DOGMATIC AND SCHOLASTIC - THE VARIOUS QUESTIONS CONNECTED WITH IT CONSIDERED AND PROVED.
CHAPTER VII. IT IS PROVED FROM THE COUNCILS.
THE Councils of the Church, held at dates and in places far apart, furnish us with indirect proofs of the doctrine of Purgatory. They, down to the Council of Trent, do not place it before us directly or issue a dogmatic decree on it. The Church does not do this, unless it becomes necessary to do so, on account of the doctrine being likely to suffer because called in doubt by many, in other words, the Church as a rule does not define any point of doctrine till it is in danger of suffering if there is no definition on it. There was no such reason for defending the doctrine of Purgatory before the Council of Trent, because, if we except Aerius, it was denied by no man of any note before the sixteenth century. But the Councils establish it indirectly, or, as we may say, incidentally, that is, by referring to it, or by supposing its existence, when treating on some other subject.
I. The first Council we meet with in which its existence is supposed is that alluded to by St. Cyprian, to which attention has been drawn in the preceding chapter. To refresh the reader's memory it is better to repeat his words : " The bishops, our predecessors, decreed that no brother, when dying, should name a clergyman to the guardianship or care (of his property), and if anyone should do this, that there should not be an offering made for him, nor sacrifice celebrated for his rest: for he does not merit to be named at the altar of God in the prayer of the priests, who from the altar wished to draw away priests and ministers .... And therefore since Victor, contrary to the rule laid down for priests in the Council, has dared to constitute Geminius Faustinus, a priest, his guardian (administrator), let there be made by you no offering or prayer for his rest."(Ep. 17.) The saint tolls us that a Council, whichever it be, had ordered that sacrifices should not be offered up for the soul of a person who should constitute a priest his administrator. Therefore it supposed the existence of Purgatory, or a state where souls could be relieved by the prayers and sacrifices of the living. This Council must have been celebrated in the second, or, at furthest, in the early part of the third century, for St. Cyprian says that the matter was decreed in the time of his predecessors, and he was consecrated bishop as early as 248.
II._ The next Council, whose opinion on Purgatory is recorded, is the third Council of Carthage which was held in 390 or 397. It says : "It hath pleased that the mysteries of the altar should be celebrated only by one who is fasting . . . For if the recommendation of any deceased persons is to be made in the afternoon .... let it be done by prayers alone."
III. The fourth Council of Carthage, held in 390, is clearer still on the point. "If penitents," it says who shall have.exactly fulfilled the laws of repentance, may happen to die on a journey or at sea . . . let their memory be commemorated by prayers and sacrifices."
IV. The first Council of Nasensia (Naison), in 442, lays down the same rule with regard to penitents. It says ; " Because it is unlawful to exclude from the salutary mysteries the commemorations of those who, with faithful affection, contended for the same mysteries."
V. A similar canon was published by other "Councils, such as the sixth Council of Rome, in
502; the Council of Agathense (d'Agde), in 506; the second Council of Orleans, in 533 ; and the third Council of Orleans, in 538.
VI. The second Council of Braca in Portugal, is the next that we shall cite. It was held in 563. It ruled " that no commemoration in the sacrifice should be made for those who, by the sword or by poison .... or any other way may cause violent death to themselves, nor that their dead bodies should be borne to the grave with psalms. Likewise it hath pleased that if Catechumens die without the redemption of baptism, in the same way let neither a commemoration of sacrifice, nor the office of singing be employed."
St. Chrysostom, long before the Council of Braca, speaks of the custom of not offering sacrifice for those Catechumens who did not receive baptism before death. We may observe, however, that this custom had reference only to the public offices which were performed by the ministers of the Church, as her representatives, and in her name. It was, and is, lawful to pray privately, and, as St. Chrysostom teaches, to give alms for them. We should add, that these decrees against offering up sacrifices or the public offices of the Church for Catechumens were directed against those who neglect baptism through sloth, and die in this state. St. Ambrose dispensed with this law in favour of Valentinian, the younger, emperor of the West, who, pious as he was, earnestly requested baptism of the holy bishop a few days before he was strangled by his general, Arbogastes, at Vienne, in Gaul.
VII. The Council of Chalons, in 813, the sixth in order of the Councils held in that town, issued the following decree; "It has seemed good to us, that in all celebrations of Masses, at a suitable part, a prayer should be offered to God for the souls of the dead .... Holy Church retains this custom from of old." According to this Synod of Chalons, prayer should be offered to God for the dead, and , this, according to the custom transmitted to the Church from antiquity.
The Councils we have till now considered were particular ones, whether national or provincial, or diocesan. All the same, they give us the faith of the different and widely separated churches in which they were held. They lay down decrees which were never changed by Pope or General Council, and which, consequently, must have been conformable to the prevailing belief of the respective times in which they were held, as well as to the faith of every age.
VIII. The fourth Ecumenical Council of Lateran, convoked by Innocent III., and assembled in 1215, supposes the dogma of Purgatory when it condemns "the depraved exactions for the funeral solemnities" of the dead," which were made by some for their own selfish purpose, and when, on the other hand it approves of "the laudable custom " of making an offering to the Church on the occasion, which custom, it says, was " introduced by the pious devotion of the faithful," but " infringed by some laics through the leaven of heretical depravity."
IX. The sixteenth Ecumenical Council called of Florence, though celebrated partly at Ferrara and partly at Florence, in its last session, discussing the union of both Churches — the Eastern and the Western — formulated the decree of "Union", in which we have the following paragraph : " Likewise if true penitents., depart in the charity of God, before they have made satisfaction for their sins of commission and omission by worthy fruits of repentance, their souls are cleansed by purgatorial pains after death, and, that they may be relieved from these pains, the suffrages of the faithful who are alive are of advantage to them, that is. sacrifices of masses, prayers, and alms, and other. offices of piety, which are accustomed to be done by the faithful for other faithful according to the custom of the Church. So decreed the Council of Florence
X. It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader what the faith of the Church, with regard to Purgatory, was in the sixteenth century, when Luther and Calvin and other reformers rose up and blasphemed against it. The celebrated Council of Trent, which was summoned together to defend and proclaim the teaching of the Church against the innovators, defined her faith on this point, under pain of anathema, in the following form : "If anyone shall have said that to every sinner who repents, after having received the grace of justification, sin is so remitted, and the guilt of eternal punishment blotted out, that no guilt of temporal punishment may remain to be paid, either in this world or in the future Purgatory, before the approach to the kingdom of heaven can lie open to him, let him be anathema." In this way does the Council of Trent embrace in its definition the faith of all antiquity.