On Purgatory – Part II

Contrary to the claims of some, there is plenty of Scriptural support for Purgatory, and I will attempt to examine the Scriptures in Part II to Part IV.


Since Purgatory presupposes temporal (finite) merit and demerit, Part II and Part III will focus on this generally as well as other related matters—the former mostly treating the arguments for, and the latter mostly against.


Part II and Part III will not discuss the Scriptural references more directly related to Purgatory. That will be in Part IV. So if one is only interested in that, then skip to Part IV.


Although there is repetition, it is assumed that one has read Part I.


Unless otherwise stated, all Scriptural quotations are from the Douay Rheims (DR).


Purgatory, 16th-century painting, Annibale Carracci
Purgatory, 16th-century painting, Annibale Carracci

5. “In the beginning…”


When God created man, He “blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply…” Everything was freely provided for and God intends our existence to be “blessed”. (Genesis 1:26–30)


Our first parents then disobeyed God and below is what He said to them (Genesis 3:16–19):

To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.
And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labor and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.

One can crudely summarize the above into one sentence: Life is a pain and then you die. And one could argue that death is the ultimate form of temporal punishment since it ends one’s temporal existence, most likely in an uncomfortable manner.


Has Jesus Christ’s Death and Resurrection or the acceptance thereof retracted, rescinded or otherwise removed the above conditions?


Obviously not. And since these conditions still exist, there are logically two possibilities.


A: God is a cheater and a liar by double-charging since He has charged the price of sin to Jesus and us.


OR


B: Some people fail to make the distinction between the infinite price and the temporal (finite) price due to sin.


The answer is obviously B.


Jesus addressed this when He preached the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1–12, Luke 6:17–26), an episode that is no doubt deliberately presented early in the Gospel narrative (start of the New Testament) as if to explain the narration of the Fall in early Genesis (start of the Old Testament).


The first Beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Read the rest and one can see a pattern: Blessed are <some form of or something closely related to suffering>, for <corresponding reward>. Christ maintains God’s intention for us to be “blessed” despite the Fall. But things are no longer freely provided for. We can still be “blessed” but we must suffer; that is, we must pay for it.


So far, in the context of the temporal, I have used the term “price” and “punishment” interchangeably. For the purposes of this article series, I should make the following distinction: “price” is related to the economics whereas “punishment” is the actual suffering, regardless of its proximate material cause(s).


In other words, to generalize, whether we make the effort to do something good or it is something imposed on us and we try to deal with it (regardless of its cause), it is “suffering” and it has penitential value; that is, temporal (finite) merit to make up for temporal demerit.


The suffering need not be directly and materially related to one’s personal sins. And it need not be as dramatic as sweating and ruining your back whilst doing hard labor. You might even enjoy it. For example, you enjoy cooking and working in the kitchen. You can certainly enjoy eating afterwards. But that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult working in a hot kitchen or that perfecting the art is easy. The fact that someone has to cook is already a curse (“with labor and toil shalt thou eat”). As a sidebar, perhaps this is God’s mercy in play, that with some things we can enjoy even if and when it is difficult.


In any case, Christ has not taken away temporal punishment (sufferings). If anything, he has affirmed its importance without contradicting the need for His Passion and Death. As mentioned already, there is a distinction between His infinite merits and our temporal (finite) merits. Although Christ does not state it explicitly here, it is Him who gives our sufferings meaning; it is through His infinite sacrifice that our finite merits gain infinite value and, ultimately, to be “blessed”.


What does “blessed” mean? In this life, I don’t presume to know exactly for the word can mean “happy” but it is the happiness that is based on what is objectively good and true. But one can simplistically consider a possible end case: ultimately, to be saved is to be blessed (enter the “kingdom of heaven”). If one wants to be more specific, then consider 1 John 5:20:

And we know that the Son of God is come: and he hath given us understanding that we may know the true God, and may be in his true Son. This is the true God and life eternal.

The reward of eternal life is to “know” Him. Although not stated explicitly, this is presumably the primary reward, sometimes referred to as “Beatific Vision”. After all, the Fall broke humanity’s relationship with God and Christ came to restore this relationship.


This is probably why many saints have said or intimated something like the following: “If people knew the value of suffering, they would search for it.”


Personally, I don’t recommend looking for it. Life is difficult enough without one looking for trouble but one gets the idea.


6. Death & Judgement


The teaching of Particular Judgement after physical death is well-known. But believe it or not, I have met people who claim to be Christians who don’t believe there is such a thing. Well, apart from Hebrews 9:27…

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgement.

Those same people also claim the Bible is important and love quoting it. Until it doesn’t suit them. Right.


