"It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"To think of oneself as nothing, and always to think well and highly of others is the best and most perfect wisdom. Wherefore, if you see another sin openly or commit a serious crime, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good estate. All men are frail, but you must admit that none is more frail than yourself. "

Thomas á Kempis

* * *

"If you wish to learn and appreciate something worth while, then love to be unknown and considered as nothing. Truly to know and despise self is the best and most perfect counsel."

Thomas á Kempis

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Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  (1877 - 1964)  taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, and served for many years as a consulter to the Holy Office and other Roman Congregations.


By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP





According to the doctrine of the Church, purgatory is the place of those souls that have died under obligation to suffer still some temporary pain, due to venial sins not yet forgiven, or to sins already forgiven but not yet expiated. They remain in purgatory until the debt which they owe to divine justice has been fully paid. They pay this debt progressively, not by merit and satisfaction, for the time of merit is gone by, but by satispassion, that is, by enduring voluntarily the satisfactory suffering inflicted on them. Their sufferings may be shortened by suffrages made for them and especially by Masses in their favor.

We find this doctrine of the Church in the Second Council of Lyons, in that of Florence, [333] in that of Trent, [334] and in the condemnation of many errors of Luther. [335] Among the errors condemned by the Church we may notice especially such sentences as these: "The existence of purgatory cannot be established by Scripture." [336] "The souls in purgatory suffer by impatience." [337] "The souls in purgatory are not sure of their salvation." The Church, on the contrary, teaches as her common doctrine that these souls suffer the punishment of fire. [338]

The Protestant Error

The doctrine of purgatory was denied by the Albigenses, the Hussites, and the Protestants. [339] Luther began, in 1517, by denying the value of indulgences, saying that they had no value before God for the remission of the punishment due to our sins. [340] Then he went on
to maintain that purgatory cannot be proved by Holy Scripture; that the souls in purgatory are not sure of their salvation; that we cannot prove the impossibility of merit in purgatory; that the souls in purgatory may sin by attempting to escape the sufferings they are undergoing.

Later on, Luther reached the doctrinal root of all his negations, namely, justification by faith alone. Then he affirmed the uselessness of good works and hence the uselessness of purgatory. Supported by popular favor, he became more and more audacious. In 1524 he published his book on the abrogation of Mass. In this work he says that the denial of purgatory is not an error.

Finally, in 1530, he denied absolutely any necessity of satisfaction for our sins. To uphold this, he said, would be an injury to Christ, who has satisfied superabundantly for all sin. For the same reason he denied that the Mass is a true sacrifice, particularly a propitiatory sacrifice. We have here the radical denial of a life of reparation, as if the sufferings of the saints for the expiation of sin would be an injury to the Redeemer.

Now the first and universal cause does not exclude second causes, but grants them the dignity of causality, somewhat like a sculptor who should make statues which live. Thus the satisfactory merits of Christ do not exclude our own, but rather create them. Christ causes us to work with Him and in Him. St. Paul said: "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so you shall fulfill the law of Christ." [341] Again: "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for His body, which is the Church." Certainly nothing was lacking to the sufferings of Christ in themselves, but they lacked fulfillment in our own flesh.

Calvin [342] and Zwingli [343] followed Luther in denying indulgences, in denying the sacrifice of the Mass, and purgatory.

Protestants of the present day have separated from their masters on this subject. Many of them admit an intermediate state between hell and heaven. They will not call it purgatory, but do say that the souls there can still merit and satisfy. Some hold that the sufferings of hell are not eternal. Now this temporary hell does not at all resemble the purgatory taught by the Catholic Church, according to which all souls in purgatory are in the state of grace and can no longer sin.

This is but one more example of the variations and contradictions to be found among Protestant Churches.

The chief Catholic theologians who wrote against this Protestant error are Cajetan, Sylvester Ferrariensis, St. John Fisher, John Eck, and St. Robert Bellarmine. St. John Fisher speaks thus to the Lutherans: "In suppressing the sacrifice of the Mass you have excluded the sun which illumines and warms each day of our life, and makes its influence felt even in purgatory."

The Church condemned this Protestant error. The Council of Trent declares: "If anyone says that the man who has repented and received the grace of justification is forgiven and released from obligation to eternal punishment, in such fashion that he no longer has any obligation to temporal punishment, whether in this world or in purgatory, before he can be given entrance into heaven: let him be anathema." [344]

In the fourteenth chapter, which corresponds to this cannon, the Council affirms the necessity of satisfaction for sins committed after baptism: satisfaction in the form of fasting, of almsgiving, of prayer, and of other exercises of the spiritual life. These satisfactions are not meant for the eternal punishment, which was remitted by the sacrament of penance or by the desire of the sacrament, but for the remission of temporal punishment, which is not always remitted entirely, as it is in baptism. [345] The Council quotes these words of Scripture: "Be mindful therefore from whence thou art fallen, and do penance and do the first works." [346] "For the sorrow that is according to God worketh penance." [347] "Do penance." [348] "Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance." [349] And if this reparation, this satisfaction, has not been paid in this world, the soul will have to undergo the satisfactorial punishment of purgatory.

