Purgatory: A Lesson Taught By Christ?

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First Published at All Along the Watchtower.

What is it about purgatory that divides Catholics from Protestants? Does it actually have to do with justification? At first, I think it’s important to state that there is only so much that we can possibly know about purgatory—like Heaven or hell.

My post here will be mostly informal and written from my observations having spent a great deal of time and having a magnificent opportunity listening to confessional Lutherans. I’ve heard told in many circles that Martin Luther, a pious Christian, had been using the sacrament of confession; however, after each time of reconciliation, the Augustinian monk, would hesitate a bit while walking back to his theological studies as he just remembered sins that he forgot to confess. Luther, then, thought something of the nature, “I must still be damned.” The term for this is called scrupulosity, in fact, I was having a discussion on Justification and purgatory one night, I said, “I believe that at best, I will no doubt have to be purified in purgatory, I then used the term, scrupulosity, in response to being told, “I just want you to have peace.” I looked very puzzled at the reply, “peace?” The individual thought that there was no possible way that I could be confident in my salvation if I had to continue to worry about my sins and practice the sacrament of confession. However, my response, “I already have peace. I can be confident in both my state of grace and the mercy of God; however, If I do deserve damnation, I have faith in God’s true justice.”

So, why do I have confidence in the doctrine of purgatory, as opposed to this individual and Luther? There are various proofs in Scripture that Catholics point to in regards to Purgatory such as 1 Cor. 3:11-15, Jn. 14:2, Mt. 12:32.

However, my confidence rests on the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew Ch. 5:23-26

23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. [1]

The great accuser—The opponent– that we will all have at our judgment is Satan. So, here are two topics that many Christians fail to speak about in this day and age, Satan and Sin, mainly because most no longer believe in either. So, if most do not believe that there are Satan and Sin, is it fair to say that it would be difficult to believe in a purification of Sin? Could one make the argument that our failure to acknowledge such is founded in Sola Fide? Perhaps not, after all, many Catholics no longer believe that Satan or Sin exists. In regards to on the way to court, of course, this means our life on the way to the beatific vision, and our way to settle our debt of sin is with confession and penance.

It’s important to note that Christ then says, “you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” Christ couldn’t be talking about hell as the verdict from the Judge by this statement because if the judgment is hell, the judgment is final; however, purgatory is not a final state, but rather a purifying state, in which one will be “released;” therefore, their judgment of salvation has been assured.

One of the best pieces of Western Literature is Dante’s Divine Comedy, one of the great attributes of the text is that it speaks to us today of the Christian worldview of a faithful Catholic in the 13th century before the Reformation.

Notice, even in both Canto III’s of the Inferno and Purgatory the difference of the fates of those souls:

The Inferno:

Here sighs, with lamentations and loud moans,

Resounded through the air pierced by no star,

That e’en I wept at entering. Various tongues,

Horrible languages, outcries of woe,

Accents of anger, voices deep and hoarse,

With hands together smote that swell’d the sounds,

Made up a tumult, that forever whirls

Round through that air with solid darkness stain’d,

Like to the sand that in the whirlwind flies.

I then, with horror yet encompast, cried:

“O master! what is this I hear? what race

Are these, who seem so overcome with woe?”[2]
Purgatory:

“O spirits perfect! O already chosen!”

Virgil to them began: “by that blest peace,

Which, as I deem, is for you all prepared,

Instruct us where the mountain low declines,

So that attempt to mount it be not vain.

For who knows most, him loss of time most grieves.”[3]

In Dante’s Hell, those souls, as with every circle of hell, are continuously moved in endless unending circles, but notice, that in purgatory, as Virgil says as the souls approach him and Dante, “O already Chosen!” those spirits are beginning to move forward as pilgrims to the reward they’re already assured as they can not move back.

The Book of Concord reads in regards to penance in indulgence:

They add further that satisfactions ought to be works of supererogation. These consist of the most stupid observances, like pilgrimages, rosaries, and similar observations, none of which have the command of God. [15] Then, just as they buy off purgatory with satisfactions, so they also devised a way to buy off satisfactions, which turned out to be very profitable. For they sell indulgences, which they interpret as the remission of satisfactions. They collect this revenue not only from the living but even more from the dead. They buy off the satisfactions for the dead not only with indulgences but also with the sacrifice of the Mass.[1]