Also, from Ecclesiastes 11:8–9 which not surprisingly also warns about this life:

If a man live many years, and have rejoiced in them all, he must remember the darksome time, and the many days: which when they shall come, the things past shall be accused of vanity.
Rejoice therefore, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart be in that which is good in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thy eyes: and know that for all these God will bring thee into judgement.

If there is some form of judgement after one’s physical death, then there is presumably something to be judged, like a one’s actions. If the above are too vague, then consider Matthew 7:16–21 regarding the importance of our actions:

By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.
Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And even more explicitly, from Matthew 12:36–37 when Jesus was teaching after or as part of His response to one of the Pharisees’ attacks:

But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgement. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

God overlooks nothing. And our actions do determine our end. This is expected since God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4, Daniel 9:14) and justice demands everything be accounted for. From Apocalypse 20:13:

And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up their dead that were in them; and they were judged every one according to their works.

The above sounds like the Universal Judgement that happens at the end which affirms the Particular Judgement of every individual. In any case, whether it is the universal (general) or the particular, our “works” matter and must be accounted for.


The below is the well-known verse from Exodus 21:24–25 regarding the administration of justice:

Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

The above is in essence the principle of “the punishment should fit the crime”. How can all sin deserve Hell (and therefore requires Christ to deal with it) and yet also “the punishment should fit the crime”? As mentioned multiple times already, there is the distinction between Christ’s infinite merits and our temporal (finite) merits, and that distinction is the only way to reconcile this apparent contradiction.


Back to the passage from Hebrews 9. Some argue that there is no such thing as Purgatory because it mentions “judgement” only. Following that argument, there isn’t Heaven or Hell either and yet we have been told both exist. The text is clearly emphasizing death and judgement—emphasis is ipso facto a form of exclusion but it does not always imply absolute exclusivity.


There is, however, a more serious angle to consider. Traditionally, Catholicism teaches the “The Four Last Things” which are Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. The term presumably comes from Ecclesiasticus 7:40:

In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.

And as well from 28:6 of the same book, the context about seeking revenge and the like:

Remember thy last things, and let enmity cease.

Despite the Church teaching Purgatory, it is not mentioned in The Four Last Things. Purgatory is “the balance of temporal remission of sin due to an individual at the time of death who has accepted Jesus Christ as the Savior”—it is temporal and therefore temporary.


The first two of the four things are temporal ends, critical points which one must go through, and the last two are the only eternal ends available. Purgatory, even if required, is not an end. Either way, both of the above verses warn that what we do in this life matters.


7. Consequences & Sacrifice


As part of the question, the following was also asked: If God forgives and does not remember one’s sins, then isn’t the (temporal) punishment also remitted?


The question is a bit loaded and requires some clarification before continuing.


Consideration 1: We know from human experience that forgiving isn’t necessarily forgetting. Also, God as an omniscient being is incapable of forgetting. But, from both the Scriptures and human experience, it seems both God and humans are capable of acting as if they have forgotten. As far as forgiveness is concerned, acting as if one’s sins are forgotten is as good as actually forgotten.


Consideration 2: There is a certain logic behind “forgetting” leading to total remission of punishment. But in this temporal realm where there is material cause and effect, it may be over-simplistic.


Consideration 3: Just as there is a distinction between the infinite price and the temporal (finite) price due to sin, there is possibly a distinction in how God “forgets” the two aspects.


In a temporal sense, by simply looking around, it seems God’s forgiveness does not automatically imply total remission of temporal punishment, whether He forgets it or not. That is the short answer.


Consider the example of when the prophet Nathan who on behalf of God told King David off for his double sin of homicide and adultery. (2 Samuel 12) He said, amongst other things, “Therefore, the sword shall never depart from thy house…” David then responded, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan then replied, “The Lord also hath taken away thy sin: thou shalt not die.”


It seems David’s repentance and God’s forgiveness took away what would have been in effect the death penalty but we know the rest of the story: as Nathan had stated, David’s family was never the same.


There are quite a few Scriptural passages regarding God “not remembering” our sins. Consider Psalm 31:1–5:

To David himself, understanding. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord hath not imputed sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
Because I was silent my bones grew old; whilst I cried out all the day long.
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: I am turned in my anguish, whilst the thorn is fastened.
I have acknowledged my sin to thee, and my injustice I have not concealed. I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord: and thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin.

The word “covered” is the inflected form of כָּסָה (kāsâ) which means to “to conceal”, so it is not dissimilar to forgetting. But, as David had learned the hard way (“thy hand was heavy upon me”), it requires confession. Also note that one is “blessed” when their “sins are covered”, making the connection between being “blessed”, forgiveness and having a relationship with God.


