On using Penal Language for Purgatory

I spent a while this afternoon composing a response to this post on Pastor Mark Henderson’s blog “Glosses from an Old Manse”: “The Quality of mercy is not strained”. He has two other posts on the subject, John Chrysostom’s teaching on the Good Thief and some instructions from St Anselm.

In the end I gave up (after having written five pages) and thought, “This needs more work to tighten it up”. The more I thought about it, I realised that there was a basic disjunction between the material I was reading on Purgatory and the material that Pastor Mark was reading. He was using primarily the Council of Trent and the traditional Canon Law “penal language”. I was using the early councils (Lyons and Florence) and the Catechism and Ratzinger/Benedict.

Well before I go on any further, I will just post here a little dialogue that Mark and I had on his blog:

Schütz said…

I will read this and get back to you soon.

Pr Mark Henderson said…

OK David. David. If you respond, let’s keep focussed on the main issue, the penal character of purgatorial suffering, and how that can be made to square with the atonement.

PS. I have no problem with temporal sufferings being remedial, i.e. designed to draw us closer to Christ; that is part of the Reformation theology of the cross. Of course I deny such sufferings take place after death – in light of the benefits of the atonement that would be redundant. It seems to me that by emphasising this point so much you are ackonwledging a problem with the doctrine of a penal purgatory as taught in the official pronoucenments of your church. Or perhaps you haven’t quite grappled with this contradiction yet?)

Schütz said…

If you respond, let’s keep focussed on the main issue, the penal character of purgatorial suffering, and how that can be made to square with the atonement… Or perhaps you haven’t quite grappled with this contradiction yet?

I am going to be absolutely candid and admit that you are right.

Now that you have picked yourself up from the floor, let me explain:

I think there is some real difficulties with the penal language of Trent and other aspects of the tradition in regard to purgatory.

But I see in both the Catechism and in Pope Ratzinger’s teaching some real indications of an awareness that this is a problem, and that the tradition of penal language to describe purgatory is not (today at least) the most helpful; and moreover that these penal metaphors are not “of the essence” of the doctrine as such.

I am convinced that there is in fact a point of meeting – as you yourself have begun to acknowledge in saying that you “have no problem with temporal sufferings being remedial, i.e. designed to draw us closer to Christ; that is part of the Reformation theology of the cross.”

I am also convinced that we are not bound to continue to use the metaphors which the Church has used in the past, especially if they fail to communicate the truth of the doctrine in question. As a small example of this, we note how it was once standard to refer to “days” and “years” in purgatory – such language has been entirely done away with.

In his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict urges those engaged in ecumenical dialogue to return to the Scriptures and seek in them the unity of the faith of the Church.

I declare myself here and now entirely prepared for such a project. I welcome it, confident that the Tradition of the Church is in conformity with the Scrpitural witness. At the same time, I am ready for the Scriptures to challenge the language and metaphors that we use.

Are you?

This now is a project that I need to work on. I need to clarify completely what the Church means by “temporal punishments”. Your help would be appreciated here. I went to the Daniel Mannix Library this afternoon and could find very little on the subject (post Vatican II anyway). I picked up Archbishop Michael Sheehan’s “Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine” (as edited by Father Peter Joseph), and that was certainly helpful – at least in showing me how predominant the penal language Pastor Mark is accustomed to hearing about has been in the Church.

Basically, I see two different approaches at work here. No one can deny that the doctrine of Purgatory arose out of the penitential practice of the Western Church as it developed in the first ten centuries. Ratzinger spends a whole 10 of the 16 pages on the Purgatory in his book “Eschatology” on the history of the doctrine. But he also goes on to demonstrate that the history of the doctrine is not determinative for the essential nature of the doctrine itself. The fact is that there has always been another strand of language used of purgatory – language, in fact, from which purgatory gets its very name: the metaphor of purification. The latter tends to be less legalistic and more relational (BTW, I think Pastor Mark is incorrect in his post on the subject in thinking that language of expiation is “forensic” – it is actually cultic). It is certainly open to a Christological and indeed Christocentric understanding of Purgatory in a way that the language of punishment and satisfaction is not. This is the line that Pope Benedict took in his book “Eschatology” and in his second encyclical “Spe Salvi”. Pastor Mark does not show any familiarity with this material.

Also, I think there is something absolutely essential in this pararaph from the Catechism:

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain [cf. Council of Trent(1551): DS 1712-1713;(1563): 1820].

The Catechism stresses that the punishment for sin, both temporal and eternal, are not “a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without”, that is, they are not arbitrary acts of God which he can either choose to count against one or ignore according to whim. They are both necessary consequences arising from the very nature of sin itself. Joseph Ratzinger himself writes in his book, “Eschatology” that:

Purgatory “is not, as Tertullian thought, some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where man is forced to undergo punishment in a more or less arbitrary fashion.”

