PURGATORY

(SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES & ST. THOMAS AQUINAS   & OTHER SOURCES)

 

Scriptural References to Purgatory:

2 Maccabees 12: 38-45 -- "Judas then rallied his army and moved on to the town of Adullam where, as it was the seventh day of the week, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the Sabbath. Next day, they came to find Judas (since the necessity was by now urgent) to have the bodies of the fallen taken up and laid to rest among their relatives in their ancestral tombs. But when they found on each of the dead men, under their tunics, objects dedicated to the idols of jamnis, which the Law prohibits to Jews, it became clear to everyone that this was why these men had lost their lives. All then blessed the ways of the Lord, the upright judge who brings hidden things to light, and gave themselves to prayer, begging that the sin committed might be completely forgiven. Next, the valiant Judas urged the soldiers to keep themselves to prayer, begging that the sin committed might be completely forgiven. Next, the valiant Judas urged the soldiers to keep themselves free from all sin, having seen with their own eyes the effects of the sin of those who had fallen; after this he took a collection from them individually, amounting to nearly two thousand drachmas, and sent it to Jerusalem to have a sacrifice for sin offered, an action altogether fine and noble, prompted by his belief in the resurrection. For had he not expected the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead, whereas if he had in view the splendid recompense reserved for those who make a pious end, the thought was holy and devout. Hence, he had this expiatory sacrifice offered for the dead, so that they might be released from their sin."



The New Jerusalem Bible, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 -- "By the grace of God which was given to me, I laid the foundations like a trained master-builder, and someone else is building on them. Now each one must be careful how he does the building. For nobody can lay down any other foundation than the one which is there already, namely Jesus Christ. On this foundation, different people may build in gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay or straw but each person's handiwork will be shown for what it is. The Day which dawns in fire will make it clear and the fire itself will test the quality of each person's work. The one whose work stands up to it will be given his wages; the one whose work is burnt down will suffer the loss of it, though he himself will be saved; he will be saved as someone might expect to be saved from a fire."

 

The New Jerusalem Bible, Matthew 5: 25-26 ----"Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. In truth I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny."


St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia, Two Notes on Purgatory:

Note One:

It seems that the pains of purgatory are greater than all pains of this life. The pain of loss (that is, the pain of delay in coming to the beatific vision) is the greater of the two types of pain in purgatory. The lesser is the pain of sense.

The greater love and desire one has for what is, at least temporarily, out of one's reach, the greater is the pain of being deprived of it. Now, the souls in purgatory have a keen awareness of the great Good which they desire; their love and longing for it surpass anything experienced in this life; hence, their pain is the greater. And the pain of sense, directly imposed on the soul itself as the root principle of sensation, is more keenly felt than pain experienced through bodily members.

The souls in purgatory patiently submit to their penalties, but they long to be freed from them and to be purified from all that blocks them out of heaven.

The devils in hell have no power to afflict the souls in purgatory. Indeed, the souls in purgatory have conquered the demons by avoiding mortal sin or by being contrite for it. The souls in purgatory have actually won heaven, and wait only till they are conditioned to enter it. The holy souls are the victors, and the demons are the vanquished. The vanquished cannot torment or afflict the victors.

The punishments of purgatory purge the souls there of venial sins and cancel the debt owed for venial guilt. Not all venial sins are cleansed from a soul simultaneously; the more persistent or habitual venial sins are more slowly wiped out both as to guilt and punishment. Thus one soul may be liberated from purgatory more quickly than another soul which had committed the same factual venial sins; only the soul first liberated had not committed the sins with the persistency or intensity of the other.

Note Two:

Those who deny purgatory are actually speaking against the justice of God. For a soul may depart this life in venial sin, and with the remains of forgiven sin upon it. Justice requires these things to be removed by penalty or punishment. But this penalty cannot be the eternal punishment of hell; that punishment would go beyond the requirements of justice. The punishment required must be temporal. Now, temporal punishment after death means purgatory. It seems likely enough that the fires of punishment of hell and of purgatory are in the same place. Just as the same fire can be used to purify gold and to burn dross, so the one type of punishing fire may purify souls from venial sin and merely afflict souls in mortal sin. Still, no one can say for sure that the one fire afflicts both the souls in purgatory and the damned in hell. Nor can anyone say with certainty just where purgatory is located.


