"A single act of uniformity with the divine will suffices to make a saint."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"Lord, take from me everything that hinders me from going to You. give me all that will lead me to You. Take me from myself and give me to Yourself."

St Nicholas Flue

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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


 PART 4 : PURGATORY (cont)



Growth of Virtue in Purgatory

If we restrict the question to acquired virtues, the answer cannot be doubtful. Souls in purgatory can grow in virtue by repetition of natural acts. On earth these virtues, justice, say, or fortitude, grow even in the state of mortal sin, wherein man cannot merit. Further, defective habitudes, the "remains of sin," disappear step by step. They are replaced by acquired virtues. This seems reasonable, above all for such souls as have entered purgatory only by absolution at the moment of death, souls which before, we may say, had acquired no virtue. Acquired virtue, we have seen, prepares for infused virtue, as finger agility subserves the art of the musician. Hence acquired virtues can grow in purgatory, at least those which are in the faculties purely spiritual, as, for instance, prudence and justice. But virtues which involve sense powers, chastity, say, cannot thus grow.

What of the infused virtues and the seven gifts? An answer is difficult. There are serious arguments for both sides.

First, the negative view. If infused virtues grow in purgatory, then charity too would grow, and thus the final degree of glory would be proportioned, not to the degree of charity at the moment of death, but to the degree of charity at the end of purgatorial punishment. Now this conclusion seems contrary to the general belief, that the degree of glory is proportioned to the merits which the soul has at the instant of death.

Now the positive view. The souls in purgatory do perform intense acts of faith, hope, charity, religion, and hence it seems that infused virtues, too, would increase, not indeed by repetition of acts, because these virtues are infused and not acquired, but because God, in mercy, would grant this growth without any new merit. This opinion has been defended by Palmieri, [467] and before him by Lessius. [468] According to Lessius, growth in infused virtue does not absolutely require new merit. What suffices is a good disposition. Thus a Christian in mortal sin, who from time to time makes acts of faith and hope, could, by divine mercy, grow in these virtues.

But this view, too, makes the degree of glory correspond, not to the degree of charity at the moment of death, but to the degree of charity at the end of purgatory. This is not in harmony with the traditional doctrine. St. Thomas says: "After death there is no way to acquire grace or to increase it " [469]

Many Thomists nevertheless defend an increase of charity in purgatory, an increase based on imperfectly meritorious acts, acts which on earth would not have obtained an increase of charity. They quote St. Thomas: "On earth, each act of charity merits increase of this virtue, but it does not always obtain this augmentation at once. This augmentation is obtained only when the soul makes an act of charity intense enough to dispose it to receive this augmentation." [470] Take, for example, a man who has a charity corresponding to five talents. Let him act as if he had only two talents. His charity, for the moment, remains where it was. It will not grow until he disposes himself by an act sufficiently intense to receive growth. Now the merit due to these feeble meritorious acts, imperfect and remiss, may lie dormant until death. [471] May this increase in virtue not be granted to them in purgatory? We see here a serious probability, but no more.

Under this view, it would still be true that the degree of charity is proportioned to the degree of merits gathered on earth. But it would not be proportioned to the degree of charity at the moment of death. It would correspond to the degree of charity at the end of purgatory.

Souls that have entered purgatory by death-bed absolution, not preceded even by feeble merits, would naturally have glory corresponding to the degree of charity at the moment of death. But, solve this mysterious question as we may, the principle remains: [472] the degree of glory is proportioned to that of the merit acquired on earth. Hence the importance of learning to love God while we are still on earth. Life everlasting is the standard whereby to judge of life here below.

Ultimate Disposition for Heaven

Ultimate disposition, in its strictest sense, is realized only at the instant of the soul's entrance into glory, just as the last disposition for the creation of the human soul is not produced except at the very instant of the creation of this soul, or as the last disposition for justification does not exist except at the moment when sanctifying grace isinfused.
[473] The reason is that the disposition properly called ultimate precedes the form only in the order of material dispositive causality, but follows the form in all other orders of causality: formal, efficient, and final.

This ultimate disposition to the beatific vision, then, is realized only in the instant when the soul is glorified, and this instant is the one unique instant of participated eternity.

But may we find in the poor souls a disposition quasi-ultimate? In what would it consist? We may characterize it negatively and positively.

Negatively, this disposition excludes all sin, all defective disposition, all "remains of sin." The soul is completely purified, approaches definitive sanctity.

Positively this disposition is realized in different degrees: "In my Father's house there are many mansions." It includes firm faith and assured hope and, above all, ardent charity, an intense desire of God.
The sublime gift of the beatific vision cannot be granted to one who does not have this burning desire. Without this desire the soul would be still unprepared for the vision. In illustration, think of the teacher who reserves a sublime doctrine for those who appreciate its value, and thus are disposed to profit by it.