Also there is the insistence in the Catechism that

the final purification of the elect…is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. (CCC §1031)

When you think about it, the only reason that such an assertion could have been made by the writers of the Catechism is that they were aware how easily the use of penal language for both Purgatory and Hell could cause confusion and could obscure the real grace of the doctrine of Purgatory. It is almost as if they are urging us to make the distinction by any possible means.

Now, I have to go into this much deeper and much further at some other point. The thing I want to say here is that I acknowlege Pastor Mark’s complaint. He is quite correct. Read the way he is reading the doctrine (and no protestant could read it any other way) the traditional language of punishment and satisfaction for purgatory DOES obscure the grace and mercy of God. My point is that this is NOT the way Catholics read this language, AND that the Catholic Church is itself at this point of time and at the very highest levels (the POPE for goodness sake!) seeking language that brings the truth of the doctrine of Purgatory (and hence of “temporal punishments” for sin) to light and clarity.

To be continued…

PS. But not before I give you all a quiz question.

True or false: Baptism extinguishes any debt of temporal punishment which we may have incurred through actual sin committed before Baptism.

This was in fact a question I had at my Last Things course last Saturday, and according to the source I am currently looking at, I gave the wrong answer. I think there is a key to the problem here somewhere, because, in the way that I both understood the question and meant my reply, I don’t see how I could have been wrong.

UPDATE: Pastor Mark has replied to my comment on his blog:

Pr Mark Henderson said…
Well, having indeed just picked myself up off the floor, I notice it’s past my bedtime. I have a big day tomorrow and will travel c. 200kms doing numerous visits before getting back to Toowoomba to attend a meeting at 7.00pm, which is a circumlocutionary way of saying I may not get back to you until Thursday, David. But I must say I’m intrigued by your proposal. However, I should say I can’t see how Rome can reform its doctrine on this without serious implications for the authority of the Magisterium.

Now, define your canon of scripture…

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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43 Responses to On using Penal Language for Purgatory

  1. There is so much confusion here, on so many levels, from so many sources, that it’s hard to know where to begin. I’ll start from the end of the post and work backwards.

    “True or false: Baptism extinguishes any debt of temporal punishment which we may have incurred through actual sin committed before Baptism.”

    True, of course, and the failure to address Catholic doctrine’s distinction between the manner in which satisfaction is to be wrought for pre-Baptism sins and for post-Baptism sins is one of the major failings of Mr. Henderson’s piece (which I refuted here); he might disagree with Catholic doctrine, but he could at least try to be clear on what the relevant Catholic doctrine is.

    “My point is that this is NOT the way Catholics read this language”

    Which Catholics? Conciliar ones, apparently. I’m not sure how Protestants ‘read’ “the traditional language of punishment and satisfaction for purgatory”, but if they’re reading it in the literal and grammatical sense of the teachings of Trent then they are reading it the right way, and as Trent itself clearly teaches,

    “If anyone says that the satisfactions by which penitents atone for their sins through Jesus Christ are not a worship of God, but the traditions of men, obscuring the doctrine of grace, the true worship of God, and the very beneficence of the death of Christ: let him be anathema”
    http://www.catecheticsonline.com/SourcesofDogma10.php

    “AND that the Catholic Church is itself at this point of time and at the very highest levels (the POPE for goodness sake!) seeking language that brings the truth of the doctrine of Purgatory (and hence of “temporal punishments” for sin) to light and clarity.”

    But since the teachings “at this point of time” are not of the Extraordinary Magisterium, we need to see how they accord with teachings at every other point of time, i.e. we need to see whether they belong to the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium. (Trent’s, on the other hand, are of the Extraordinary Magisterium, and hence our obedience to them–not just in their content but even in their expression–is owed unconditionally.)

    “The Catechism stresses that the punishment for sin, both temporal and eternal, are not “a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without”, that is, they are not arbitrary acts of God which he can either choose to count against one or ignore according to whim.”

    Strange. Whence does vengeance come if not from without? And what does the C.C.C. even mean by vengeance? Traditionally, vengeance is considered the virtue which inclines one to inflict a penal evil in retribution for wrong-doing. Thus St. Thomas teaches that “[v]engeance consists in the infliction of a penal evil on one who has sinned” (Summa, IIa IIæ, q. 108., a. 1). And true vengeance is never something ‘arbitrary’.

    “On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin.”

    The C.C.C. is, as in many places, confused here. Traditionally, by ‘attachments to sin’ is meant our vices and our lack of repentence for sin, not whatever debt of punishment remains to be satisfied. (This is clear from the fact that under Paul VI.’s (regrettable)reforms to the granting of Indulgences, a very great degree of freedom from attachment to sin is required in order to obtain an Indulgence. ) Thus even if, as the C.C.C. itself recognises is hypothetically possible, one dies after having purified oneself of one’s vices and has repented for all sins while still here on earth, one will still have to go to Purgatory even if only temporal punishment remains to be expiated.