The following are excerpts taken from the book Charity for the Suffering Souls, by Rev. John A. Nageleisen, published by Tan Books and Publishers.  Used with permission.

1) Spiritual Torments of the Suffering Souls.

Convinced of the existence of Purgatory, and having reviewed in spirit some features of the condition of those detained therein, let us now devote our pious attention to the contemplation of the abode itself in which these souls are sentenced to dwell, and consider the extent of their misery.

Although nothing definite can be said concerning the means applied in Purgatory in order to effect that purification which renders the souls worthy of the beatific vision of God, we are nevertheless reminded by Holy Scripture that "it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebr. 10. 31.) Revelation affords us no clue to the nature of the punishments of Purgatory; we know, however, that they are two-fold: a pain of loss, and a pain of sense. On both let us hear the common and more probable opinion of theologians.

As the soul, by its noblest inspirations, is drawn irresistibly to God, therefore the exclusion from the beatific vision of God is the supreme, the most excruciating pain that it can endure.

As soon as we have deposed the robe of mortality in death, as soon as the boundless circle of eternity has received us, the soul, in its solitude and forsakenness, is seized with an invincible desire to be admitted to the beatific vision of God. Such souls have been ransomed and cleansed by the Blood of Christ; they have the indelible mark of God's grace; the imperishable crown of victory is prepared for them, for they are faithful, holy souls that love God alone. These souls, destined for heaven and sentenced to the darkness of a disconsolate solitude, are seized with the most ardent desire of seeing their God, and they see Him not! Their torment is so much the greater, the more they are conscious of the supreme beatitude of being admitted to His vision. Whoever once had the experience of the agonies of homesickness may form a faint idea of the extent of their sorrow. Hence St. Augustine exclaims, "Give me a loving soul: it will comprehend what I intend to convey."

Besides the pain arising from unrequited desire, deprivation of the beatific vision of God causes another great torment to the Suffering Souls: this results from the consciousness that it is not God's fault, but their own, that they cannot enter heaven; it is a consequence of their sins. Thus their sins are brought back in all their hideousness to their spiritual view, and indescribable sorrow fills them. When Absalom was called back from his flight and permitted to enter Jerusalem, his father David would not let him come into his presence, but said, "Let him return into his house, and let him not see my face."--"And Absalom dwelt two years in Jerusalem and saw not the king's face. He sent therefore to Joab to send him to the king .... I beseech thee, therefore, that I may see the face of the king: and if he be mindful of my iniquity, let him kill me. And Absalom was called for and went in to the king and prostrated himself on the ground before him." (IX Kings XIV. 24--33.) So great was his sorrow at having offended his father.--It is related of St. Aloysius that he swooned away with sorrow for his few and insignificant faults.--St. Stanislas fainted when he heard immodest words; St. Oringa was attacked with nausea when obliged to listen to them.

We read in St. Benedict's Stimmen, 1880: "A soul appearing to St. Mechtildis declared to her: 'I feel no pain, except that I am debarred from the vision of God, whom I long to see so ardently that if all the longings of all men on earth were united, they would seem nothing in comparison to the desire that consumes me'."--Thus the Souls in Purgatory suffer the whole burden of the pain resulting from their separation from God, and from their unrequited desire of beholding Him, and this in so high a degree, that a pious religious, after an apparition he had, declared that he would suffer a thousand deaths for his bitterest enemy in order to save him from Purgatory, because its torments so greatly exceed the pains of this earth. The Suffering Souls' thirst for God is more intense than the panting hart's longing for water; yet it shall not be quenched until they shall have paid "the last farthing."

 

2) The Suffering Souls' Pain of Sense.