Purgatory in Scripture

In the Old Testament we read that Judas Machabeus "making a gathering sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the . . . dead, . . . who had fallen asleep with godliness, . . . that they may be loosed from sins." [350] This passage shows that according to the faith of Israel the just, after death, could be aided by the sacrifices offered on earth. In that same passage we read: "It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead."

St. Thomas remarks: "We are not taught to pray for the souls of the dead who are in heaven, nor for those who are in hell, hence there must be a purgatory after death, where the souls of the just pay the debts which they did not pay on earth." [351]

In the New Testament we read: "He that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come." [352] Now these words presuppose, according to tradition, that certain sins can be forgiven after death, but certainly these are not mortal sins. Hence these words deal with venial sin, or with suffering due to mortal sins, remitted but not entirely expiated.

The text becomes clearer when we read in St. Paul: "You are God's building.... The foundation ... is Christ Jesus. Now, if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble,
every man's work shall be manifest." "And the fire shall try every man's work." [353] If the work which each one added to the building subsists, he will receive recompense (for this part of his work) yet he will be saved, but only as through fire. This means that if upon this foundation he has built with wood or hay or stubble, his work will be devoured by the fire. These works which will be devoured are, for example, good works done in vanity, good accomplished in order to advance oneself, or by a spirit of opposition to adversaries, rather than by love of truth and of God.

Many Fathers have seen in this text the doctrine of purgatory: Origen, Basil, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory the Great. These last two understand the text to speak also of the fire of persecution and of the last judgment.

St. Thomas, [354] in commenting on this passage, speaks as follows: "In the building constructed upon Christ, good works are compared to gold, to silver, to precious stone. Venial sins are compared to wood, to hay, to stubble. The day of the Lord is that on which He manifests His judgment, first of all during tribulation on earth, then at the particular judgment after death, finally at the last judgment. The fire which tests and purifies is that of tribulation on earth, then that of purgatory, lastly that of universal conflagration at the last judgment. In truth, many texts of Scripture speak of the purifying fire under these three different forms." [355]

This unifying interpretation, which admits diverse purifications, is held today, both by exegetes like Father Allo, Father Prat, and by theologians like Father Pesch. Father Allo [356] speaks as follows: "There are faults which are not grave enough to close heaven and to open hell, which nevertheless must have their own proportionate punishment. The Catholic dogma of venial sin and purgatory finds in our text a very solid support." [357] Father Pesch [358] defends the same conclusion.

Purgatory in Tradition

On this subject we must distinguish two periods. During the first four centuries the existence of purgatory is affirmed, at least implicitly, by the universal practice of prayer and sacrifice offered for the dead. Tertullian speaks thus: "We make oblations for the dead one year after their death." [359] St. Ephrem [360] demands remembrance on the thirtieth day after death. St. Cyril of Alexandria believes that prayers made for the dead obtain succor for them. St. Epiphanius and St. John Chrysostom speak in the same sense. [361] And the most ancient liturgies show that this usage was common. [362]

This view is confirmed by inscriptions in the catacombs, as early as the third century. These inscriptions, which pray that God may refresh the soul of the dead, contain manifest allusions to the sufferings which the souls in purgatory must undergo. [363]

This universal practice, found in the Orient and the Occident, proves that there was general belief in the existence of a place and state where souls, not yet entirely purified, undergo punishment due to their sins. The Church never prays for the damned, and does not offer for them the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Thus we see the faith of the early Church in purgatory, just as her faith in the existence of original sin is expressed by the practice of baptizing infants.

Further, during these first four centuries, we have explicit testimonies regarding the sufferings of purgatory. Tertullian [364] speaks of a woman who prays for the soul of her husband and asks for him "refreshment," that is, attenuation or cessation of the punishment of fire. St. Ephrem [365] speaks of expiation of sins after death. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, speak of prayers for the dead. [366]

During the second period, beginning with St. Augustine, we find texts which speak explicitly of purgatory, of the fiery punishments undergone by the just who have not sufficiently expiated their sins during life. The Fathers, St. Augustine, St. Caesarius of Arles, St. Gregory the Great, affirm four truths which contain the entire doctrine of purgatory. First, after death there is no longer a possibility of merit or demerit. [367] Secondly, purgatory exists, a place where souls undergo temporary pains for their sins. [368] Thirdly, these souls can be aided by the prayers of those who live, especially by the Eucharistic Sacrifice. [369] Fourth, purgatory will end on the day of judgment. [370] St. Augustine expounds this doctrine. [371] The same holds good of St. Caesarius, [372] and of St. Gregory the Great. [373]

During the following centuries the liturgy for the dead was gradually developed. The doctrine of the Church on purgatory was defined in the Second Council of Lyons, in that of Florence, and that of Trent. [374]

This retrospect shows that the faith of the Church passes from a less distinct concept to a concept which is distinct. This development is seen in the doctrine on baptism, on the sacrament of penance, on the
Sacrifice of the Mass, and in many other revealed truths. Let us recall here that good Christians, particularly the saints, even when they do not have a distinct theoretical concept of a mystery, as do theologians, can still have a very deep and living concept.