    “BTW, [you] think Pastor Mark is incorrect in his post on the subject in thinking that [Catholic] language of expiation is “forensic””

    Agreed, but for reasons other than yours (I think)–in the relevant paragraph (number seven, by my reckoning) of his piece he speaks of Paul VI. using ‘legal metaphors’, when in fact His late Holiness wrote literally, not figuratively.

    “This is the line that Pope Benedict took in his book “Eschatology” and in his second encyclical “Spe Salvi”. Pastor Mark does not show any familiarity with this material.”

    Why should he (Pastor Mark)? Eschatology was pre-Papal, and Spe salvi is a mere encyclical–if he’s familiar with the (ex-Cathedra-level) teachings of Trent then he’s set.

    “As a small example of this, we note how it was once standard to refer to “days” and “years” in purgatory”

    No it wasn’t–we referred not to days or years in Purgatory, but to a sentence in Purgatory equivalent to x days or months or years of earthly penance.

    “But [you] see in both the Catechism and in Pope Ratzinger’s teaching some real indications of an awareness that this is a problem, and that the tradition of penal language to describe purgatory is not (today at least) the most helpful; and moreover that these penal metaphors are not “of the essence” of the doctrine as such.”
    [my emphasis]

    The part which I’ve put in bold is heretical on two levels: Firstly, because the penal language is literal, not figurative, and secondly, because it’s essential to the doctrine (on Purgatory)–as I said, even if an hypothetical Christian dies without any attachments to sin (vices and lack of repentence), he will still have to go to Purgatory even if he only owes temporal punishment.

    “[You] think there is some real difficulties with the penal language of Trent and other aspects of the tradition in regard to purgatory.”

    Difficulties for whom? As I see it there would be two kinds of person for whom penal language would be ‘difficult’:

    1. ‘Modern man’, for whom vengeance and retribution are dirty words, and for whom true justice is distorted to become the presently-fashionable ‘restorative justice’.
    2. Protestants, for reasons reflected in the anathematisms of Trent.

    “If you respond [to Mr. Henderson], let’s keep focussed on the main issue, the penal character of purgatorial suffering, and how that can be made to square with the atonement.”

    There is objective redemption, and there is subjective redemption; there is the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement, and there is its efficiency. Although the entire debt of both eternal and temporal punishment is satisfied for through Baptism, God willed that, for sins committed after Baptism, satisfaction, wrought either by one’s own actions or by Christ’s satisfaction being re-applied through an Indulgence, for temporal punishment is required. Contrary to what Mr. Henderson says, this involves no contradiction in God’s love, because whereas justice involves a certain value greater or less than which one can be said to have been unjust, charity has no level greater or less than which one can be said to have been uncharitable (and indeed there are many advantages to satisfaction anyway–see the section “Advantages of satisfaction” in the Roman Catechism). So if your friend owes someone else a certain amount of money, and you agree to pay off the debt, in full, on his behalf, but insist that he has to pay some share of future debts incurred, then you cannot be said to have been uncharitable, since you owed nothing in the first place.

    • Schütz says:

      Thanks for this, Reg. That is the kind of reflection and reaction that will be helpful to this discussion. I do not agree with all you have said – I would certainly not play off the “regrettable” reforms of Paul VI, or the “confused” Catechism, or the “only an” encyclical of Pope Benedict against Trent. The point is that all of these are indications of the direction in which the Magisterium is taking this discussion here and now. It is true that no ecumenical council has addressed the issue in detail since, but Jeff Pinyan (author of Praying the Mass) gives a good run down of recent magisterial teaching on his blog here. It is interesting to note that the language of purification is dominant in each of these statements rather than penal language.

      • “The point is that all of these are indications of the direction in which the Magisterium is taking this discussion here and now.”

        I’m not greatly interested in ‘here and now’; I’m interested in ‘everywhere and always’ and everyone (Vincentian Canon).

        One other thing: When I wrote that comment I hadn’t followed up what you were talking about when you wrote that you were

        “using the early councils (Lyons and Florence) ….”

        I’ve now read your teaching notes on Purgatory, and Lyons and Florence seem to contradict you directly on the penal aspect of Purgatory being, so you (incorrectly) say, non-essential:

        Second Council of Lyons (1274)
        “• We believe … that the souls, by the purifying compensation are purged after death.”

        Council of Florence (1439)
        “• “If they have died repentant for their sins and having love of God, but have not made satisfaction for things they have done or omitted by fruits worthy of penance, then their souls, after death, are cleansed by the punishment of Purgatory; also . . . the suffrages of the faithful still living are efficacious in bringing them relief from such punishment, namely the Sacrifice of the Mass, prayers and almsgiving and other works of piety which, in accordance with the designation of the Church, are customarily offered by the faithful for each other.””
        [bold in the original, italics added]

        P.S. Your link beginning “gives a good run down” in your comment doesn’t work. I’d be interested to read the linked material.

