A “verse I never saw” regarding Purgatory?

Yesterday, I was teaching on “The Last Things” at St Benedict’s in Burwood for Anima Education. We picked up where we left off a couple of months ago, with the particular judgement and doctrine of purgatory. For the sake of this post, I have put up my notes for the lecture on Purgatory” target=”_blank”, which concentrate on the way in which Benedict XVI has taught the doctrine.

Specifically, in his dialogue with the exegesis of Joachim Gnilka on 1 Cor 13:10-15, Ratzinger has consistently taught a Christological and Christocentric interpretation of purgatory, in which:

1) Purgatory “is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints.”
2) Purgatory is in fact the purifying and transforming post-death encounter/dialogue of the soul with Christ the Judge
3) This “transforming moment” of encounter “cannot be quantified by the measurements of earthly time.” It is “not eternal but a transition”, an Existenzzeit, which cannot be measured in the time of this age.

You will get the details from my notes.

What I want to reflect on here, or simply suggest really, is a discovery that I made afterward when looking at St Paul’s teaching on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:51. There we have the well known statement of “a mystery”, viz. that “we will not all sleep [ie. die], but we will all be changed.”

I have always understood that in terms of resurrection, ie. that even for those who are alive at the Lord’s Parousia, there will be a bodily transformation which is the equivalent of resurrection, even though death (the separation of the body and the soul) has not occured, and this “perishable body” has not decayed.

But two things led our class to see this text in a further light. First, we had been talking of purgatory as a “transforming moment of dialogical encounter with the Lord” (Ratzinger’s terms), and secondly a class member asked “So no purgatory for those who are still alive when the Lord returns?”

Given that, as my friend Dr Adam Cooper said to me recently, the simple declaration of the abolishment of temporal consequences of sin is “a metaphysical impossibility”, then the purifying transformation that souls undergo in purgatory – (in Ratzinger’s words from “Eschatology”) “the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints” – must take place for all souls, not only those who experience the soul/body separation of death.

And that got me thinking. When Paul says “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed”, he is not limiting that change to the body. Our souls, and not only our bodies, need to become “capable” of eternal life and the beatific vision. The “change” then, is not only in the body (Resurrection), but also in the soul (Purgatory). Paul’s way of stating this assumes that those who have died (those who “sleep”) will undergo a change, and this “change” – to the natural soul as well as to the natural body – is perfectly in line with Ratzinger’s thinking. It is also in line with St Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 15:44ff that our “soulish bodies” must be changed into “spiritish bodies”, and what is “sown soulish must be raised spiritish”. (Note: too many English translations obsure the greek adjective “psychikos” at this point by translating it as “natural” or “physical”.

So both psyche (soul) and soma (body) undergo a change by which they are transformed by Christ. The word we have for this transformation of the body in English is “Resurrection”. Might I suggest (a little radically) that the corresponding word we could use for the equally necessary and corresponding transformation of the soul is “purgatory”?

One more reflection on this. Paul’s declaration that anyone who is in Christ even now, by virtue of faith and baptism, are “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17), points to the fact that this transforming encounter begins even here and now. We are all familiar with the description of baptism as a “dying” to sin and “rising” to new life. If Resurrection then can be envisaged as beginning already in our bodies even now (“Christ the first fruits of the harvest, and then us” 1 Cor 15:22ff), then can we not also say that the transformation of the soul begins here and now in this life? Of course! And that is exactly what the Church’s doctrine of Purgatory says: Purgatory is the completion of that very baptismal purification of the soul that begins even in this life.

How does all this strike you?

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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6 Responses to A “verse I never saw” regarding Purgatory?

  1. matthias says:

    The evangelical protestant side of me says “wrong-unscriptural -purgatory is a universalism thought up by the Catholic church.” That might be correct but it is an action of what Phillip Yancey calls ungrace.
    the catholic side of me says that when the writer of the Book of Hebrews says that after death there is the judgement leaves it open to the possibility that for Believers it might be purgatory,if they have died with unconfessed sins. Unbelievers who die in their trespasses and sins await the Last Judgement in a place aside,and Jesus makes that clear in the story of the Richman and the poor man.

  2. GAB says:

    Thanks for this, David. This resonates with me very strongly.

    I actually believed in Purgatory quite some time before becoming Catholic (it raised a few eyebrows at the time). It seemed to me to be a logical corollary to the doctrine of sanctification. You’ ve articulated here (and consolidated and deepened) ideas that have been knocking around in my brain for years.

    I was particularly struck by your friend Dr Cooper’s comment about instantaneous abolishment of the temporal consequences of sin being a metaphysical impossibility. Perhaps this is a good jump-off point for dialogue with our separated brethren? It seems to me that disagreement about that idea lies at the root of a number of other more obvious differences.

    • Schütz says:

      The problem is that with our “separated brethren” we are dealing with a combination of postitivism and nominalism that doesn’t understand the “metaphysical impossibility” in the first place.

      I meant to mention a comment of another friend of mine, also ex-Lutheran now-Catholic, that the whole point of indulgences is the “good of your soul”. This comment dove-tails with the idea of the transformation of the soul. The devotional/charitable activities undertaken bring one’s soul into encounter with God and thus into the transformation – ie. “the good of the soul”.

  3. Jim Ryland says:

    David,

    Purgatory doctrine is, more than anything, a victim of bad press. To purge does not mean burning, torture, and all the other stuff attached to the “common myth” concerning its nature. It simply means “a place or state of cleansing”, something doctrinally sound and scripturally supported. Its nature is beyond our knowledge.

    Perhaps the Church might rename it just as the fishing industry renamed Slimeheads to Orange Roughy to increase market appeal. ;-)

  4. David,

    I posted a link to this post on my Facebook, and tagged a number of people I’d like to engage this post. They come from many different perspectives. I have a Confessional Lutheran friend, some Calvinists, an Open Theists and of course Catholics. I’ll encourage them to also post here if you like.

    To engage the post directly, Pope Benedict’s theology and mine are very, very close, particularly as he sees Purgatory. It just makes so much sense. And it does not surprise me then that you should gain some intriguing insight into this Scriptural verse (never saw it before either) when in the context of the Pope of the Word of God as he has recently been dubbed.

    I think it is because he is the Pope of the Word that he is also the Pope of Christian Unity, as Father Z calls him.

  5. Christine says:

    When Paul says “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed”, he is not limiting that change to the body. Our souls, and not only our bodies, need to become “capable” of eternal life and the beatific vision. . . . (in Ratzinger’s words from “Eschatology”) “the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints” – must take place for all souls, not only those who experience the soul/body separation of death.

    Fits perfectly.

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