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On Purgatory – Part V

There are many theologians and mystics who have written about Purgatory and related matters, so there is a much greater volume of material about the subject than what is presented in this series. This final part will reproduce merely a glimpse of non-scriptural material.

For an explanation of Purgatory, Part I is recommended.

Archangel Michael delivering Souls from Purgatory, 17th century (oil on canvas), Jacopo Vignali
Archangel Michael delivering Souls from Purgatory, 17th century (oil on canvas), Jacopo Vignali

20. Papal/Council Documents

From the letter “Sub Catholicae” by Pope Innocent IV to the Bishop of Tusculum re the rites of the Greeks, dated 6 March 1254 (H. Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, 30th ed, Loreto Publications, USA, 2010, para. 456):

Finally, since Truth in the Gospel asserts that “if anyone shall utter blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, neither in this life nor in the future will it be forgiven him” [cf. Matt. 12:32], by this it is granted that certain sins of the present be understood which, however, are forgiven in the future life, and since the Apostle says that “fire will test the work of each one, of what kind it is,” and “if any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire” [I Cor. 3:13, 15], and since these same Greeks truly and undoubtedly are said to believe and to affirm that the souls of those who after a penance has been received yet not performed, or who, without mortal sin yet die with venial and slight sin, can be cleansed after death and can be helped by the suffrages of the Church, we, since they say a place of purgation of this kind has not been indicated to them with a certain and proper name by their teachers, we indeed, calling it purgatory according to the traditions and authority of the Holy Fathers, wish that in the future it be called by that name in their area.

From the letter “Super quibusdam” by Pope Clement VI to the Consolator, the Catholicon of the Armenians, dated 20 September 1351 (ibid., para. 570s):

We ask if you have believed and now believe that there is a purgatory to which depart the souls of those dying in grace who have not yet made complete satisfaction for their sins. Also, if you have believed and now believe that they will be tortured by fire for a time and that as soon as they are cleansed, even before the day of judgement, they may come to the true and eternal beatitude which consists in the vision of God face to face and in love.

From papal bull “Laetentur coeli” by Pope Eugene IV, dated 6 July 1439 (ibid. para 693):

It has likewise defined, that, if those truly penitent have departed in the love of God, before they have made satisfaction by worthy fruits of penance for sins of commission and omission, the souls of these are cleansed after death by purgatorial punishments; and so that they may be released from punishments of this kind, the suffrages of the living faithful are of advantage to them, namely, the sacrifices of Masses, prayers, and almsgiving, and other works of piety, which are customarily performed by the faithful for other faithful according to the institutions of the Church. …

From the Council of Trent, Session VI, presided by Pope Paul III, dated 13 January 1547 (ibid. para 819, 820, 826, 840):

Can. 9. If anyone shall say that by faith alone the sinner is justified, so as to understand that nothing else is required to cooperate in the attainment of the grace of justification, and that it is in no way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will: let him be anathema.
Can. 10. If anyone shall say that men are justified without the justice of Christ by which He merited for us, or that by that justice itself they are formally just: let him be anathema.

In other words, both the infinite merits of Christ and our finite merits are necessary.

Can. 16. If anyone shall say that he will for certain with an absolute and infallible certainty have that great gift of perseverance up to the end, unless he shall have learned this by a special revelation: let him be anathema.

“Perseverance of the saints” taken to the extreme, although possible, is generally not a thing.

Can. 30. If anyone shall say that after the reception of the grace of justification, to every penitent sinner the guilt is so remitted and the penalty of eternal punishment so blotted out that no penalty of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in the world to come in purgatory before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened: let him be anathema.

From the Council of Trent, Session XXV, presided by Pope Pius IV, dated 3 and 4 December 1563 (ibid. para 983):

Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit, in conformity with the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers in sacred councils, and very recently in this ecumenical Synod, has taught that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained there are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar, the holy Synod commands the bishops that they insist that the sound doctrine of purgatory, which has been transmitted by the holy Fathers and holy Councils, be believed by the faithful of Christ, be maintained, taught, and everywhere preached.

Some may note the dates of the above as quite late, the earliest one quoted is dated 1254. (There could be earlier ones I have missed.) Keep in mind that these are official Church documents written with a certain authority (even if not actually dogmatic).

Whilst there were/are always bad clergy and mismanagement, the Church hierarchy, in the old days at least, typically did not act like today’s moronic middle managers who like to call meetings and group hugs just to build their bureaucratic empires. They made these statements in response to questions and arguments.

In other words, seemingly not officially talking about something at the highest levels for over 1,200 years doesn’t mean the Church made it up there and then. It just means that no one was complaining and moaning about it loud enough until then.

21. Early Writings

From the Acts of Paul and Thecla, chapter 8, after the Thecla was thrown to the beasts but none did any harm to her:

After the beasts had been shown, Trifina took Thecla home with her, and they went to bed. And behold, the daughter of Trifina, who was dead, appeared to her mother and said: “Mother, let the young woman Thecla be reputed by you as your daughter in my place, and ask her to pray for me, that I may be translated to a state of happiness.” Upon which Trifina, with a mournful air, said, “My daughter Falconilla has appeared to me and ordered me to receive you in her place; wherefore I desire, Thecla, that you would pray for my daughter that she may be translated into a state of happiness and to life eternal.” When Thecla heard this, she immediately prayed to the Lord and said: “O Lord God of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High, grant that her daughter Falconilla may live forever.”