        • One last thing: Regarding Lyons’ choice of the term “purifying compensation”: From The Catechism of the Council of Trent, the section “The Third Part of Penance”:

          “GENERAL MEANING OF THE WORD “SATISFACTION”

          “Satisfaction is the full payment of a debt; for that is sufficient or satisfactory to which nothing is wanting. Hence, when we speak of reconciliation to favor, to satisfy means to do what is sufficient to atone to the angered mind for an injury offered; and in this sense satisfaction is nothing more than compensation for an injury done to another. But, to come to the object that now engages us, theologians make use of the word satisfaction to signify the compensation man makes, by offering to God some reparation for the sins he has committed.”
          [http://www.catecheticsonline.com/Trent2.php]

          (The whole section “The Third Part of Penance” is well worth reading, and not long. The sub-sections “Source of the Efficacy of Satisfactory Works” and “VARIOUS KINDS OF SATISFACTION TO GOD” would be particularly advisable for Protestants.)

        • Schütz says:

          Lyons and Florence do indeed speak in penitential terms of the “punishment” and “compensation” and “satisfaction” of purgatory, but they do it with the emphasis on the adjectival qualifier “purifying” and “cleansing”. Purifying and cleansing are not “legal” or “forensic” metaphors.

          I think we have to remember that both these Councils were “ecumenical” not only in the official sense, but also in the sense of seeking unity among Christians, as both were occasions for seeking rapproachment with the East. They therefore focused on terminology that would be acceptable – or at least able to be heard – by their Eastern brethren. Trent, on the other hand, was of a decidedly different nature, and had the goal of reinforcing the traditional Western doctrine over against the Reformers denial of the doctrine. This is significant, I think, as the East also denies our doctrine of purgatory. But Lyons and Florence sought a description of the doctrine which took into account the sensibilities of the East, whereas Trent – aside from the assertion that the doctrine of Purgatory was in no way to be taken as obscuring the full satisfaction that Christ made for sin or his glory in doing so – was not so sensitive (for good reasons, perhaps).

          Nevertheless, today we need to find a way of speaking about Purgatory to our ecumenical dialogue partners which helps open them to accepting this important doctrine of the Catholic faith. Some have sought to do this by simply ignoring or playing down the doctrine – this is unacceptable. But it is entirely valid to seek a point of agreement, which may mean that we need to find a new way of speaking of the doctrine.

    • Jon says:

      Cardinal Pole: The C.C.C. is, as in many places, confused here.

      In the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, Pope John Paul II writes regarding said Catechism: “I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith…” How can a sure norm be confused? Or are you publically dissenting from a teaching document of the ordinary papal magisterium, which demands, according to Lumen Gentium, “religious submission of mind and will”?

  2. Matthias says:

    In all of this conversation i do not see one reference to Scripture. I note references to Canon law and the catechism but not one jot of a Biblical reference ,which would have been helpful to my undertsanding of purgatory,because to me that is what a doctrine stands or falls on.

  3. David,

    I’m glad your’re following this up and I look forward to your findings. But can I question your methodology at the outset? If one wants to understand the position of a church, one goes to the official documents, which is exactly what I have done. This is particularly necessary with the Catholic Church because while this body tolerates a lot of theological opinions, it is quite clear that only official teaching documents of the Magisterium have authority.

    Yes, it’s very interesting what the Fathers or even Ratzinger say (and I have his Eschatology, btw, and have read it several times), but even in Ratzinger’s case his personal views are subordinate to the teaching of the Magisterium. In other words Paul VI’s statement on Indulgences and the understanding of Purgatory as having a definite penal element trumps Ratzinger.

    Now, if we’re agreed on the “unhelpfulness”, to use your words, of the penal understanding of Purgatory, it seems to me you have a couple of problems:

    1) This is not, I contend, just a matter of theological interpretation or a development of doctrine that didn’t quite “take”, but a formal error that goes to the heart of the Christian faith, i.e. the nature, extent and benefits of the atonement.

    2) Where, then, does that leave the authority of the Roman Magisterium?

    Which brings me to the great weakness, as it seems to me, of the Roman position, and that is the irreformability of its doctrinal positions.

    Kind regards,
    Mark

    • Schütz says:

      No, I don’t think there is a problem with my methodololgy at all. The Magisterial texts stand as they are, and they affirm the essential truths of the doctrine. However, the development of doctrine always takes place through theological reflection upon all the data – Scripture, Tradition and Magisterial teaching. There is always room for the further development of language used to express a doctrine. Magisterial teaching is timebound like all other expressions of faith. Development of those teachings may find different and more appropriate ways of expressing the doctrine so that it is understood and received by the faithful. Of necessity, theological reflection precedes Magisterial teaching on any particular point. Pope Benedict’s teaching in Spe Salvi, the Catechism, Pope Paul’s Constitution on Indulgences (especially bringing an end to speaking of “years” and “days” in purgatory) and a re-appropriation of the earlier Conciliar teachings are all a part of this. It is no different in the Lutheran Church. The Book of Concord stands as an historical confession, but theology did not end in 1580, even if Lutherans have not since issued any “magisterial teaching” of the same nature.