This intense desire is proportioned to charity. Some have twenty talents, others ten, others five, others still less, but each has an intense desire, "according to the measure of the gift of Christ." [474] Each in his own manner reaches full age in Christ. [475]

This quasi-ultimate disposition to glory supposes high perfection in infused virtue, and in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in particular a vivid faith which is penetrating and savorous, the infused contemplation of the mysteries of salvation. We find here then a confirmation of the doctrine we have often expounded. Infused contemplation belongs to the normal road of sanctity. If not learned on earth, it must be learned
in purgatory. Better learn it now with merit, than wait to learn it, in pain and without merit, after death.

Doctrine of St. Catherine of Genoa

St. Catherine's treatise, [476] dictated in ecstasy, has always been highly esteemed by theologians, who find therein a supplement of theological science. [477] We give here an outline of her teachings.

Chapter I. The souls in purgatory willingly remain where they are because God so wills it. They cannot sin. But neither do they merit by abstaining from sin.

Chapter 2. No peace can be compared to the peace of purgatory, unless it be the peace of heaven. Purgatorial peace grows continually as obstacles disappear. These obstacles are like rust. Excellence grows as the rust diminishes.

Chapter 3. God increases in them the desire to see Him. He enkindles in their heart a fire so strong that obstacles become insupportable.

Chapter 4. After life on earth the soul remains confirmed, either in good or in evil. Hence the souls in purgatory are confirmed in grace.

Chapter 5. God punishes the reprobate less than they merit.

Chapter 6. The souls in purgatory have perfect conformity with the will of God.

Chapter 7. Comparisons are weak. Yet we may think of one loaf of bread, capable, merely by being seen, of satisfying the hunger of all human creatures.

Chapter 8. Hell and purgatory manifest the wonderful wisdom of God. The separated soul goes naturally to its own place. The soul in the state of sin, finding no place more suitable, throws itself of its own accord into hell. And the soul which is not yet ready for divine union, casts itself voluntarily into purgatory.

Chapter 9. Heaven has no gates. Whoever will can enter there, because God is all goodness. But the divine essence is so pure that the soul, finding in itself obstacles, prefers to enter purgatory, and there to find in mercy the removal of the impediment.

Chapter 10. Their greatest suffering is that of having sinned against divine goodness, still finding those rusty "remains of sin."

Chapter 11. The soul feels God's loving attraction. But it feels also its own inability to follow this attraction. If it could find a purgatory still more excruciating, where it could more quickly be purified, it would at once plunge into it.

Chapter 12. I see the rays of faith which purify the soul, as fire in a crucible cleanses gold from dregs. When the soul is entirely purified, the fire can no longer cause pain.

Chapter 13. The soul's desire of God is itself a torment. God's mercy hides certain consequences of sin until they are destroyed, that the soul may understand the divine action which has restored its purity.

Chapter 14. These souls enjoy inexpressible peace, compounded of joy and pain, neither diminishing the other.

Chapter 15. If these souls could still merit, one single act of repentance would pay their debt, by reason of the intensity of this act. But they know that not one penny will be remitted. Such is the decree of divine justice. If prayers are offered for them by the living, they rejoice therein only according to the will of God, without any selfishness.

Chapter 16. As long as the process of purification lasts, these souls understand that the beatific vision is not for them. They would suffer more from that vision than they suffer in purgatory.

Chapter 17. Illumined on the necessity of reparation, they would cry out to men on earth: "O wretched creatures, why so blindly attached to things that pass? Why not make provision for the future? You say perhaps: 'I will go to confession, I will gain a plenary indulgence, I will be saved.' But remember that the adequate confession and the perfect contrition, required for gaining a plenary indulgence, are not easily attained."

Chapter 18. These souls would not in any way lessen their sufferings they have merited.

Chapter 19. These purgatorial pains, the saint adds, I have myself experienced these last two years. All consolation, corporal and spiritual, has gradually been taken from me. To conclude, only God's omnipotent mercy can cure human deficiency. This transformation is the work of purgatory.

Another mystic, Mother Mary of St. Austin, [478] compares the souls in purgatory with Mary Magdalen at the foot of the cross. She writes as follows: "Mary Magdalen, the penitent, at the foot of the cross: was she not penetrated by that light which reveals to souls in purgatory the malice of sin? She stood before the cross like a living mirror, without movement, her eyes lifted to Him. The sublimity of the revelation she received there surpasses all word, all thought, all sentiment. Christ's unspeakable holiness, His measureless pain, His radiating peace, wrapped her round. These three hours on Calvary were her purgatory. But she would not have given one moment of this pain for all the joys of Thabor. In our Lord and through Him she expiated her own faults, while all thought of herself disappeared. She was immersed in the contemplation of the Word made flesh, suffering for the sins of the world. In Him rather than in herself, she understood what sin means for God and for man. Surely here we have an image of the souls in purgatory. Calvary shows how divine light penetrates purgatorial darkness. It shows divine light radiating these silent souls with all the pains of Jesus crucified. Purgatorial pain and peace are found also on earth, beneath the holiness of Him who takes away the sins of the world."