As I read the above text, I hear the “voice” of the writer, in respect, to being angry at the selling for profit of indulgences in regards to removing penance. I fully admit that those in the Church, and yes even leaders, are sinners and did egregious actions. Regardless, Catholics and Protestants differ on how God conducts commands. Protestants claim Sola Scriptura while Catholics claim that Church tradition can also produce theological truths. However, after applying Christ words using scripture, can it truly be claimed there is no command from God? Furthermore, is it “works” to simply pray for souls in purgatory? It’s well noted in the historical record that Luther edited books from the canon that displayed prayers for the dead, as it opposed to his prospective theology. It’s clear from Catholic theology that souls who receive no prayers will still be purified and receive their reward, in this regard, no action from anyone is meriting salvation, as salvation is assured. God initiates by a free gift salvation. I implore my Protestant brothers and sisters to see that “works” is not a bad word. If salvation is granted to us Prima Gratia, Christ still speaks time and time again about “storing treasures in Heaven” by actions on earth.

[1] New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 5:22–26.

[2] Dante Alighieri, The Harvard Classics 20: The Divine Comedy by Dante, ed. Charles W. Eliot (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909), 13–14.

[3] Dante Alighieri, The Harvard Classics 20: The Divine Comedy by Dante, ed. Charles W. Eliot (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909), 157.

[4]Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 190.

The Gospel of Luke: How Christ’s Birth Fulfilled Prophecy.

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The beginning of the infancy Gospel of Luke is different than many stories. Instead of focusing on main characters of the story that Luke is telling, he begins with two characters of small importance to the overall theme Christ’s great sacrifice. Edward Sri explains, in his book Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture, “Luke begins his Gospel like a good Shakespearean play: with a pair of minor characters who prepare the way for the lead roles to take the stage.”[1]

Of course, the two people are of some importance being the parents of John the Baptist—Zechariah and Elizabeth. Although the couple is not the main focus for Luke’s Gospel, Zechariah and Elizabeth play a vital role in laying the foundation of the importance of Christ’s birth to both the Jewish community and also humanity. Sri explains, “Zechariah and Elizabeth are a standout couple with high credentials in first-century Judaism.”[2] The couple both come from a priestly background, Zechariah being a priest and Elizabeth being a descendant of Aaron.[3]

Luke’s most impressive use of Old Testament typology within the narrative of Zechariah and Elizabeth is the annunciation of Zechariah. The imagery used by Luke is filled with references to Old Testament scripture that would express the importance of these events to their audience using as Sri explains “the last prophetic words of the Old Testament.”[4]

The typology in the beginning of Luke hinges on dialogue between the Angel of the Lord and Zechariah by the Holy of Holies. The Angels speaks to Zechariah and says:

6 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,

17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli′jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”[5]

The typology used by Luke is to reference the audience back to the book of Malachi and frame John the Baptist as the new Elijah to “prepare the way before me” for Christ’s birth.[6] Luke according to tradition being a fairly educated man and skilled writer used his knowledge and skill to highlight the importance of John the Baptist’s birth with Christ’s birth to connect it to Old Testament scripture to prove of prophecy being fulfilled. By examining Mal. 4: 5-6, one can see that Luke uses nearly identical language:

5 “Behold, I will send you Eli′jah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”[7]

After the Angel of the Lord makes his announcement to Zechariah before the Holy of Holies, in which it fell to Zechariah to offer incense in the temple:

8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,9 according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.[8]

It’s important to note the honor of Zechariah for being selected for this opportunity, “Most priests were honored to burn incense only once in their lifetime, this was the crowning moment of Zechariah’s ministry.”[9]

He doesn’t believe the Angel of the Lord saying:

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechari′ah, and they wondered at his delay in the temple.22 And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he made signs to them and remained dumb. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.”[10]

Sri explains that “revealing his name was significant because the only time Gabriel is mentioned in the Old Testament (Dn 9:21)[11] is in the important visions given to the prophet Daniel.[12] Sri continues to explain that the typology between Zechariah’s visit with Gabriel and Daniel’s is abundant. For instance in Lk. 1:9, Zechariah mirrors the actions of Daniel in Dn. 9:20 by offering up incense. Gabriel also appears to both men in the evening, referenced in Dn. 9:21 and Lk. 1:10. Notwithstanding, the most significant typology of Luke during this part of his Gospel is Gabriel’s message of salvation for Israel:

Dn. 9: 23-24 RSV

23 At the beginning of your supplications a word went forth, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the word and understand the vision.

