is often so tepidly or slothfully carried into effect, or reduced to practice, that itself, though proceeding from charity, requires a new satisfaction. The wonder, then, is, not that God should not accept such desires in satisfaction for sin, but that he does not disown and reject them altogether.
Our adversaries further insist that the souls in Purgatory are imperfect, because there is nothing perfect outside God, according to what St Paul says (I Cor xiii., 10.) to the Corinthians : " When that which is perfect is come, that which is imperfect shall be done away." Hence they infer that it is impossible souls could remain in the state in which they are, since they are in via, or on their journey; since, as St. Bernard remarks, they should either advance or go backward ; since they are endowed with greater charity in heaven; and, finally, since, in the words of St. Paul, " virtue is perfected in infirmity."
We begin our answer to this objection by admitting that the souls in Purgatory are somewhat imperfect, if we compare their present condition with their future glory. Nevertheless, because they embrace their sufferings with patience and resignation to the will of God, and are inflamed with ardent charity, they may be said to be simply and absolutely perfect. It was with this distinction before his mind that St. Paul said (Philippians, iii. 12.) at one time: "Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect^ " and at another time (Philip., iii. 15.): "Let us, therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded." In the first verse, comparing his present condition with his future glory, he says he is not yet perfect. And in the second, considering his own and others' patience in suffering, resignation to the holy will of God, and burning charity, he says they are perfect.
When they who are opposed to us quibble about the soul being in via, on a journey, or in a transitory state, we answer that this is not true as far as regards merit. As far as acquiring merit is concerned, the soul has already arrived at its goal or destination; it is no longer on a journey or in a transitory state. So taught Lessius; and his teaching is but a faithful reflex of the Catholic faith, in harmony with the general unanimity of theologians. Thus, when the time of labour is past, and the night in which no man can work has come, then we can acquire no more merit, although the time for receiving the reward may not have yet come. Let the soul be the holiest, it cannot then merit.
The remark of St. Bernard—that the soul should either advance or go backward—presents no difficulty, when it is observed that he speaks of the present life and not of the future one. In this life, according to the saint, we must either advance or go back. It is different with the future life, where the tree shall remain in whatsoever place it falls.
As to what they say in regard to the soul being endowed with greater charity in heaven, there is no greater difficulty. This augmentation of charity in heaven is not the result of new merits acquired after death, but of the beatific vision, which, in turn, is the reward of the merits solely which were acquired during the term of this life.
Finally, the words of St. Paul, " virtue is perfected in infirmity," if applied to Purgatory, are in a sense true. They are true in this sense, that the rust of sins is removed by the cleansing fire of Purgatory ; and thus the virtue of the soul, to use the words of the Apostle, " is perfected." Apart from this explanation, the phrase may be received in such a sense as to make it be the virtue of God, and not of man, that is perfected in infirmity. The Greek text has "my virtue." In this text, it would be the virtue of God, and not of man, that would be perfected in infirmity. The sense rendered by the Greek text receives additional weight from this, that the power of God becomes more striking when He makes use of weak instruments to procure His ends. If the phrase " virtue is perfected in infirmity," be taken as implying that man acquires an increase of virtue and merit, it can have reference only to the condition of man in the present life.