      • “There is always room for the further development of language used to express a doctrine.”

        Not with irreformable statements like those of Trent. Legitimate development of doctrine is the explicit stating of what was previously only implicit in a stated doctrine, not a different explicit statement of a previous explicit statement.

        “… especially bringing an end to speaking of “years” and “days” in purgatory”

        I have to correct you on this again: The Church never spoke of days or years in Purgatory, but rather, of a sentence in Purgatory equivalent to the suffering involved in performing x days or years of earthly penance.

        • Schütz says:

          Yes, thank you for the repeated clarification. I have been careless in the way in which I have expressed myself. Nevertheless, if the Church no longer speaks of Purgatory in terms of “a sentence…equivalent to the suffering involved in performing x days or years of earthly penance”, I think we can take this as an indication that the Church wants us to think in different terms, that of “plenary” or “partial”, which applies just as well to “purification” as to “satisfaction”.

          May I just point out the difference between doing theology and simply repeating the formulations of the past? The Magisterium gives us defined teaching so that we have an anchor and a guide for our theological reflection – they are not the end of theological reflection. It remains entirely valid and indeed necessary for theologians to seek ways of explaining the Magisterium’s teaching in a way that helps understanding. If a certain formulation actually impedes understanding – as I think the language of “satisfaction” and “penal punishments” does, then theology has every right to seek new formulations that remain faithful to the doctrines but speak into a new context.

          • Ah…Cardinal Pole is my kind of Catholic! I appreciate his clarity of thought on this matter .

            David, I find this all very interesting and helpful, but pastoral duties have prevented me from even reading it all, not to mention forming a considered response.

            This will happen in due time, d.v. This is too important a subject to rush discussion on. I must say I’m impressed by the generally civil tone of the discussion too, even Cardinal Reg’s comments – he once expressed a desire to see me burned at the stake, if I recall correctly, not a convenient position from which to conduct a dialogue!

            So, a response will appear over at Glosses in the next couple of weeks – keep you eyes out and in any case I will notify you privately.

            In the meantime, you might be interested to know that before Monday I’ll be posting an argument for the solemnity of ‘Christ the King’ to appear in the LCA’s lectionary.

            • “[You] must say [you’re] impressed by the generally civil tone of the discussion too, even Cardinal Reg’s comments – [I] once expressed a desire to see [you] burned at the stake, if [you] recall correctly”

              You recall incorrectly, and, weasel words (‘if you recall correctly’) notwithstanding, what you’ve just done is to calumniate me. I have never expressed, and do not have now, nor have I ever had, a desire to see you killed, or harmed in any way, and so I ask that you provide proof to the contrary or retract what you have written. (Naturally, I’ll bring your calumny to the attention of this blog’s moderator.)

  4. JoyfulPapist says:

    This is very much a personal piece of musing, but may contribute something towards understanding how Catholics understand the concept:
    http://joyfulpapist.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/heaven-purgatory-and-hell/

    • Schütz says:

      Thanks, Judy. This is the kind of reflection that is natural and common to us all as Catholics who reflect on this doctrine today. My challenge is that we need to show how this relates to the tradition of using penal language to speak of Purgatory. It is undeniable that purgatory/purgation of our sins involves suffering and pain; but there are two very different and traditional pictures for this: the first is that of the “purifying fire” and the second is that of “satisfaction/punishment”. They are not the same picture, and that is why, contra Reggy Pole, I am inclined to think that both are “metaphorical” ways of speaking of the same reality. If this can be sustained, then the question is which is the most appropriate language to use in conveying the truth of the doctrine of Purgatory to a) Protestants, and b) contemporary spirituality.

      • “It is undeniable that purgatory/purgation of our sins involves suffering and pain; but there are two very different and traditional pictures for this: the first is that of the “purifying fire” and the second is that of “satisfaction/punishment””

        Punishment is nothing other than the imposition by a lawful authority of some suffering, of a deprivation of a good of which one has shown oneself unworthy, in order to satisfy the debt of justice which one incurs when one does wrong.

        “[You are] inclined to think that both are “metaphorical” ways of speaking of the same reality.”

        The Magisterium speaks literally, not figuratively (unless explicitly adverting to the fact that it is speaking figuratively, by saying something like ‘as it were’ or ‘so to speak’ or something like that). Magisterial documents are supposed to be like a textbook, not a piece of poetry or something. (If I’m not mistaken, even ‘fire’ is meant literally–in effect, if not in cause. That is, in the torment which being burned produces in one’s soul. But I’m only mentioning this parenthetically because (a) I’m not quite sure, and (b) it’s the question of whether punishment/satisfaction is meant literally which is the point at issue.)