24 “Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. [13]

Lk. 1: 13-17 RSV

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechari′ah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

14 And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth;
15 for he will be great before the Lord,
and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink,
and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
even from his mother’s womb.
16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli′jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”[14]

[1] Edward Sri, Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 7.

[2] Ibid, 8.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 12.

[5] Lk. 1: 16-17 RSV

[6] Mal. 3:1 RSV

[7] Mal. 4: 5-6 RSV

[8] Lk. 1:8-11 RSV

[9] Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Gospel of Luke: Commentary, Notes & Study Questions (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), 18.

[10] LK 1: 18-23 RSV

[11] 21 while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. Dn. 9:21 RSV

[12] Sri, 14.

[13] Dn. 9: 23-24 RSV

[14] Lk. 1: 13-17 RSV

The History of God and the Resurrection: A Conversation of Struggle

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Below is taken from emails and pieced together from a conversation with a family member, note that many of the ideas can be fleshed out in far greater detail: 

The problem with pain is not a unique attack on God, but rather a clever one that acknowledges an existence but attacks His character as if His character could be assessed in the same manner as any human. The problem with this common assertion is often the focus on God; for example, why do we blame God for evil rather than humanity? There are many who have supplied refutations to this objection such as C.S Lewis, Fulton Sheen, Joseph Ratzinger, etc.

There are two things to understand. The world because of humanity’s original sin is – profane and not holy-and not the end. Therefore, God’s greatest concern is for the sanctity of our souls. If God allows pain by allowing free will to exist and by allowing natural disasters, we can be comfortable to answer that He does so to allow us to use these opportunities to ease the suffering on earth for the healing of our souls. Suffering is allowed to exist so that a greater good can occur for those in the City of Man to become sanctified.

Many will object to this answer, but I ask them, “What if it’s the truth, what would be your reaction if you knew it to be true?”

So, recently, I’ve been asked How can I know? Where does my faith come from? If I am to answer myself, especially when looking at our current world, I would say that my faith flows from the spring of Truth. When I look at the world, I see a finely tuned creation. A creation that has objective moral truths, natural rights, and natural laws, so from this foundation, I call it God. My observations of the world have allowed me to conclude that relativism is false, and if there are objective truths, what is the source? However, as I have arrived at this conclusion, I ask, is there anything I can know about God? Historically, because I’ve come to the conclusion that God exists, I look to the Apostles and the Gospels. Many modern Atheists will reject the Gospels as evidence, but this is simply not an action of the scholarly. For example, the Gospels quite easily fall in the genre of Ancient Biography, and prior to my degree in history, I was a Classics major and read my fair share of Ancient Biographies to know that just because an Ancient account has miracles doesn’t dismiss its historical content. For example, as I studied Alexander the Great in my youth with a great zeal, I know that modern scholars do not dismiss historical accounts of Alexander by Plutarch, Arrian, and Diodorus even though they have unexplainable events within the texts such as prophecies from oracles and fathers who are deities.

So let’s recap, I have concluded by observing the natural world with philosophy that God exists, and I am searching if there is anything I can know about this God? Now, just like I would as Classic student, examining the ancient accounts without consideration of miracles, what do the accounts tell me? One of the things that it tells me is that the Apostles were all scared and fled for their lives when their leader—Christ–was arrested and executed. After some time, something changed, and those men were not afraid. In fact, all became so courageous that only John was not a martyr. Not one cried out to escape their fates, “I am fraud.”

Now, it’s true, in our modern age of skepticism, there are those who doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was even a historical figure. I cannot stress this enough that this is a position of anti-intellectualism on their part. The historical record, aside from the Gospels, supports the existence of the man. Here is an account from a pagan Roman Historian by the name of Tacitus (55-115 A.D.):

Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, and the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. (Annals XV:44)

 Of course, there is other evidence from Josephus, Suetonius, and others, but many modern skeptics attempt to force Christians into a pigeonhole reading of these accounts in a minimalist perspective rather than maximalist– a viewpoint one is accorded with other Ancient Biographies—mainly because there is so much more at stake with the Gospels.

From this evidence, I have concluded that there is a God, I have concluded from the Gospels that Christ claimed to be God, and I have concluded that he died and his Apostles were inspired by something that occurred after his death to meet their own deaths. Ultimately, I have concluded that Christ rose from the dead. If Christ did indeed die and rose again to conquer sin, I gather that God does care about us and is benevolent rather than malevolent because He chose to become a lowly man, and suffered a lowly scandalous death.