The below is a passage from The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas. St Perpetua (b. 179 d. 201) and St Felicitas (b. 177 – d. 201) were two Christian women who were martyred under Emperor Septimius Severus. They were thrown to the beasts and eventually killed by the sword. According to the account, St Perpetua had a few mystical experiences during this time of trial and imprisonment, including a vision of her dead brother.

Immediately, on that very night, this was shown to me: I saw Dinocrates going out from a dark place, and where there were also several places. He was strongly heating and thirsting. He had filthy ornamentation and pale color. And the wound, which he had when he would have been made dead, was still in his face. This Dinocrates had been my fleshly brother, who, at the age of seven years, went to his end evilly through an infirmity of a cancerous face, in order that his death became odious to all humans. Therefore, for this person, I had made my prayer. And between me and him was a grand interval, in order that it would not have been being possible for either of us to be going to the other. Next, in that place where Dinocrates was, there was a pool filled with water, having a rim which was higher than the stature of the boy. And Dinocrates was extending himself as if he would drink from it. I was feeling pain, because even though that pool was having water, however, even due to the height of the rim, he would not be able to drink from it. And I was awakened. And I recognized that my brother was laboring. Instead, I was having faith that it was possible for me to bring profit to his labor.

In chapter 10 of On Monogamy by Tertullian (b. ~160 – d. ~240) is a discussion regarding how a woman should treat her deceased husband. Amongst other things, he wrote:

Indeed, she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship with him in the first resurrection; and she offers her sacrifice on the anniversaries of his falling asleep.

From Catechetical Lecture 23 by St Cyril of Jerusalem (b. ~315 – d. ~386) on the Sacred Liturgy and Communion:

8. Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succor we all pray and offer this sacrifice.
9. Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls, for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth.
10. And I wish to persuade you by an illustration. For I know that many say, what is a soul profited, which departs from this world either with sins, or without sins, if it be commemorated in the prayer? For if a king were to banish certain who had given him offense, and then those who belong to them should weave a crown and offer it to him on behalf of those under punishment, would he not grant a remission of their penalties? In the same way we, when we offer to Him our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners, weave no crown, but offer up Christ sacrificed for our sins, propitiating our merciful God for them as well as for ourselves.

From Homily 41 on First Corinthians by St John Chrysostom (b. 347 – d. 407):

Not in vain does he that stands by the altar cry out when the tremendous mysteries are celebrated, “For all that have fallen asleep in Christ, and for those who perform commemorations in their behalf.” For if there were no commemorations for them, these things would not have been spoken: since our service is not a mere stage show, God forbid! Yea, it is by the ordinance of the Spirit that these things are done. Let us then give them aid and perform commemoration for them. For if the children of Job were purged by the sacrifice of their father, why do you doubt that when we too offer for the departed, some consolation arises to them? Since God is wont to grant the petitions of those who ask for others. And this Paul signified saying, “that in a manifold Person your gift towards us bestowed by many may be acknowledged with thanksgiving on your behalf.” Let us not then be weary in giving aid to the departed, both by offering on their behalf and obtaining prayers for them: for the common Expiation of the world is even before us.

From City of God by St Augustine of Hippo (b. 354 – d. 430) XXI:13:

But temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgement. But of those who suffer temporary punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgement; for to some, as we have already said, what is not remitted in this world is remitted in the next, that is, they are not punished with the eternal punishment of the world to come.

22. Of the Imitation of Christ

Of the Imitation of Christ is a devotional text written by Thomas à Kempis (b. 1379 – d. 1471). It was first published in Latin around 1486.

The below is an excerpt from I:23, a chapter that mediates on death:

The hour of death will shortly come, and therefore take heed how thou orderest thyself; for the common proverb is true: Today a man, tomorrow none. And when thou art taken out of sight, thou art anon out of mind, and soon shalt thou be forgotten.
Put not thy trust in thy friends and thy neighbours, neither defer thy good deeds till after thy death; for thou shalt sooner be forgotten than thou weenest. Better it is to provide for thyself betime, and to send some good deeds before thee, than to trust to others who per adventure will lightly forget thee. If thou be not now busy for thyself, and for thine own soul’s health, who shall be busy for thee after thy death? Now is the time very precious, but alas for sorrow, that thou spendest the time so unprofitably, in the which thou shouldst win the life everlasting! The time shall come, when thou shalt desire one day or one hour to amend thee, but I wot not whether it shall be granted unto thee.
Keep thee as a pilgrim and as a stranger here in this world to whom nothing belongeth of worldly business. Keep thy heart always free and lifted up to God, for thou hast here no city long abiding. Send thy desires and thy daily prayers always upward to God, and pray perseverantly, that thy soul at the hour of death may blessedly depart out of this world and go to Christ.