        • Schütz says:

          Yes, the “effect” is “like a fire”, ie. this is a metaphor.

          Your definition of punishment is sound, but leaves itself open to misunderstandings, and requires a further question.

          The misunderstanding – which Pastor Mark demonstrates – is the idea that there is anything arbitrary about this punishment, “imposed from without” in the Catechism’s terms. Rather, it is “punishment” which “satisfies the debt of justice” – the justice and righteousness of God being the underlying issue here. God would not be just if he simply overlooked or dismissed the “temporal” consequences of sin (Paul wrestles with this in Romans 1:18-3:20, but in respect of the eternal punishment for sin, not the temporal).

          And that brings us to the question, which Pastor Mark raises. IF Christ’s death on the cross is sufficient “satisfaction” for the guilt of sin (“the eternal punishment”), why is it not “sufficient” for “temporal punishment”. We have to be able to answer Mark on this score. As he would put it: If God is indeed merciful, and if Christ’s suffering is “all-sufficient”, then why do we still need to “make satisfaction”?

          I am feeling my way to an answer here, and the rough outline of my reflection is that the “full satisfaction” of Christ’s death is applied in different ways appropriate to the eternal/temporal distinction of the consequences of sin. Simply put, the “eternal satisfaction” is applied in eternity, and the “temporal satisfaction” is applied in time. Because we are “in time” and not “in eternity” the working out of God’s grace in Christ in time is different from the way in which it works out in eternity. In time, we are involved as responsible persons and in a “process” of purification. Thus our own acts of devotion and charity are able to have an “effect” in the “process” in time (“effect” and “process” do not apply to eternity where there is no change). That our actions are able to have any purifying affect at all is precisely due to the all-sufficient merits of Christ, without which there would never be any satisfaction, for the guilt of our sins would be eternal and infinite. Indulgences then are the direct application in time of the Grace and Merits of Christ, which necessarily involve us personally.

          This may or may not be the right tack.

  5. Robert says:

    Matthias, in his comment, laments the lack of scriptural references in this discussion. But what about 2 Maccabees 12:46, which bears directly upon purgatorial doctrine, and which is part of a book that Catholicism has always regarded as scripturally canonical (even if Lutheranism has not)? Come to think of it, I vaguely recall seeing Anglican Bibles in my childhood which had Maccabees included.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Article VI of the XXXIX Articles (1563) said that the deuterocanonical books (plus a couple more) are “read for example of life and instruction of manners” but are not applied “to establish any doctrine”.

      The Authorised Version (1611) contained these books in a kind of appendix between the OT and the NT, and this remained the normal arrangement (at least in AV editions produce in British possessions) until well into the nineteenth century, when editions omitting them started to be produced.

      The Luther Bible (1534, and therefore predating the Council of Trent, which defined them as canonical) followed the same practice of including them betweent the OT and the NT.

      It is, I think, the Calvinist/Reformed tradition which rejected them most strongly, and it is probably bibles produced within that tradition which first omitted them entirely.

      • Schütz says:

        As I said to Pastor Mark on his blog, I don’t think we have to agree on the issue of the canonicity of Maccabbees for the passage to be relevant to our discussion. The fact is that the story in Maccabees is evidence of a development in the Jewish understanding of the afterlife, just like the gradual realisation of the resurrection. It thus forms a background to the accepted (by the Pharisees/Rabbinical Judaism at least) of a certain picture or framework concerning the after life. It doesn’t “prove” the doctrine of Purgatory (except for those who accept Maccabees as divinely revealed scripture – ie. Catholics) but it does give us ground for thinking that it is this picture of the afterlife which early (Jewish) Christianity (and by implication, the New Testament) accepted – especially given as there is nothing in the NT which rejects this view explicitly.

        Generally, as Ratzinger point out in Eschatology, we may put it this way: the early Church did not reject anything of the Jewish picture of the afterlife. Rather their experience of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth led them to a rethinking of the whole picture of the afterlife and of eschatology. This process of rethinking was not entirely completed during the period of the writing of the New Testament, any more than the Jewish reflection on these doctrines was completed at that time, although absolutely we must affirm that in terms of the data of revelation, the data for forming our Christian doctrine is completely found in the NT. This is similar then to other doctrines of the Church, such as Christology or Trinity: all the data was there, but it required continued reflection over a period of centuries for the Church to fully express in systematic terms what that revelation taught.

  6. David,

    My memory is spotty at the moment, but one of the great works of Aquinas, it seems to me, handles this difficulty. I will have to look when I get home, but it seems that Aquinas does speak of how such and such an action can be both like a penal punishment for the sake of satisfying justice and yet also be consistent/harmonious with the mercy of God etc. I’m not expressing it well, because the reference is only a vague sort of memory I need to look up. But I’m pretty sure Tommy Aquino addressed this.