Another kind of punishment to which the souls in Purgatory are subjected consists in the pain of sense. We cannot doubt its reality, knowing as we do that God even in this world makes use of various kinds of sufferings in order to purify a soul pleasing to Him. Temporary deprivation of God's vision is the soul's punishment in Purgatory for having, on earth, turned away from God, its supreme good; but the soul also sinned by turning to created things and enjoying in their possession a spurious delight and satisfaction. The punishment for this illicit sensual enjoyment is a sensible pain, by which the unlawful delectation is atoned for. According to the general opinion of theologians, the pain of sense consists in fire. In his work De Civilate Dei, Book XXI., St. Augustine says of the pain of sense in the next world: "If the fire be not immaterial like the pain of the soul, but material, causing us to smart only When we touch it, then the question may be asked: how can it constitute a punishment for spirits?" And he answers: "It is not necessary to engage in a long disputation or argument on this question. For what prohibits us to believe that spirits can be made sensitive albeit in a miraculous manner, of a material fire, when the spirit of man, which is truly immaterial, can be inclosed in the human body during natural life and after the day of judgment? The spirits, then, though having no body, will be bound to a material fire, experiencing pain from it, but giving it no nourishment. For also that other manner by which spirits are now joined to bodies, is truly wonderful and above the conception of man, and yet it is what constitutes man. I might say the spirits burn without having a body, the same as Dives burned in hell when he exclaimed, 'I am tormented in this flame' .... But that hell, which is called by Scripture a lake of fire and brimstone, shall be a material fire as was declared by eternal truth." Theologians, with St. Thomas, teach that by divine co-operation fire exerts its influence on the souls physically and really; it confines the soul to a certain space, and limits its activity there in a manner most violent and unnatural. The pain of sense, then, consists principally in a purifying, material fire. Although the suffering souls are destined for heaven, they are nevertheless denied admission there because in the heavenly Jerusalem only the purest and finest gold is accepted. The Suffering Souls, though gold, are still defiled by the dross of the earth from which they were created. Therefore the Lord detains them in a fiery furnace; thereto purify them, like unrefined gold, of all dross and spurious material. "And He shall sit refining and cleansing the silver, and He shall purify the sons of Levi and refine them as gold, and as silver." (Malach. III. 3.) This fire is a most fierce, penetrating and all-consuming flame; a fire whose power immeasurably exceeds the strength of natural fire; a fire which causes infinitely greater pain than all pains, torments and penitential works of this world; for the souls are no longer limited in their power of endurance by the body, which can suffer only to a certain degree without succumbing. The Latin Church, through Pope Eugene and the Fathers of the Council of Florence, was about to declare as a dogma that the fire of Purgatory was a material one, because this was and is the continual belief of the Church; but in order to facilitate the union between the Latin and Greek Churches, this declaration was deemed inopportune, the Greeks declaring their belief in Purgatory, "but we do not argue whether it consists in fire, darkness or tempest;" and for the sake of peace the Council was content with this declaration. At all events the discussion served to establish clearly the Church's belief in Purgatory.

The existence of fire in Purgatory is vouched for also by numerous apparitions and private revelations. They demonstrate to our very eyes this fire as a material one, thus indicating that the words "fire" and "fiery torments" used by Scripture are to be taken in a literal sense. St. Bridget, of whom the Church, in her official prayer, says, "O God, who through Thy Divine Son didst reveal to blessed Bridget heavenly mysteries," was Permitted in one of her ecstasies to witness how a soul was sentenced to a three-fold punishment: to an external and internal fire, an intense cold, and to furious assaults of the devil. Mechtildis of Magdeburg saw a lake of fire mixed with brimstone, in which the Suffering Souls had to bathe in order to be cleansed. According to St. Frances of Rome Purgatory consists of three apartments, one above the other, all alive with a clear, sparkling fire, unlike that of hell, which is dark and sombre. Bautz, whom we follow in the above, relates of the Venerable Mary Anna Lindmayer: "Her friend Mary Becher and her mother appeared to her and left marks of fire on one of her feet, which she saw and felt for weeks. At one time she beheld Purgatory in the shape of a torrent of fiery water, at another, as a prison of fire. The souls themselves appeared to her as sparks of fire falling about her. The appearance of some souls caused her to shiver with frost caused by the cold proceeding from them."

