Friday, 10 July 2015

Purgatory, By The Rev. M. Canty, P.P., Part 5.



I. THE Scriptural proofs in favour of Purgatory are not confined to the Old Testament. It is sustained in many parts of the New. Let us begin with St. Matthew. xii. 32. In his Gospel our Lord says : " Who soever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it, shall be forgiven him ; but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world nor in the world to come." This-text' teaches us that there is a Purgatory. It forces us to that conclusion. We learn from it that there are sins which may be forgiven in the world to come. St. Augustine uses this passage in favour of a middle state. He says that the words, "in the world to come," show that there are sins that can be remitted in the future life. His words are these : " For it would not be truly said of some that it should not be forgiven them, neither in this world nor in the world to come, unless there were persons to whom, though not in this, however, it is forgiven in the world to come." There must be sins then that can be remitted in the other life, unless we wish to go so far as to say that Christ spoke foolishly and absurdly. Let us take a phrase of similar construction : " I shall not get drunk in this world or in the world to come. " The latter is impossible, and the person who would so speak would render himself ridiculous: just in the same way our Lord's words would be without meaning and absurd, unless there be some sins that can be forgiven in a future life. St. Gregory; the Ven. Bede, St. Bernard, and Catholic writers generally interpret this text in the same sense as St. Augustine, and urge it as a solid argument in favour of the Catholic doctrine.

Dupin, following the same line of argument as the Calvinists, says that the words, " Neither in this world nor in the world to come," are to be taken in the sense of never, which very word St. Mark iii. 29. uses to express what our Lord said on this occasion, " shall never have forgiveness." According to Dupin the words of St. Matthew are to be taken merely in the same sense as those spoken by St. Peter to Christ: "Thou shalt never wash my feet." (St. John, xiii. 8) His argument does not stand. Our Lord, indeed, meant to say that sin against the Holy Ghost would never be forgiven, or, in other words, would not be forgiven for ever. But, in saying so, he made use of the words which are related by St. Matthew, and given in an abbreviated or contracted form by St. Mark. If the words of the former have any meaning, they mean what we have said ; they clearly indicate that there are sins that can be forgiven in the life to come, unless we represent Christ as using words without any reasonable meaning, which would be blasphemous for us to do. The whole body of the Fathers interpret his words in the same sense as we do. St. Mark's never mean the same. It is to be understood as embracing the whole of this and of the future life—" this world" and "the world to come" of St. Matthew. But never was used in a different sense by St. Peter. He did not use it so as to embrace the future life. It would be foolish of him to say: " Thou shalt not wash my feet, neither in this world nor in the world to come." If he were to say this, or to mean it, he would be laying down the foolish supposition that feet are washed in the other world. St. Peter did not intend this. Hence his never —which embraces the whole of this life—differs vastly from St. Mark's never, which also embraces the whole of eternity, and is to be understood in the same sense as the words in St. Matthew. Furthermore, why would Christ, instead of using the word never, which would be a more simple form, adopt the circumlocution, " nor in the world to come," unless there were really some sins that are forgiven in the world to come ?

The position of our adversaries is not strengthened by saying there is question in the text of mortal sin which is not remitted in the other world. There is mention made of a sin, which is remitted neither here nor hereafter. But it is not said what sin may be remitted here or hereafter. Yet it is clearly indicated that there are some which may be remitted here or hereafter. Moreover, Christ speaks of the remission both of the fault and punishment due to it, for in St. Mark it is said, " shall be guilty of an everlasting, sin," that is, shall be guilty of the eternal punishment due to sin. The sense then is this, that sin against the Holy Ghost, both as to fault and punishment, is forgiven neither in this life nor in the next. It is quite different, however, with other sins, which, if they be venial, are forgiven in the present and the future life, but, if mortal, are forgiven as to their fault in this, and as to their punishment in the other life.

The reader will, no doubt, expect some explanation of this sin against the Holy Ghost, which is said to be so irremissible. The most correct one seems to be that which, by sin against the Holy Ghost, understands that blasphemy by which a per son knowingly attributes the works of the Holy Ghost to the devil, and does this not through infirmity or ignorance, but through mere malice, and denies these works to the Holy Ghost, with the intention of preventing the propagation of the true faith and the extension of the kingdom of God amongst men. But why is this sin said to be against the Holy Ghost any more than other sins ? Because this sin directly contradicts that working of miracles and that enlightenment of the mind by which we arrive at the knowledge of the truth, and which are the effects of the Holy Ghost. If we commit sin through weakness, we are said to sin against the Father, to whom is attributed power; if, through ignorance, against the Son, to whom is attributed wisdom; so, in like manner, the sin of which there is question is said to be against the Holy Ghost, because it is directly opposed to that enlightenment of the mind, which is attributed to the Holy Ghost. This opinion is supported by the all but unanimous consent of the ancient Fathers, and receives additional weight from this, that Christ reproaches the Pharisees, who had accused Him with casting out devils in the name of Beelzebub. This was a manifest perversion of truth : it was clearly attributing to the evil spirit the works of the Holy Ghost.

When our Lord says this sin shall not be forgiven in this world, nor in the world to come, His words imply not the absolute impossibility, but the great difficulty of its remission. On this point St. Chrysostom (Hom xlii. in Matt.) says: " Shall the blasphemy of the Spirit be not forgiven to those who repent ? It is apparent that this is altogether false. For we know that also this sin is forgiven, since it is certain that pardon is granted to many of those who have said such things against the Holy Spirit. What, then, is this that he says ? He wished to signify that this is much less pardonable than other sins." In other parts of the Scripture we find similar hebraisms, which, while according to the letter they imply a real impossibility, according to the sense intended mean only a very great difficulty. For example, in the Gospel of St. Matthew (xix. 24.) Christ says : " It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven." This text, taken literally, would imply that it is utterly impossible , for a rich man to be saved, whilst our Lord only intended to convey that it is very difficult. Understanding it in the former sense, the Apostles asked : " Who then can be saved." He, correcting them replied : " With men this is impossible : but with God all things are possible." The sense He intended to convey is, that it is very difficult for a rich man to be saved, but still that he can be saved by the aid of God. In like manner in the prophecy of Jeremias xiii. 23  it is said : "If the Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots; you may also do well when you have learned evil." Here we are not to under stand that it is quite impossible for a person to be converted or to do good, after he has contracted an evil habit, as it is for the Ethiopian to change the colour of his skin, or the leopard his spots: but merely that it is very difficult for him to be converted, or to do good.
While on this point, we may observe that it is so hard to obtain forgiveness of this sin, because it has no extenuating circumstance. Other sins are committed through infirmity, through fear, or through error ; but in this a person knowingly and criminally opposes the truth. Add to this, that sin is forgiven only by the light and grace of the Holy Ghost. Now he shuts his eyes against both, who obstinately attributes His works to the evil spirit. Though it is so very grave, still it is pardonable, for there is no sin of which we cannot obtain pardon, provided we repent.