The Last Things:
Magisterium on Purgatory
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.”
Council of Trent (1563): “Concerning Purgatory”
• “that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained there are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar…
• “Let the more difficult and subtle “questions,” however, and those which do not make for “edification” [cf.1 Tim. 1:4], and from which there is very often no increase in piety, be excluded from popular discourses to uneducated people.”
The Sum Total thus Far:
• There is a state of purgatory;
• Those in purgatory can be helped by the prayers and good works of the faithful in this life (especially the Eucharist)
– Fr Anthony Kelly (Touching the Infinite) believes something more can be said on the basis of the magisterial definitions: “In this state, temporal punishment still owing at the time of death is expiated and remitted as a prelude to admission to the beatific vision.”
• III. THE FINAL PURIFICATION, OR PURGATORY (“Finalis purificatio seu purgatorium”)
• §1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
• §1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned [cf. Council of Florence; Council of Trent; see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus(1336)].
• The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire [cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7]:
– As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come [St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4, 39: PL 77, 396; cf. Mt 12:31].
• §1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” [II Macc 12:46].
• From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God [cf. Council of Lyons II].
• The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead [cf. St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 41, 5: PG 61, 361; cf. Job 1:5].
Purgatory in BXVI’s Magisterium?
• The discussion of Purgatory in Spe Salvi was Benedict XVI’s first mention of the topic in his magisterium as supreme pontiff
• He has referred to Purgatory once since, in his Meeting with the Clergy of Rome on 7 Feb 2008
• For a full understanding of the teaching of Benedict XVI on Purgatory in Spe Salvi it is therefore necessary to refer to the earlier writings of Joseph Ratzinger
A basic outline will be seen to emerge:
• Emphasis on Purgatory as “purification” rather than “punishment” or “satisfaction”
• The Christological (or even Christocentric) understanding of Purgatory; in particular:
• Purgatory as the purifying and transforming post-death encounter/dialogue of the soul with Christ the Judge
• This encounter as the purifying fire described in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15
3. The essentially communal nature of Purgatory
• 16 pages on Purgatory in Ratzinger’s “Eschatology” (1988) – first 10 pages spent on a review of history
• Ratzinger then asks: “What is the authentic heart of the doctrine of Purgatory? What is its rationale?”
• Immediately he points to 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.
• Directly then, he engages with Joachim Gnilka, a Catholic New Testament scholar, who in 1955 published “Ist Kor 3,10-15: Ein Schriftzeugnis Für Das Fegfeuer?”
1 Cor 3:10-15
• 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Gnilka on 1 Cor 3:10-15
G.C. Berkouwer, “Sin” (1952):
• “In our own time J. Gnilka is of the opinion that the 1 Corinthians passage does not refer to purgatory and that all efforts to combine this text with the fire of cleansing “take on an essentially false aspect and are therefore unjustified”…The concern here is with the dokimazein of one’s work (testing: Prüfung) and is not with the “cleansing”. But this exegesis has no influence on Gnilka’s own conviction concerning Purgatory: “The dogma of Purgatory is raised above all doubt”.”
• “This sentence is often seen as expressing a purifying element to the judgement, and has served as NT support for the concept of purgatory. But that is to miss Paul by a wide margin.”
– Footnote: “This understanding of the text goes back at least as far as Origen. For the full discussion of the patristic data, see J. Gnilka… He answers his question (“Is 1 Cor 3:1-15 a scriptural witness to the doctrine of purgatory?”) with a No; it simply cannot be exegetically sustained.”
In “Eschatology” Ratzinger addresses Gnilka’s exegesis of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 as follows:
• “J. Gnilka has shown that this testing fire indicates the coming Lord himself [rather than purgatory]… According to Gnilka, who here sets himself over against the opinion of Jeremiasfn, this excludes any interpretation of the text in terms of Purgatory. There is no fire, only the Lord himself. There is no temporal duration involved, only eschatological encounter with the Judge. There is no purificaton, only the statement that such a human being “will be saved only with exertion and difficulty”.