With the sole exception of their duration, the torments of Purgatory are the very same as those of hell; the only difference is that the former are temporary, the latter everlasting. This is the doctrine of St. Thomas, who says: "The same fire punishes the damned in hell and the just in Purgatory, and the least pain in Purgatory exceeds the greatest we can suffer in this world." It is true, then, that our works have to undergo purification after this life. As gold and silver are refined in the crucible, so are they cleansed of the dross of earthly imperfections in the flames of divine wrath. Oh, what an indescribable sea of fire in which the Suffering Souls are immersed ! Flames encircling them, flames penetrating them, flames unceasingly tormenting them !


3) Other Punishments of Purgatory.

Although some theologians maintain that it is uncertain whether other methods of punishment are applied in Purgatory, we yet find proofs of it in Holy Scripture, in the writings of the Fathers, and in private revelations of trustworthy and saintly persons. In the Book of Wisdom we read: "And He will sharpen His severe wrath for a spear, and the whole world shall fight with Him against the unwise."

(Wisd. VI. 21.) St. Bonaventure remarks on these words: "Therefore the damned are punished not by fire alone, but the other elements also cooperate, in order that every creature might be enkindled for the punishment of the wicked and arm itself for revenge. But if we ask what is the condition of the elements in hell, we must answer that they are not separated from one another there, nor kept in a certain order, but they are in a state of confusion and disorder." Fire being accepted by some theologians as the only means of punishment, Bautz endeavors to reconcile both opinions in the following manner: "The interior of the earth being pervaded by fire, all the elements are penetrated with it, and thus the whole creation appears armed with fire to avenge the injury done to the Creator. And because a means of punishment suited to all spirits is at hand, God, who creates no superfluities, makes use of this same means for the purification of the Suffering Souls."

The Suffering Souls are not only assaulted by their enemies, but they are also afflicted in consequence of the pious and zealous aspirations they had on earth. Let us instance this by the three theological virtues. The soul was imbued with divine faith: why did it not live accordingly, thus rendering its present purification unnecessary? Why did it lose so much time in transitory things, when it hoped to gain heaven by the grace of Jesus Christ ? Why did it profess to love God alone, when it divided its love between Him and the creatures ? Thus all the virtues combine to confound the soul most painfully. Saul, having been captured by his enemies, said in desperation: "Draw thy sword and kill me, lest these uncircumcised come and slay me, and mock at me," (I. Kings XXXI. 4.)

_ In Purgatory, as in Hell, those of our senses will have to undergo particular punishment, that served us more specially in committing sin, according to the adage: "Wherein man sins, therein is he punished." Thus St. Hedwig saw in a vision how the proud were plunged in mire and filth; the disobedient were burdened and bowed down as if by a heavy load; the intoxicated appeared as bereft of counsciousness; the gluttons were tormented by continual hunger and thirst, the impure by fire. The Venerable Sister Frances saw a notary handling his writing instruments; a locksmith with a red hot hammer; a drunkard with a fiery cup; a vain, woman clothed in burning rags and having a loathsome face; -an immodest person inexpressibly ugly, and surrounded by fire.-Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque saw a deceased Sister lying on a fiery couch in punishment for her slothfulness, her heart plucked to pieces for her murmurings, her tongue eaten up for her uncharitable remarks.-Of the Venerable Sister Mary Ann Lindmayer we read similar visions. A negligent priest appeared to her in the shape of a miserable candlestick with the stump of a candle. Those excessively fond of certain animals were sentenced to bear them about their necks. (Bautz, page 613.)