  7. I also want to echo your thought to Pr Henderson. I don’t see this as much of a difficulty for the teaching authority of the Church as he does. I think this stems from the notion that what Trent said is often not as interesting as what people think Trent said, or what people think Trent meant.

    I think you’re absolutely right that what Trent said about the essence of the doctrine is not incompatible with the present thinking. If anything it’s more of a laying on of different stress; a focusing on an aspect that is more appropriate to lead people to Christ now. I also don’t see that as being undermining, contra Pole, to the Extraordinary Magisterial Authority of Trent. It seems it enhances, making the Magisterial teaching a living teaching, rather than a dead letter consigned to the past.

    • “[You] think [Mr. Schütz is] absolutely right that what Trent said about the essence of the doctrine is not incompatible with the present thinking.”

      But Mr. Schütz’s argument–the “present thinking”–is that “these penal metaphors are not “of the essence” of the doctrine as such”, which undermines Trent in at least two ways: Firstly, because Trent spoke literally, not figuratively (Purgatory doesn’t just metaphorically involve punishment), and secondly, because Trent’s teaching was irrerformable, and hence essential for a correct understanding of the doctrine on Purgatory.

      • “… irrerformable …”

        sorry, that should be “irreformable”

        • Cardinal Pole,

          No worries, I know what you meant. I’d be a horrid hypocrite if I criticised anyone for spelling deficiencies when I am a chronic offender.

          I guess I am curious as to the way in which this, from Spe Salvi, contradicts the teaching of Trent?

          Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. … His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. …

          Now, I am sure the Holy Father meant far more recent theologians than Sr Francis de Sales, but no less a man than he used strikingly similar terms in his masterly defence of the doctrine. In his text, he speaks of the encounter being one with the Blood of Christ.

          I have yet to find the reference in the Angelic Doctor’s writing, but I think the Pope’s idea that the encounter is with Christ, who is both Judge and Saviour, is elegant in melding the two seemingly separate ideas: penal punishment, healing purification. Only Jesus can do this, of course. And since only Jesus can be both Just Judge and Merciful Saviour, without contradiction, so also can this encounter be both without contradiction.

          (Thanks to Jeffrey Pinyan, who posted below and got me thinking about the language of Spe Salvi and where I had read something similar before.)

          • And see? I am guilty of my own spelling hiccough. That should be St not Sr Francis de Sales.

            I’m sorry St Francis; pray for us, especially those like me who are unable to spell!

          • I don’t think that the quotation beginning “Some recent theologians” necessarily contradicts Trent, since it doesn’t argue that penal language regarding Purgatory is figurative or non-essential.

      • Schütz says:

        Firstly, because Trent spoke literally, not figuratively (Purgatory doesn’t just metaphorically involve punishment), and secondly, because Trent’s teaching was irrerformable, and hence essential for a correct understanding of the doctrine on Purgatory.

        Well, first, I still think penal language is “metaphorical”, just as the language of “fire” and “equivalent time” is metaphorical, because we are using the analogy of something we know in this life (systems of penal punishment) to explain something that we have not experienced and which is a spiritual and divine mystery.

        Secondly, I agree that Trent’s teaching is “irreformable”, but that does not mean that this teaching cannot find new ways of expression that may be more appropriate to the context in which we are speaking. In the present case, we our dialogue is with our Protestant, Orthodox and secular brethren and sistern. And that requires a different way of speaking. We are not forbidden to seek new analogies (as I think Pope Benedict does in Spe Salvi) or to revive and modify old ones (such as the “purifying fire”).

        • “[You] still think penal language is “metaphorical”, … because we are using the analogy of something we know in this life (systems of penal punishment) to explain something that we have not experienced and which is a spiritual and divine mystery.”

          No, a penalty or punishment is literally a deprivation of a good of which one has shown oneself unworthy, so Purgatory is literally penal and punitive. Also, if it is to be regarded as figurative because it is “something that we have not experienced and which is a spiritual and divine mystery” then that would mean that basically the whole body of Christian doctrine is figurative.

          “[You] agree that Trent’s teaching is “irreformable”, but that does not mean that this teaching cannot find new ways of expression that may be more appropriate to the context in which we are speaking.”

          Nevertheless, for those “new ways” to be legitimately successful they must produce assent, at least implicit, to the ‘old ways’.

          Back on Monday.

  8. Here is the link to my list of magisterial documents on purgation/purification:
    http://thecrossreference.blogspot.com/2009/03/purgatory-since-vatican-ii.html

  9. matthias says:

    Yes Jules i realise that the catechism is based upon Scripture , but when it comes to Purgatory -unlike hell or heaven-it is not as clear . Perhaps Schutz is right that it is a prurificaiton of the Believer,but where does it palce St Paul’s statement “Absent from the body and present with the Lord”?

    • Saying “X and Y” does not mean “X implies Y”, as my logic course taught me in college.