From Isaiah 43:25, which are prophecies about Israel after their captivity:

I am, I am he that blot out thy iniquities for my own sake, and I will not remember thy sins.

Read in isolation, that explicitly states that God will not remember our sins. But the few verses directly before are interesting. The below are verses 22–25:

But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob, neither hast thou labored about me, O Israel. Thou hast not offered me the ram of thy holocaust, nor hast thou glorified me with thy victims: I have not caused thee to serve with oblations, nor wearied thee with incense. Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy victims. But thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thy iniquities. I am, I am he that blot out thy iniquities for my own sake, and I will not remember thy sins.

One can see that this is a reminder that Israel had not been faithful. Before Christ, animal sacrifices were required. After Christ and with the benefit of hindsight, we now know that Christ’s one-time sacrifice is intended to pay the infinite price due to all sins, that these animals sacrifices were pointers to Christ.


Objectively, Christ does the paying and saving, so if anyone is saved, they are saved through Christ. Subjectively, faith in Christ is required for those of us who live after Him. Those who lived before Christ in the Old Testament times obviously could not know Him and were not expected to. For them, they expressed their faith in God according to the rules at the time, which included offering animal sacrifices.


It is true these animal sacrifices did not actually pay the infinite price due to sin as Christ did, but to conclude they were therefore totally meaningless is over-simplistic. At minimum, it cost an animal or two and some effort. In that sense, it potentially had temporal merit and this passage indicates that God cares about what people do.


So, even if these animal sacrifices were merely a temporal sacrifice and a figurative infinite sacrifice, it still reads like God will not remember one’s sins but only after His expectations are met (that is, when the debt is paid). In other words, God not remembering our sins may be conditional.


A potentially more confusing passage can be found in Jeremiah 31:31–34 about a “new covenant”:

Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Juda: Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt: the covenant which they made void, and I had dominion over them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord: I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying: Know the Lord: for all shall know me from the least of them even to the greatest, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

This passage simply makes it look like God will simply “remember their sin no more”. But it should be noted that it is attached to this “new covenant”. Thankfully, what is obscure in the Old Testament is often given a little clarity somewhere in the New Testament.


The above passage is quoted in Hebrews 8 and the discussion continues into chapter 10 (or beyond, depending on where one wants to draw the line). Amongst other things, the text emphasizes Christ’s one-time sacrifice as distinct from the sacrifices according to the Old Covenant before concluding in 10:18 that “Now where there is a remission of these, there is no more an oblation for sin.” So, it seems God not remembering is attached to Christ’s sacrifice and the Sacrifice of the Mass; that is, the infinite price. Of course, it can be the temporal price as well since Baptism is meant to remit all of it up to the time of its administration. In both cases, this is tied to a Sacrament; that is, specific conditions.


As stated in section 5, there is a distinction between temporal “price” and temporal “punishment”. Is it possible that the total remission of the temporal price due to sin (if it happens) does not imply total removal of the temporal punishment insofar as the latter is a natural, material consequence of one’s actions?—that is, God forgiving and forgetting resets one’s temporal account to 0 (if it was <0) without necessarily taking away the temporal consequences of one’s sins? If one suffers them, it will simply add to one’s merits which, of course, will be accounted for so justice is still satisfied.


But it is difficult to determine the answer. The episode of David’s repentance as referred to above suggests that this is possible but total remission is not to be assumed. Consider Ezechiel 18:21–25:

But if the wicked do penance for all his sins which he hath committed, and keep all my commandments, and do judgement, and justice, living he shall live, and shall not die. I will not remember all his iniquities that he hath done: in his justice which he hath wrought, he shall live. Is it my will that a sinner should die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should be converted from his ways, and live?
But if the just man turn himself away from his justice, and do iniquity according to all the abominations which the wicked man useth to work, shall he live? all his justices which he hath done, shall not be remembered: in the prevarication, by which he hath prevaricated, and in his sin, which he hath committed, in them he shall die. And you have said: The way of the Lord is not right. Hear ye, therefore, O house of Israel: Is it my way that is not right, and are not rather your ways perverse?

The above passage is clearer than Jeremiah, and it indicates that God “will not remember” one’s sins but only after one does right.


It also points out another complexity. People have free will and can change for the better or worse. Hypothetically, if one accepted Christ but then reject Him later, would God continue to forget the sins forgiven and forgotten so far (assuming that was the case)? Possibly. God may honor “the deals made to date” up to a certain point. After all, one can repent again and flip-flop a number of times before death.