Many saints, although they cannot explain theologically the difference between venial sin and mortal sin, have the virtue of contrition much more profoundly than many theologians. Unable to tell you what is formally the essence of the Sacrifice of the Mass, they are penetrated with its grandeur and fruitfulness. Thus Christians in the catacombs, preparing for martyrdom, sacrificing for their dead, had a deep and living concept of purgatory, though they could not speak of it as did theologians after the Council of Trent. Uneducated saints have a living concept of sin, of the punishment due to sin, of repentance, of satisfaction, of judgment, of hell, of purgatory, and of heaven. This science of the saints, in last analysis, is the most real, the one that counts for eternity.

This living concept is expressed by The Imitation of Christ. [375] We must be willing to suffer everything for eternal life, even what is most painful.

333. Denz., nos. 464, 693, 840, 983.
334. Ibid., nos. 744, 777, 778, 780.
335. Ibid., nos. 777, 3047.
336. Ibid., no. 778.
337. Ibid., 779.
338. Ibid., nos. 3047, 3050.
339. Dict. theol. cath., "Purgatoire."
340. Denz., no. 758.
341. Gal. 6:12; Col. 1:24.
342. Institutiones Christianae, Bk. III, chap. 4, no. 6.
343. Opera, thesis ann. 1523, th. 57.
344. Denz., no. 840.
345. Ibid., no. 807.
346. Apoc. 2:5.
347. II cor. 7:10.
348. Matt. 3:2; 4:17.
349. Ibid., 3:8.
350. II Mach. 12:43-46.
351. IV Sent., dist. 21, q. 1, a. 1, and Appendix to the Supplementum, De purgatorio, a. 1.
352. Matt. 12:32.
353. I Cor. 3:10-15.
354. Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
355. Ecclus,. 2:5 and 27:6; Wisd. 3:6; Ps. 96:3.
356. In his Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians Father Allo speaks thus: "Jesus has spoken in Luke 17:22 of one of the days of the Son of man (a day whereon He will exercise judgment), as if there could be many such days. Thus we may believe with St. Thomas that in this verse there is question of a triple judgment of God." Ibid., p. 66. "We have interpreted the fire in the widest sense, as including the ensemble of the judgments and of the trials to which Christ will submit the worth of those who have labored or intended to do so. But (v. 15) He shows that it is not only the work taken by itself, but also the workman who will be reached by the flame, although he is destined to salvation. As nothing indicates that these trials must all have place during this present life, we must recognize that St. Paul envisages, also for the elect soul that has left this world, the possibility of a debt still to be paid to God. When shall this debt be claimed? We can see no moment except that wherein they will appear before the tribunal of Christ (11 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10). The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks thus: 'It is reserved for men once to die and after that the judgment.' " Heb. 9:27.
357. The Theology of St. Paul, I, 112.
358. Praelectiones theologicae, IX, no. 590.
359. De corona, chap. 4. Cf. de Journel, Enchir. patrist., no. 382.
360. Journel, no. 741.
361. Ibid., nos. 852, 853, 1109, 1206.
362. Cf. Martigny, Dict. des antiquites chretiennes, "Purgatoire"; cf. also Didascalia apostolorum, Bk. VI, chap. 22, no. 2. "Offer without ceasing prayers to God, offer the Eucharist you have accepted, offer it for those who sleep." Similarly in the Liturgy of St. Basil and of St. John Chrysostom.
363. 363 Cf. Marucchi, Elements of Christian Archeology, I, 19l. In the catacombs we find inscriptions like the following: Victoria, may thy spirit find refreshment in good. Calemira, may God refresh thy spirit, together with that of thy sister, Hilaria. Eternal light be to thee, Timothea, in Christ.
364. Journel, no. 382.
365. Ibid., no. 741.
366. Ibid., no. 1061.
367. Ibid., Index. theol., no. 584.
368. Ibid., no. 587.
369. Ibid., no. 588.
370. Ibid., no. 589.
371. Enchiridion, chaps. 69, 109 ff. Also in the Commentary on Psalm 37.
372. Daesarius of Arles, Sermons 105, no. 5.
373. Dialogues, 593, 4, 39. Cf. Journel, op. cit., 1467, 1544, 2233, 2321.
374. Denz., nos. 494, 693, 983.
375. Imitation of Christ, Bk. III, chap. 47.