CHAPTER XVIII. THE GRAVITY OF THE PAINS OF PURGATORY.
ST. THOMAS (In 4, dist. 20, quæst. i, art. 2.) teaches two things with regard to the gravity of these pains. He teaches, first, that the pain of loss, which the souls in Purgatory feel, is the greatest of all the pains that are suffered either in Purgatory, or in this life. He teaches, secondly, that the slightest pain of Purgatory is greater than the greatest pain of this life.
|Black chasubles (such as this one) are used during Funeral Masses, All Souls' Day, and other Masses for the dead in the Extraordinary Form (Traditional Latin Mass), but it is still permitted in the Ordinary Form (Novus Ordo Missae)|
The reason St. Thomas assigns, in proof of his second assertion, that the slightest pain of Purgatory is severer than the greatest pain of this life, is, that in Purgatory the soul feels the pain of loss, which is the greatest of all pains. Thus the slightest pain in Purgatory is associated with the pain of loss, and for this reason is greater than any pain, be it ever so severe, of this life.
St. Bonaventure, on the other hand, entirely differs from St. Thomas. In the first place, St. Bonaventure (In 4, dist. 20, art. I, quæst. 2.) teaches that the pain of loss, in the case of the souls in Purgatory, is not greater than every other punishment which is found, whether there, or in this life. In the second place he teaches that the pains of Purgatory are greater than the pains of this life. But he speaks in this sense, that the greatest pain there is severer than the greatest pain here; though there is some pain there that is lighter than some pain here.
After giving the opinions of SS. Thomas and Bonaventure, Bellarmine gives his adhesion to the latter in these words: "Which opinion pleases me." We may safely adopt this opinion. It seems to be preferable to the other, and more followed by theologians. According to it we may lay down the following proposition :—
I. The pain of loss is not, in sharpness or severity, the greatest of the pains of Purgatory.
Before proving this, we may observe that the words sharpness or severity are employed to distinguish between the pain of loss in severity, and in appreciation. Though this pain is not the greatest in severity, it is the greatest in appreciation. Viewing all things in their proper light, and weighing them in the balance of God, those holy souls appreciate the want of the beatific vision beyond every other evil. They weep more for this want, than for any other evil or affliction that could consist with it They would endure every punishment and enjoy God, rather than endure the privation of His blessed vision, Lessius says that we have an instance of this in the lives of holy persons, who, while on this earth, were so inflamed by charity, that they appreciated their exile from God as the greatest punishment. In the same way, the loss of God is to the souls in Purgatory the greatest evil or punishment in appreciation. With this observation, we shall now proceed to prove that the pain of loss is not the greatest, in severity, of the pains of Purgatory.
1. If the pain of loss is the greatest pain in hell, (Lessius (num. 20) denies that the pain of loss is the greatest of the pains of hell; but the example, which he gives to prove that, of the impious, who would never feel grief at being deprived of the vision of God if they were left for ever in the enjoyment of the goods and delights of the present life, is not appropriate.) the reason of this is that it is inseparably connected with most certain desperation, which deprives the soul of all hope and consolation. It is of this pain of loss St. Chrysostom (Homil. 21. in Matth.) speaks, when he says that a thousand hells are nothing in comparison with the bereavement of the Divine presence. " If thou shalt," he says, (Homil. 49, ad Pop.): " have spoken of a thousand hells, thou shalt speak of nothing like that pain." St. Augustine says (In Enchirid. cap. 112.) that the smallest pain of loss, if it be eternal, is greater than all the pains of this life. The pain of loss is the greatest of the afflictions of the damned, because they understand very well that their summum bonum consists in the enjoyment of the beatific vision. Though they do not love God on account of Himself, they are constrained to most ardently love His vision for their own sake. But it is quite a different thing, when we come to speak of the pain of loss in Purgatory. Though the absence of the chief good, God, begets of itself the greatest sadness in the souls, this sadness is very much mitigated by the fixed and certain hope of enjoying Him in the future. This hope, which continually shoots its rays across the breasts of these poor souls, brings consolation and joy to them. Their consolation and joy are rendered greater by the pleasure they feel in knowing that they fulfil the Divine will. The nearer they approach to the term of their exile, the greater becomes their joy. There fore it is that those Fathers, such as SS. Gregory, Augustine, Anselm, and Bernard, and Ven. Bede, who say that the pains of Purgatory are the greatest of all pains, speak expressly of the pain of fire, but not of the pain of loss, unless inasmuch as this is connected with desperation in hell.