      If I say, “I’d like to be on the couch and watching TV,” it does not mean that being on the couch necessitates watching TV, just like saying “wash your hands and come to the dinner table” does not mean the person comes to the table with their hands clean (since something can happen in between the washing and the arrival at the table).

  10. Chris Jones says:

    Mr Schütz,

    I can’t help but think that both Pr Henderson and Cdl Pole are on more solid ground in looking to Trent for normative Roman Catholic doctrine, than you are in trying to find something else in more recent “development of doctrine.”

    I myself am partial to Fr John Behr’s view on this matter:

    A tradition with potential for growth ultimately undermines the Gospel itself; it would leave open the possibility for further revelation, and therefore the Gospel would no longer be sure and certain. If our faith is one and the same as that of the apostles, then, as Irenaeus claimed, it is equally immune from improvement by articulate or speculative thinkers, as well as diminution by inarticulate believers (cf. AH 1.10.3) … there is therefore no such thing as dogmatic development. What there is, of course, is ever new, more detailed and comprehensive explanations elaborated in defense of one and the same faith, responding each time to a particular context or controversy. (from here)

    If the doctrine of purgatory as articulated by Trent is (in Fr John’s words) a “detailed and comprehensive explanation elaborated in defense of one and the same faith, responding to a particular context or controversy,” then (because it is an expression of “one and the same faith”) it cannot simply be discarded in a different context, nor regarded as having been superseded by later (or earlier) statements purporting to be articulations of the same faith. In other words, if Trent is a legitimate development then any later developments must be judged by their consistency with it. To argue otherwise is to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Trent itself as a development of doctrine.

    Also, I don’t think it is a good idea for you to rely too heavily on the teachings of Florence and Lyons. They were, as you note, intended to foster unity with the East, and that goal coloured the language used. But it is noteworthy that they were a total failure in that regard. Given that reunion failed to occur, these Councils only served to highlight that the teaching of the Latin Church and the Tradition received in the East were (and are) not the same. Again, if Trent is a legitimate development, then it has to be seen as an accurate refinement and clarification of the teachings of Florence and Lyons, further emphasizing that the teachings of West and East on purgatory (inter alia) are not the same.

    For the record, I hasten to add that I myself do not regard the teaching of Trent as a legitimate development. I stand with St Mark of Ephesus in regarding Florence as a false council, with all that that implies about the authority of Trent and later developments in the West.

  11. Felix the Cassowary says:

    A question, perhaps, of a different nature. I understand that traditional teaching is that suffering in this life counts as “time served” in purgatory. If this is the case and purgatory is about purification, how can suffering that leads us to sin (for instance drinking and masturbating) count against time in purgatory? or does it not, and the suffering (though not of one’s own choosing) simply drives one further down the hole in both this life and the next?

  12. Terra says:

    David – I think you are treading on very dangerous ground here. A good topic to explore, but on the limits of what can and can’t change in terms of the articulation of doctrine (and development of our understanding of it), can I recommend a thorough read of Pius XII’s Humani Generis? In particular, in paras 14-17 he warns of the danger of theological relativism:

    “In theology some want to reduce to a minimum the meaning of dogmas; and to free dogma itself from terminology long established in the Church and from philosophical concepts held by Catholic teachers…They cherish the hope that when dogma is stripped of the elements which they hold to be extrinsic to divine revelation, it will compare advantageously with the dogmatic opinions of those who are separated from the unity of the Church and that in this way they will gradually arrive at a mutual assimilation of Catholic dogma with the tenets of the dissidents…Wherefore they do not consider it absurd, but altogether necessary, that theology should substitute new concepts in place of the old ones in keeping with the various philosophies which in the course of time it uses as its instruments, so that it should give human expression to divine truths in various ways which are even somewhat opposed, but still equivalent, as they say…Everyone is aware that the terminology employed in the schools and even that used by the Teaching Authority of the Church itself is capable of being perfected and polished; and we know also that the Church itself has not always used the same terms in the same way. It is also manifest that the Church cannot be bound to every system of philosophy that has existed for a short space of time. Nevertheless, the things that have been composed through common effort by Catholic teachers over the course of the centuries to bring about some understanding of dogma are certainly not based on any such weak foundation. These things are based on principles and notions deduced from a true knowledge of created things. In the process of deducing, this knowledge, like a star, gave enlightenment to the human mind through the Church. Hence it is not astonishing that some of these notions have not only been used by the Oecumenical Councils, but even sanctioned by them, so that it is wrong to depart from them. “

  13. Terra says:

    Felix the Cassowary – Suffering in this sense means pain inflicted on us such as illnesses borne willingly, with good grace! Nothing that is sinful in itself can possibly be exculpatory (though I suppose if a hangover induces a particularly fervent repentance form the sins of drunkenness, you might wipe off some of the effects of the sin of drunkenness..).

  14. Louise says:

    Why is it problematic to think of God punishing us?

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