Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Purgatory, By The Rev. M. Canty, P.P., Part 3.



It is of faith that Purgatory exists. The Church has defined only two things concerning Purgatory : " That Purgatory is ; and that the souls detained there are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful, but especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar." Besides these two points the Church has defined nothing else of Purgatory. She has defined 'nothing about its situation, its duration, the nature and acuteness of its punishments, or the manner in which the souls there are assisted by our prayers. To speak at present only of the existence of Purgatory, it is proved by arguments drawn from the Scripture, the Fathers, Councils, Liturgies, the custom of the Synagogue, and theological reasons.


WE find incontestable arguments in the Scripture in favour of this doctrine— arguments that are sufficient to convince the mind of any unprejudiced man.

I. It is proved both from the Old and New Testament. Let us begin with the Old. In the Second Book of Machabees (Chap. 12, v. 43, 44, 45, 46) we find that Judas Machabaeus, the chief and high priest of the Jewish nation, a man not less remarkable for piety than valour, sent money to Jerusalem to have a sacrifice offered up in the Temple for the soldiers who had been slain in battle. Here is what the inspired writer' says in reference to what he did :— "And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness had great grace laid up for them. It is, therefore, a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins." Such are the words and reflections of the sacred writer. In them, along with faith in the resurrection, we have devotion for the dead, devotion which shows itself to us in all its beauty in the Catholic Church. 'This church holds out its arms to "the living and the dead, it embraces time and eternity. Its children, who have already obtained their crown in heaven, pray for those who yet combat on earth, and those latter pray for their brethren who are suffering for their faults in the place of purification.

This is, in truth, the communion of saints. It is justified by the text quoted above. From this text it follows, in the first place, that all the penalties of sin are not paid, and that all its relics are not washed away at death. Judas had sacrifice offered for the sins of the dead. He would not have done this if there was no sin to be expiated in the other life, as Luther would have us believe. It follows, in the second place, that one can die a holy death—in the grace and friendship of God—and still die indebted to Him, either on account of venial sins, which have not been yet remitted, or the atonement, not yet made or insufficient, due to mortal sins, whose guilt and eternal punishment have been forgiven ; for the sacred writer says that they "had fallen asleep with godliness," and still sacrifice was offered up for their sins. Thirdly, it follows that the prayers and sacrifices of the living are of advantage to the dead, so as to free them from their sins. In any other hypothesis the offerings sent by Judas to the Temple would be useless. So far, however, were the Jews from considering sacrifices and prayers for the dead as useless, that the sacred writer says it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins."

It is useless for the opponents of this doctrine to say that the Books of Machabees are not canonical. 

We shall prove, further on, that they are. But even though we granted that they are not, their historic truth cannot be denied. As mere history, they are of as much value in support of the Jewish rites, as profane writers in support of those of the Gentiles. If a profane writer describes the rites of the Gentiles, we place implicit confidence in what he says. Why not do the same where a writer of religious events is concerned ? Moreover, the Lutherans place the Books of Machabees in the Bible, and admit that they are read "for the edification of morals" (ad morum aedificationem). Hence, prayers for the dead are not only compatible with Christian morality, but tend very much to promote it. It is further to be observed that the author of the Second Book of Machabees was coeval, or almost coeval, with the facts he describes. He mentions public facts, describes the doctrine and practice of his nation, and there is no reason why we should not place, at least, as much confidence in what he says as in the words of any profane historian.

Our adversaries gain nothing by saying that' it is not the part of a historian to draw the moral conclusion : " It is, therefore, a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins;" or that this conclusion was placed in the margin by some after hand, and, in course of time, came to be inserted in the text. It is not unusual for historians to draw moral conclusions from the facts they relate for the instruction or imitation of their readers. This would be especially true if there was any prevalent error they would like to condemn. The Sadducees taught that the soul died with the body. Many are of opinion that this sect, which spread its branches far and wide among the Jews at the time of our Lord, had existed in the days of the Machabees, or at least when their history was written. It would be the part of a sacred historian to draw a conclusion condemnatory of the error of such a sect. Not only is it gratuitous to say that this verse was patched into the text, there being no proof of such patchwork ; but even it is unreasonable, for there is no version and no copy in which it is not found. But even were we to omit from this chapter the verse in question, our cause is sufficiently sustained by the preceding verses. What use was there in offering sacrifice for the dead if it did not cleanse them from their sins ? But it could not cleanse .the reprobate, for whom there is no redemption, whose miserable fate is beyond the hope of mercy. Then it can be of use only to the souls in Purgatory, whose sins alone can be forgiven after death, and in reference to whom exclusively these verses can be understood.