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?