2. Were the pain of loss in Purgatory the greatest of all pains, it would follow from this that the ancient Fathers, while in Limbo, suffered the greatest of all pains, for they were deprived there of the vision of God. But so far is this from being true, that in the Gospel of St. Luke (xvi. 25. ) we find Abraham telling the rich man that Lazarus, who was then in Limbo, enjoyed peace : " But now he is comforted, and thou art tormented." Hence St. Gregory (Lib. 13, Moral, cap. 22.) says, that the Fathers suffered no punishment, but enjoyed ample rest. Hence, too, St. Augustine (Epist. 164, alias 99.) denies that the words of St. Peter, speaking of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the Acts of the Apostles :(xi. 24.) "Having loosed the sorrows of hell," can be understood of the Fathers in Limbo. The reason why he denied this was, that Christ found those Fathers, not in pain or affliction, but in the enjoyment of rest.
II. The greatest pain of Purgatory is severer than the greatest pain of the present life, no matter how great this may be.
1. The Fathers constantly teach that the pains of Purgatory are the greatest—so violent and atrocious that the greatest pains of this life cannot be compared to them. The torments borne by the martyrs for the faith were beyond measure great. It is a great torment to be stretched on the rack, to be impaled, or to be consumed by fire. But, according to the mind of the Fathers, such torments are light when compared to the torments and afflictions of Purgatory.
St. Gregory (In Psalm 3, poenitentialem.) speaks thus of the fire of Purgatory : " I consider that transitory fire to be more intolerable than every present tribulation."
St. Augustine (In Psalm 37.) says : " Although we may be saved by fire, that fire, however, shall be greater than whatever man can suffer in this life." Again he says (Lib. de Civit. Dei, cap. 10.) of the souls in Purgatory: "They are tormented in wonderful, but true ways."
St. Cæsar, of Aries, also holds that the pains of Purgatory are greater than any that can be suffered in this life. He writes his sentiment in the following terms: ( Serm. 104, n. 4,) " But some one will say it is no matter to me what delay I have, if, however, I come to eternal life. Let no one say this, dearest brethren, because that purgatorial fire is sharper than whatever pains can be devised, or seen, or felt in this world."
Ven. Bede (On 3rd Penitential Psalm. ) holds that no torments, to which martyrs, or robbers, were ever subjected, could compare with the pains which the poor souls in Purgatory endure. And St. Anselm (In i Corinth. 3.) is of the same opinion.
St. Bernard, in like manner, holds (Serm. de obitu Humberti.) that the pains of Purgatory are sharper than the greatest pains of this life. He also, (Serm. 6, in Purificat. B. Mariæ, n. 5.) in speaking of the flames of Purgatory, makes use of the following serious language, which is so full of import and admonition to us : " And, indeed, whether we wish it or not, we complete the days that are given to us to purge our selves. But woe to us if the days be completed, and the purging by no means completed; so that afterwards it may be necessary for us to be purged by that fire, than which nothing more penal, nothing more ardent or more furious can be devised in this life."
2. Reason itself would persuade us that the pain of Purgatory, as far as it is a pain of the sense, is sharper than any pain of this life. Three things concur to cause pain : the power (or capacity for it), the object to cause it, and the union of both.
As to the power, a rational one, such as the soul, is more susceptible of pain than an animal one. The intellect of a rational being is, so to speak, the fountain, whilst his senses are, as it were, the stream through which he apprehends pain. Then, when the soul is freed from the body and its senses, pain pierces it more immediately and more sharply. The same can be said of the will. The appetite of the will for pain, is the fountain, whilst the inferior appetite may be said to be the stream. When the naked soul itself is exposed to flames, the torment becomes the greater. In the present state is is principally the body that is tormented. It is only through the body that pain passes to the soul.
The second thing that concurs to cause pain is the object. In the case of which we treat this object is fire. If the fire of Purgatory be true and real fire, as we have proved it to be, it must be most ardent and fierce, since it is an instrument with which Divine Justice wreaks vengeance.