The text indicates God will draw the line at some point. If one is obstinate in their rejection of God all the way through their Particular Judgement, it would be a rejection of Christ and His offer of forgiveness and Salvation. Therefore, any previously forgiven sins and its associated penalties return to such an individual.


To sum up this tricky matter, it is safe to assume that God will forget the sins of all the saved in the end. This is achieved through Christ paying the infinite price due to sin. As for the temporal aspects, it seems possible that God may forget even during one’s life but it reads like that it is conditional and reversible.


For practical purposes at least, perhaps it is better to treat God “not remember our sins” as an end case (for the saved) and not to be presumed during this life, that there is at least partial temporal punishment assigned to us.


8. Penance


As mentioned in section 1, “penance” can be defined as “temporal remission of sin”. Whether this word is found in Scriptures depends on the translation. For example, from Matthew 3:1–2, DR:

And in those days cometh John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea. And saying: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The same two verses from the NIV:

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The DR translates as “Do penance” whereas the NIV translates as “Repent”. Personally, I don’t mind which because it is the concept that matters.


The Greek verb used is the inflected form of μετανοέω (metanoeō) which means “to change one’s mind”. As told to me by one who has studied Greek, the image attached to the word is that of “one doing a 180-degree turn”. In this sense, “repent” is an accurate literal translation.


So why does the Catholic DR translate it as “penance”? After all, “penance” is more than just turning around or turning away, it is more consistent to “somehow making up for it”.


Consider this analogy: imagine one has gone down the wrong path and later realized it. And upon this realization, one wishes not to continue on this wrong path. So, one stops, does a 180-degree turn (“repent”) and then… remain on the spot? Of course not. After turning around, one needs to make their way back to the intersection where they made the wrong turn (“do penance”).


If one believes the dictionary, something similar can be said for the Hebrew. For example, in the above passage from Ezechiel 18, “do penance” is sometimes translated as “turns away”. And that passage explicitly highlights the importance of making an effort to behave uprightly, which is more than merely “turning around”.


Although “repent” is a better literal translation, “penance” is a more complete translation for English speakers. It avoids the potential problem of reading “repent” as merely “turning around” whilst conveniently avoiding penance. To use commonsense: honest repentance should lead to penance anyway, or worthy penance presupposes honest repentance.


As a sidebar, the above analogy admittedly breaks down when, as mentioned in Part I, it is impossible to directly address the consequences of our sins. To continue with the imagery, it may be impossible to turn around and retrace one’s steps. However, if repentant, one may still find another route back to the right path and that too can be difficult and has penitential value. Even if one is forced to continue on the wrong path, the change in mentality and the consequent suffering in putting up with it can also be penitential. In economic terms, these two options potentially have temporal merit.


9. “Prayer and Penance”


Given the material covered in the previous two sections, it may be appropriate to comment on “prayer and penance”.


Saying prayers as a penitential act is not the Church authority trying to control the masses. If anything, it is to make things easier without being outright cheap. As mentioned already, it is often impossible or unreasonably impractical to directly address the consequences of our wrongdoing. Nonetheless, the temporal demerit must be balanced.


Prayer is one method since it is something one can do in various situations. Even if one cannot find the time dedicated to it, one can still say so-called mental prayers as they go about their day, although I do not recommend doing so when operating machinery.


In addition to potentially remitting the temporal price (economics), it may also remit or mitigate the temporal punishment (actual) and it has spiritual benefits. After all, the act of praying and asking for mercy is worth something and God may take into account our actions. (Ezechiel 18:21–25 etc)


For example, the consequences of a particular sin are X, Y and Z. By repenting and making an effort (which may include prayer), God may totally remit X, partially remit Y, but Z remains. It is impossible to prove “what would otherwise have happened” but it is the principle, an act of faith in God’s mercy and one has nothing to lose anyway.


Consider the last part of the Our Father which Christ Himself taught as recorded in Matthew 6:12–13:

And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.

Moral and physical sufferings, regardless of its proximate causes, are by definition intrinsically “evil” (without contradicting the possibility of good “utility”) and we are allowed to ask for having less of it in life.


From Tobias 3:1–3:

Then Tobias sighed, and began to pray with tears, saying: Thou art just, O Lord, and all thy judgements are just, and all thy ways mercy, and truth, and judgement: And now, O Lord, think of me, and take not revenge of my sins, neither remember my offenses, nor those of my parents.

From Psalm 24:6–7:

Remember, O Lord, thy bowels of compassion; and thy mercies that are from the beginning of the world. The sins of my youth and my ignorances do not remember. According to thy mercy remember thou me: for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.

From Psalm 50:11–13:

Turn away thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels. Cast me not away from thy face; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Whether God forgets our sins or not is up to Him, but we are allowed to ask.

 

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