In other words, do what you can with the time you have. Even if you are saved, you may still go to Purgatory. Even if your loved ones can pray for you, they will move on with their lives sooner or later. Don’t assume they will help you after you are gone.

The below is an excerpt from I:24, a chapter that mediates on judgement:

In all things behold the end, and oft remember how thou shalt stand before the high Judge, to Whom nothing is hidden; who will not be pleased with rewards, nor receive any manner of excuses, but in all things will judge what is righteous and true.
It is better now to purge sin and to put away vice, than to reserve it to be purged hereafter. But verily we deceive ourselves by the inordinate love that we have to our bodily kind. What shall the fire of purgatory devour but thy sins? Truly nothing. Therefore the more thou sparest thyself now and the more thou followest thy fleshly liking, the more grievously shalt thou wail hereafter, and the more matter thou reservest for the fire of purgatory. In such things as a man most has offended, shall he most be punished. The slothful person shall be there pricked with burning pricks of iron, and gluttons shall be tormented with great hunger and thirst. Luxurious persons and lovers of voluptuous pleasures, shall be filled full with burning pitch and brimstone: and envious persons shall wail and howl, as mad dogs do. There no sin shall be without its proper torment. The proud man shall be filled with all shame and confusion, and the covetous man shall pine with penury and need. One hour there in pain shall be more grievous than here a hundred years in sharpest penance. There shall be no rest nor comfort to the damned souls: but here sometimes we feel relief of our pains, and have sometimes consolation of our friends. Be now sorrowful for thy sins, that at the day of judgement thou mayest be saved with blessed Saints.

Although the author is not in a position to state it dogmatically, it makes sense that the pains of Purgatory are worse than those in this life. After all, we can choose to act on our terms in this life, at least in part. In that regard, our sacrifices are worth more as it is voluntary whereas in Purgatory, it is imposed.

23. The Glories of Mary

The Glories of Mary by St Alphonsus Liguori (b. 1696 – d. 1787) was first published in 1750. It is a compendium of the teachings, sermons and traditions regarding the Virgin Mary up until the time of writing.

Below is an excerpt from part I, chapter VIII, section 2 concerning how Mary helps her servants in Purgatory.

Too happy are the servants of this most kind mother, since not only in this world they are aided by her, but also in purgatory they are assisted and consoled by her protection. For succor being there more needed, because they are in torment and cannot help themselves, so much the more does this mother of mercy strive to help them. St Bernardine of Sienna says, that in that prison of souls who are spouses of Jesus Christ, Mary has a certain dominion and plenitude of power to relieve them, as well as deliver them from their pains. And, in the first place, as to relieving them, the same saint, applying the words of Ecclesiaticus: I have walked in the waves of the sea: “In fluctibus maris ambulavi,” adds, visiting and relieving the necessities and sufferings of my servants, who are my children. St Bernardine says, that the pains of purgatory are called waves, because they are transitory, unlike the pains of hell, which never end: and they are called waves of the sea, because they are very bitter pains. The servants of Mary tormented by those pains are often visited and succored by her. See, then, how important it is, says Novarino, to be a servant of this good Lady; for she never forgets such when they are suffering in those flames. And although Mary succors all the souls in purgatory, yet she always obtains more indulgences and alleviations for those who have been especially devoted to her. This divine mother, in her revelations to St Bridget, said: “I am the mother of all the souls in purgatory; and all the sufferings which they merit for the sins committed in life are every hour, while they remain there, alleviated in some measure by my prayers.” This kind mother sometimes condescends even to enter into that holy prison, to visit and console these her afflicted children. I have penetrated into the bottom of the deep: “Profundum abyssi penetravi,” as we read in Ecclesiasticus; and St Bonaventure, applying these words, adds: I have penetrated the depth of this abyss, that is, of purgatory, to relieve by my presence those holy souls. Oh, how kind and beneficent is the holy Virgin to those who are suffering in purgatory! says St Vincent Ferrer; through her they receive continual consolation and refreshment.

24. The Story of Sr Teresa Gesta

There are many stories of souls who appear to the living begging for prayers and assistance. The following is probably one of the more well-known stories. An account can be found in Purgatory Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints by F.X. Schouppe SJ (part I, chapter 14).

Sr Teresa Gesta’s palm print

Sr Teresa Gesta died on 4 November 1859 in a Franciscan convent in Foligno. Days later, on November 16, Sr Anna Félicia went to the sacristy since she had succeeded the former in that charge. She heard moans but there was no one. She then heard it again and entered.

“Oh! my God, how I suffer! Oh! Dio, che peno tanto!”

Sr Anna recognized Sr Teresa’s voice. The room was filled with smoke, Sr Teresa appeared and, striking the door with her right hand, she said, “Behold a proof of the mercy of God.”

Sr Teresa’s palm print was in effect burnt on to the door panel. This was subsequently preserved by the convent and above is a photo.

The religious community then said prayers for Sr Teresa. On November 18, Sr Teresa appeared to Sr Anna in her cell and said, “I died on a Friday, the day of the Passion, and behold, on a Friday, I enter into eternal glory! Be strong to bear the cross, be courageous to suffer, love poverty.”


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