Such and similar are the punishments to which the souls are condemned in their abode of misery, in their prison of darkness.--The Venerable Bede relates an occurrence which in his time created a great sensation in England and was readily believed. A man by the name of Drycthelm died after a severe illness. After being dead for a night, he rose again to the great terror of the bystanders. Then he related his experiences in the next world as follows: "A young guide conducted my soul into an extensive valley full of horrors and darkness, so that I was filled with terror. It was divided into two apartments, one filled with fire and flames, the other with snow, ice and frost. There I beheld a Countless number of Suffering Souls, hideously disfigured and fearfully tormented, and pressing forward like a stream from one apartment into the other. They precipitated themselves from the icy lake into the flames, from the cold into the fire, finding no rest. I imagined I saw the torments of hell, so great were the sufferings I witnessed. But my guide corrected me, telling me it was only Purgatory, and in particular the abode of such souls as had delayed their repentance till on their deathbed, for which they were sentenced to Purgatory till the day of general judgment. But the prayers of the faithful, their suffrages of alms, penance and fasting, and particularly the Holy Masses offered up for them, relieve them in their torments, abbreviate their punishment and hasten the time of their deliverance." This portrayal of the sufferings in Purgatory is far from overdrawn: it rather does not justice to the reality. Convinced of this, St. Bernard exhorts us: "Brethren, put away from you the old leaven as long as there is time. The days of probation pass away, whether We use them for our purification or not; but woe to us if they are fulfilled before our cleansing is accomplished, so that we have to be purified in that fire, than which nothing in this world can be imagined more painful, smarting and acute." The holy Fathers and theological writers in general coincide with this view.

 

4) The Duration of Purgatory.

At the Last Judgment the condition of purification comes to an end for all souls in Purgatory. This is the belief of the Church, founded on the doctrine of that final event. "And these" (the wicked) "shall go into everlasting punishment, but the just into life everlasting." (Matth XXV. 46.) Hence St. Augustine remarks: "The Christian is therefore to hold that there is no Purgatory, except before the last and tremendous judgment." Those that die shortly before the Last Judgment will have to suffer greatly by the occurrences preceding it, which God will perhaps reckon for their punishment. Moreover the holy Fathers declare that God may so increase the intensity of their punishment that they atone for their faults in a short time. It is certain, then, that the punishment of Purgatory is not everlasting, for in this case there would be no difference between it and hell. It is certain also that the duration of Purgatory will not last beyond the final judgment, for after it there will be only heaven and hell. Finally, it is beyond doubt that the torments of Purgatory will not be of the same duration, nor of the same intensity for all souls; for justice admits not of equality of punishment where there is no equality of guilt.

It is difficult, or rather impossible, to demonstrate how long the punishment of particular souls will last. St. Augustine teaches that the duration of punishment in Purgatory for a soul is fixed according to the measure of sin and penance of each individual. The duration may be measured by days, and yet, on account of the intensity of pain, it may seem much longer. Brother Constantine of the Redeemer appeared after his death and said, "I suffered three days, and they seemed to me to have been three thousand years." For certain souls Purgatory, not abbreviated through the intercession of the faithful, may last until the end of time; for our Judge is just, and "it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebr. X. 31.) It is only by the special favor of the goodness and mercy of God that we are permitted to shorten the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory. When, therefore, souls suffer a long time in it, it is in great part the fault of surviving Christians, who are either careless and lukewarm in their prayers for them, or have too high an opinion of their virtues. Another reason for the long duration of the suffering of some souls is their inability to do anything for themselves, the great number of faults and negligences of which they have been guilty, and particularly their neglect and want of charity during life for the souls of the faithful departed; finally, the immaculate purity required of those that enter heaven. We append a few examples of long suffering in Purgatory, taken from the revelations of saintly persons.