These reflections lead us to think that passive purification, described by St. John of the Cross, should be undergone as far as possible during the present life, by generous acceptance of all contrarieties. Reparation is thus made with merit, and with growth in charity, and hence with a claim for a vision of God more penetrating, and a love of God more strong and intense. But souls that completely escape all purgatory are probably rather rare. Among the good religious whom St. Theresa knew, only three had completed their purgatory on earth.

The Purgatory of Perfect Souls

Monsignor A. Saudreau speaks thus of perfect souls: "The Lord leads even His friends through purifying pains, but He seems to regret that He must do so. He cannot refrain from consolations which sweeten their sufferings." [479] Moses was punished for a lack of confidence, dying before he could enter the promised land. But, on Mount Nebo, in the twinkling of an eye, God showed him the entire country which for forty years had been the object of his desires. [480]

"The Lord, for example, shows to generous souls how agreeable their generosity has been to Him, how fruitful it has been for others, how eternally profitable to themselves. These consolations enable them to suffer with great love. St. Lawrence on his gridiron suffered awful pains, but the ardor of his love let him find them very light. This truth illumines purgatory. Purification reveals God's ineffable goodness, His wisdom, His holiness, a holiness opposed even to the least spot. These souls, like the saints on earth, exercise submission, profound adoration. They accept with a courageous heart the sufferings which His holy will imposes on them, and which they deserve." [481]

Divine providence is irreproachable. It permits evils, which it might prevent, in view of a greater good, the manifestation of divine mercy and justice. This greater good becomes more and more clear to the soul as it approaches heaven. It understands the words of St. Paul: "All things work together unto good for those who love God." [482] Even the faults of these souls, says St. Augustine, work together unto good, as St. Peter's fall taught him humility. [483]


467. De novissimis, II, nos. 2, 3.
468. De summo bono, Bk. 11, chap. 29; cf. Dict. theol. cath., "Purgatoire," col. 1298.
469. Supplementum, q.71, a. 12; Quodlibet II, q. 7, a. 2; Quodlibet VIII, q. 5 a. 2.
470.  IIa IIae, q. 24, a. 6 ad 1.
471. John of St. Thomas, Gonet, Billuart, De caritate, diss. II, a.3, dico 40.
472. Denz., no. 692.
473. Ia IIae, q. 112, a. 2 ad 1; q. 113, a. 6-8; IIIa, q. 7, a. 13 ad 2. Cf. Billuart, De gratia, diss, VII, a.4, #4.
474. Eph. 4:7.
475. Ibid., 4:13.
476. Treatise on Purgatory. Cf. Dict. de spiritualite, "St. Catherine of Genoa," cols. 304 ff.
477. St. Catherine of Genoa, born in 1447, of the illustrious family of the Fieschi received great graces at a very early age. At the age of eight she began to sleep on straw, placing her head on a piece of hard wood. At twelve years she received the gift of prayer. At thirteen, feeling a strong vocation for the religious life, she attempted to enter among the Canonesses of the Lateran, in the convent where her sister Limbania had already been received. She was rejected on account of her youth, although her confessor interceded for her. At the age of sixteen,
yielding to the will of her parents, she married Julian Adorno. The choice was unhappy. He was a violent man, of bad morals, whereas she was pious and recollected.

During five years of deep aridity Catherine suffered sadness without remedy. In the meantime her husband dissipated her patrimony and brought the family into financial distress. She who was called to be a great saint began to feel discouragement. To forget this discouragement she gave herself to exterior affairs, and began to take pleasure in the delights and vanities of the world. It is probable that she never sinned mortally, but a great tepidity ruled her heart.

One day in great dejection, after praying to St. Benedict in the church which bears his name, she listened to her religious sister, and went to confession. This confession became her conversion.

Paulo de Savone relates the manner of this conversion. As she knelt down in the confessional. she received suddenly a wound in her heart, the wound of an immense love of God, with deep insight into her own misery, but also into God's goodness. In sentiments of contrition, love, recognition, she was purified, nearly fell to earth, had to suspend her confession, which she finished on the morrow. Jesus appeared to her carrying His cross. She did heroic penance, until God revealed to her that she had satisfied divine justice. She then spoke these words: "If I should go back, I would wish in punishment to have someone tear out my eyes, and this itself would be too small a punishment, because to turn back would be to lose the eyes of my soul, incomparably more precious than those of the body." She obtained the conversion of her husband and gave herself with him to care for the sick in the chief hospital of Genoa. She led at that time a life of intense union with God, and suffered much for the deliverance of souls from purgatory. A fire, mysterious and supernatural, tortured her frame and made her feel a hunger and thirst quite abnormal. During this time she had ecstasies of pain, during which she dictated her treatise on purgatory, which is as pithy as it is brief.

The Divine Crucible of Purgatory, by Mother Mary of St. Austin, Helper of the Poor Souls, New York, 1940, p. 61.

479. L'Ideal de l'ame fervente, 1920, p. 53.
480. Deut. 3:23 ff.
481. See note 37.
482. Rom 8:28.
483. See also the Visions of Purgatory, described in the
book already cited, Un Appel a l'Amour.