The third thing that concurs to cause pain is, the union of the power or capacity of suffering, with the object or instrument of punishment. Now, the union of the soul with the fire in Purgatory is the greatest, and the most intimate. There, the fire immediately penetrates the soul itself. It does not reach or touch it through contact with the body, as fire reaches or touches the soul here, where all things are corporeal.
3. All those revelations, which are found in Ven. Bede, (Lib. 3 and 5, Historiæ.) Denis the Carthusian, the Life of St. Bridget, and that of St. Christina, would lead us to conclude that the pains of Purgatory are far greater than the greatest pains of this life.
III. There are pains in Purgatory that are not so severe as the greatest pains of this life.
1. There are two points on which theologians do not agree. First, they do not agree as to whether all the souls are tormented, at the same time, by fire. Secondly, they do not agree as to whether their pain is equally great from the beginning to the end of their term. The sounder opinion would seem to be that which holds that the pain gets lighter or more remiss in the course of time on account of the intensity and duration of their torments, and the prayers and suffrages of the living. Though it is not entirely certain, still it is far more probable, that the flame does not touch all, and that it does not always punish in the same degree those whom it touches. This would be only according to the judgement of God, who even in His anger exhibits mercy. From this opinion it would follow, that there are pains in Purgatory which are not so severe as the greatest pains of this life. As the term of purgation for each one approaches, his pain must be very light; so light that it cannot be lighter. On the other hand, we know, that the pains of this life are often most intense; so intense that they could be made immeasurably less. This opinion is held by Lessius, (V. 22.) and other theologians. Saurez, (Disp. 46, sect. 4, n. 8. ) however, dissents from them as far as regards the diminution of pain.
2. That the pain of Purgatory is lessened by degrees is seen also from the vision of Orithalmus. He, as we read in Ven. Bede, (Lib. 5, cap. 13.) beheld thousands of souls clad in white apparel, who dwelt in a most delightful place, and chanted the praises of God. He looked upon the place as another paradise. Still these souls had not yet made in full the expiation due of them. Wherever this place was, whether under or on the earth, it belonged to Purgatory. We should recall to mind the opinion of St. Thomas according to which, though the ordinary place of Purgatory is under the earth, some souls may undergo their purgation elsewhere. Some theologians also think that though souls are punished in the beginning in the ordinary place of Purgatory, they may be afterwards punished in higher places, or on -the earth. A further vision, to show that the pain of Purgatory is gradually lessened, is found in St. Bernard's Life of our own St. Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh, one of the brightest of the many stars that have shone in the firmament of the Irish Church. As St. Malachy was praying for his departed sister, she appeared to him three times. The first time she appeared to him outside the church in a black garment. The second time she appeared inside the door of the church in a brownish garment. The third time she appeared to him, with other saints, at the altar, and in a white garment. St. Malachy understood this vision to imply that the pains of his sister were being gradually lessened, until at length she arrived at the happy end of her purgation.
3. Many other visions,or revelations, can be brought forward to imply that there are some pains in Purgatory which are lighter than the greatest pains of this life. From some of these revelations it is seen that some souls endure such light pains that they would seem to suffer nothing, or almost nothing. Of this class are those found in the writings of Bede,(Lib. 5, Historiæ, cap. 13.) who were clad in white garments, and were seen in bright and pleasant places.
4. Though the Fathers never failed to proclaim the intensity of the pain of Purgatory, they always looked upon it as certain that this pain was in proportion to the number and gravity of a person's sins. The mind of the Fathers is accurately represented by the words of St. Caesar, (Serm. 252.) who writes: "As much as iniquity shall have done foolishly, so much shall discreet fire show cruelty. As much as guilt shall demand, so much a certain discipline of rational flame shall claim to itself from man." St. Caesar also calls the fire of Purgatory an arbitrating fire. ("Ignis arbiter.") We must read his words to imply, that the severity of the fire shall be in proportion to the debt for which the soul is accountable to God. But some debts are so small as to demand very little punishment. There are some idle words which are so slightly offensive to God that it would be highly unreasonable to suppose that He, in His justice, not to speak of His mercy, would inflict such severe punishments for them as have been inflicted on the martyrs by a Nero, a Domitian, or a Caracalla.