According to Venerable Marina of Escobar some souls are sentenced to a punishment of twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years and more. One soul told her that it had been sentenced for a period of almost inconceivable duration, but by the aid of suffrages the time had been shortened. The Venerable Sister Frances of the Blessed Sacrament relates: Some pious Carmelite Sisters had to suffer for twenty, forty and fifty years, and still their deliverance was delayed. A pious bishop was in Purgatory ninety-five years for some negligences; a priest forty years for similar reasons; a nobleman sixty-five years on account of his fondness for gambling; another soul had suffered for eight years when it appeared to Frances. The Venerable Catherine Emmerich, a great friend of the Suffering Souls, mentions souls that were in Purgatory for centuries. She relates: "I was led to the various abodes of the souls, and remember being transported to a mountain whence a soul advanced towards me, wearing a chain and surrounded by a red blaze. It had been there for a long time, abandoned by everybody, remembered by and prayed for by no one. It was the soul of a man whose education had been neglected, and it seemed to me, by the fault of his mother. He had retained a kind of dread and respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Once, when passing an image of the Blessed Mother, he was tempted to destroy it, but refrained from doing so by some emotional impulse. After this he was attacked by a malignant fever, and desired to make his confession, but became unconscious before he could do so. Yet, he had the grace to make an act of perfect contrition before his death, and thereby was saved. He said that Holy Masses would be of particular assistance to him, and that his term of punishment would be shortened greatly by suffrages of every kind." (Schmoeffer, Revelations of Catherine Emmerich.)

Faber, speaking of the duration of the punishment in Purgatory, says: "If Sister Frances beheld the souls of many pious Carmelite Sisters, some of whom had been favored with the gift of miracles during life, still suffering in Purgatory ten, twenty, thirty and sixty years after their death, and even then not near their deliverance, what must become of us and ours?"

Many Holy Souls not found sufficiently pure to enter heaven at their death, suffer long in Purgatory because we deny them the aid of our suffrages in the belief that they are high in the glory of heaven, whilst they are helpless in the torments of the middle state. We deem it an act of Christian charity to regard our deceased beloved ones as beyond the need of purification; hence the misplaced phrase, "The dead are at rest; they are better off than we," etc. This is a delusion, by which satan but too often succeeds in causing us to neglect our dead. For though the souls in Purgatory are assured of their salvation, and are no longer subject to temptation, they are yet deprived, as long as they are detained in Purgatory, of giving that glory to God which He receives by the adoration and praise of perfectly pure souls. By thus influencing persons to refrain from praying for their deceased friends, the devil evidences his hatred of God and his envy of the Holy Souls, and we, by listening to his suggestions, become instruments of his malice if we neglect, under the semblance of charity, to come to the aid of our suffering friends. In this respect St. Augustine is an example worthy of imitation. It is related of him that for twelve, yea, for thirty years after his mother's death he continued to celebrate Holy Mass himself, and caused it to be celebrated by others, for the repose of her soul, and that he urgently implored the prayers of the faithful for her.

The Venerable Cure d' Ars, J. B. Vianney, reckons among the forsaken souls those of bishops, priests and other pious persons who died in the fame of sanctity, or at least had better opportunities of sanctifying themselves than common Christians. Ac cording to the rule that much shall be required of them to whom much has been given, such souls are subjected to a severer scrutiny than the generality of Christians. Ecclesiastical writers often dwell on the fact that priests and superiors have to undergo a particularly long and painful purification in Purgatory. Moreover, it is a sad experience that no person is forgotten so easily and so soon after death, as the priest; in some instances the faithful have so high an opinion of his sublime dignity and virtue that they resent the thought of his being in Purgatory; in other instances it is a punishment of his neglect in coming to the relief of the Suffering Souls.

The Venerable Sister Frances had apparitions of two popes who begged her prayers for the abbreviation of their long Purgatory; of a Cardinal, who suffered thirty years for some negligences; of a Spanish bishop, who had been in Purgatory seven years for seeking his own advancement in his high office, and for neglecting some of its duties; of several priests of Pampeluna, who had suffered forty and fifty years for faults of idleness, of ambition, and of neglect of duty. One priest that appeared to her had to suffer for distractions during the recitation of the divine office, for undue haste in the celebration of Mass, for ambition and for fickleness in his good resolutions.--To these examples might be added a number of others from unimpeachable sources; but we deem them sufficient to fill us with intense pity for the Suffering Souls, and to induce us to reject the practice of praising the deceased for their good qualities and actions, meanwhile forgetting that their debts have to be paid "to the last farthing," which we can and ought to do for them by our prayers.



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