Furthermore, with the revelation of this truth, God can’t be a narcissist, as militant modern atheists now claim, for obligating worship in the respect that narcissism is a human disorder for it is not possible that a human can be perfect. A perfect being who is truly great cannot, by definition, be a narcissist. The being of God is one that is truly perfect who requires worship not necessarily for His glory–because what could our worship aid in the divine?–but rather for the benefit of our eternal soul and sanctification because this is the ultimate plan of God for his creation.

So remember, when we see pain in the world, The most powerful action is turning to God for assistance because ultimately the pain was brought into the world by humanity because of our betrayal of God. We can do this by prayer and compassionate action to our fellow human. Let us, tell God here on earth that we choose to serve him rather than ourselves.

A Prayer of Pope St. John Paul II

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During my fasting from blogging and reading City of Saints: A pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow,  I composed a short prayer to pray for his intercession for current persecutions on Christians.

Pope St. John Paul II, I (we) ask you to intercede on the behalf of the charity of Christ and ask God to protect us against the wickedness of governments who have become instruments of Satan, attempting to ruin the souls of men and women.

I beseech thee, O Lord, to give us the strength to persevere on the rough waters of our instituted persecution until the Son, on a cloud, returns for the judgment of the living and the dead.

Amen.

Picture Jesus: What do you see?

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When I close my eyes and focus on Jesus, my mind often reveals the Christ Pantocrator icon at St. Catherine’s monastery. I encourage anyone who has never seen the icon to take a closer look at the image that I provided here. The image carries the two faces of Christ–both man and God–as it’s not a symmetrical image. The image that I see in my head feels like a contradiction, but at the same time, it does not, it feels peaceful. I see both the salvation of mankind, and also it’s judgment. I truly see man and God.

The icon, as a Catholic, is honestly one of the few pieces of art that I feel a pull towards when viewing it. It’s one of the few pieces of art that I feel I could look at for days and never tire of it. Perhaps, it’s true spiritualism, as I feel that it’s truly the face of God. I’ve heard that Icons are written to be windows into heaven., I feel when I look at this Icon, I am looking at an accurate representation of the Incarnate Christ.

Where did this image of Christ of mine get shaped? I would say a lot of it is foundational to my faith. The mass and the sacrifice of the Christ has always been fundamental to my faith. When the priest prays the words of consecration, he prays with Christ. The bread becomes Jesus, the incarnation of Christ, and It’s a beautiful miracle. I’ve often debated my Protestant friends over the theology of Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation only to conclude with them if it’s not truly Christ and the Catholics don’t have it right, then in the spirit of Flannery O’Connor, I say, “to hell with it.” A lot of this has been shaped by taking a ‘History of Christmas’ class in college, which introduced me to the sermons of Augustine on the topic of the two nativities and reading Pope Benedict’s fanatic book series Jesus of Nazareth.

I see the miracle of the Incarnation in that image of Christ; I see the miracle of the discourse of the bread of life in that image—the miracle of the mass.

Lately, I’ve been taking theology courses to become a certified Catechist, which is why the post on my blog have been few and far between. However, I am greatly concerned with what is being taught. In my first reading, my image of Christ was directly attacked. The author, who I found to have involvement with “A  Call to Action” ‘Catholicism,’ made claims that the stress on High Christology was the way of the old Church prior to Vatican II and now the Church’s true direction is Low Christology, which its weaknesses are its strengths. I believe I can speak directly to this viewpoint existing in nothing more than a Vatican II Catholic era, and when I read such text, it worries me to the core.

In the post-Vatican II era of the Catholic Church, In my view, there’s actually too much of a focus on low Christology. The author that I read discusses in their thesis how it’s the opposite; however, they grew up before Vatican II, which would have stressed more of the High Christology. Notwithstanding, I think it’s important to keep low Christology in our hearts and see Christ as the servant washing the feets of his disciples, the humble man, the man around all the different children. I’m thirty, so all I have ever known is the post-Vatican II low Christological Jesus. I think that’s why the Christ Pantocrator icon at St. Catherine’s monastery gains so much of my focus. The judge is present–the law, the Christ that warns of sin, judgment, and says the word hell. The Jesus that commands us to repent our sins.

I feel that image of Jesus has been lost, the image that is often represented is one that the post-modern world will agree with instead of the actual Jesus. We, the faithful, I think need to understand that the twenty generations have helped led to the development of the Church’s image of Christ. The Holy Spirit has worked through the Church, and we shouldn’t strip away the revelations of the Church for a new modern exegesis.

So, when you close your eyes and picture Jesus, what do you see?