Fn: Jeremias [Theological Dictionary of the NT, Vol 1:147 Geenna]
– “It may be this [Rabbinic] conception of a purificatory character of the final fire of judgement underlies such passages as Mk 9:49, 1 Cor 3:13-15; cf. 2 Pet 3:10”.
• Mark 9:49 “For every one will be salted with fire.”
• 2 Peter 3:10 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.”
• “But it is by following just this exegesis that one is led to wonder whether its manner of posing the question is correct, and its criteria adequate. If one presupposes a naively objective concept of Purgatory then of course the text is silent. But if, conversely, we hold that Purgatory is understood in a properly Christian way when it is grasped christologically, in terms of the Lord himself as the judging fire which transforms us and conforms us to his own glorified body, then we shall come to a very different conclusion.”
• “Does not the real Christianising of the early Jewish notion of a purging fire [cf. Jeremias] lie precisely in the insight that the purification involved does not happen through some thing, but through the transforming power of the Lord himself, whose burning flame cuts free our closed-off heart, melting it, and pouring it into a new mold to make it fit for the living organism of his body?…
• “One really can’t object that Paul is only talking here about the Last Day as a unique event: that would be hermeneutical naiveté… Man does not have to strip away his temporality in order thereby to become “eternal”; Christ as judge is ho eschatos, the Final One, in relation to whom we undergo judgement both after death and on the Last Day. In the perspective we are offered here, the two judgments are indistinguishable…”
Further points are made in this chapter:
• 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.”
• “The transforming “moment” of this 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.
• So Ratzinger’s application of 1 Cor 3:10-15 to Purgatory in Eschatology corresponds exactly with the soul’s dialogical encounter with God in Christ as first outlined in Introduction to Christianity
• If, in Eschatology, Ratzinger is dealing with the same understanding of immortality as he outlined in Introduction to Christianity, we would therefore expect to find a corresponding reflection on the communal aspect of Purgatory in Eschatology.
Ratzinger begins by declaring 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.”
• Purgatory “does not replace grace by works, but allows the former to achieve its full victory precisely as grace.”
He returns to 1 Cor 3 to make his point:
• “But in most of us, that basic option is buried under a great deal of wood, hay and straw [1 Cor 3:13-15]. Only with difficulty can it peer out from behind the latticework of an egoism we are powerless to pull down with our own hands. Man is the recipient of divine mercy, yet this does not exonerate him from the need to be transformed. Encounter with the Lord is this transformation…
• “…It is the fire that burns away our dross and re-forms us to be vessels of eternal joy.
• “This insight would contradict the doctrine of grace only if penance were the antithesis of grace and not its form, the gift of gracious possibility…”
• Indulgences, of course, are directly related to the sacrament of penance, and that is where the communal aspect comes in…
• “…Prayer for the departed, in its many forms, belongs to the original data of the Judaeo-Christian tradition [about Purgatory]. But does not this prayer presuppose that Purgatory entails some kind of external punishment which can, for example, be graciously remitted through vicarious acceptance by others in a form of spiritual barter? And how can a third party enter into that most highly personal process of encounter in Christ, where the “I” is transformed in the flame of his closeness? Is not this an event which so concerns the individual that all replacement or substitution must be ruled out?”
• “…Yet the being of man is not, in fact, that of a closed monad. It is related to others by love or hate, and, in these ways, has its colonies within them. My own being is present in others as guilt or grace. We are not just ourselves; or, more correctly, we are ourselves only as being in others, with others and through others. [nb. a theme from “Introduction to Christianity”]
• “Whether others curse us or bless us, forgive us and turn our guilt into love—this is part of our own destiny. …Self substituting love is a central Christian reality, and the doctrine of Purgatory states that for such love the limit of death does not exist [eg. Romans 8]. The possibility of helping and giving does not cease on the death of the Christian. Rather does it stretch out to encompass the entire communion of saints, on both sides of death’s portals.”
– Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death, nor life…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Eschatology: Ecumenical dimensions
• In his “Eschatology”, Ratzinger begins with “the Problem of the Historical Data”.
• He points out that the doctrine of Purgatory has been defined only in the West; and that in all those cases it was in regard to either
• formulae for reunion with the Eastern Churches; or
• formulae condemning the teachings of the Protestant Reformers
• this directly points to the ecumenical significance of the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory
• As such, his theology of Purgatory addresses the particular Protestant objections to the doctrine:
• speculation on the intermediate state
• prayers and actions by the living for the dead imply salvation by works
• a rejection of the completeness of Christ’s salvation and a subtraction from his glory
God and the World (2002),
In God and the World (2002), Ratzinger’s discusses purgatory in a rather less academic approach:
• PS: “One of the most important elements in the faith, which is also among those we find increasingly strange and suspect, is the idea of heaven and hell, and beyond that, of purgatory.”
• Ratzinger: “What that means is that death is not the end. That is the fundamental certainty which is the starting point for the Christian faith… It means that we have a responsibility before God, that there is a judgement, that human life can either turn out right or come to disaster.”
• “With regard to turning out right, which is what we all hope for despite all our failures, purgatory plays an important part here. There will be few people whose lives are pure and fulfilled in all respects. And, we would hope, there will be few people whose lives have become an irredeemable and total NO. For the most part the longing for good has remained, despite many breakdowns, in some sense determinative…
• …God can pick up the broken pieces and make something of them. In any case, we need a final cleansing, a cleansing by fire, to be exact, which the gaze of Christ, so to say, burns us free from everything, and only under this purifying gaze are we, as it were, fit to be with God, and able, then, to make our home with him.”
• PS: “That sounds provocatively old fashioned.”
• Ratzinger: ““I think it is something very human. I would go so far as to say that if there was no purgatory, then we would have to invent it, for who would dare say of himself that he was able to stand directly before God.”
• [cf. Eschatology: “Simply to look at people with any degree of realism at all is to grasp the necessity of such a process.”]
• “And yet we don’t want to be, to use an image from Scripture, “a pot that turned out wrong”, that has to be thrown away; we want to be able to be put right. Purgatory basically means that God can put the pieces back together again. That he can cleanse us in such a way that we are able to be with him and can stand there in fullness of life…”
• “With our Protestant friends, we share the hope that there is a heaven and a hell. The fact that they are unable to accept belief in purgatory derives in part from the teaching on justification. And perhaps we ought not to argue nearly so much about it. When it comes down to it, we are all glad that God himself can still put right what we cannot.”
• Lets look at two examples from “our Protestant friends” which seems to fit with this point…
Bo Giertz “Hammer of God”
• Novel by Bo Giertz, pietist/high church Swedish Lutheran Bishop (1905-1998)
• Curate Fridfeldt: “But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved.”
• Rector: “You are right, my boy. And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you give Jesus your heart, you will not be saved. You see, my boy…One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor gives one’s heart to Him. The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap. A fine birthday gift, indeed! But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with Him. That is how it is.”
C.S. Lewis on Purgatory
C.S. Lewis, Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, chapter 20, paragraphs 7-10, pages 108-109
• “Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him? …
• “I believe in Purgatory. Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on the ‘Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory’ as that Romish doctrine had then become…..
• “The right view returns magnificently in Newman’s DREAM. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer ‘With its darkness to affront that light’. Religion has claimed Purgatory.
• “Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ – ‘Even so, sir.’ …
• “I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don’t think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much…
• “My favourite image on this matter comes from the dentist’s chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am ‘coming round’,’ a voice will say, ‘Rinse your mouth out with this.’ This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed.”
Benedict XVI, Encyclical Spe Salvi
And so finally we come to Spe Salvi.
Do we find here the same emphases we have found thus far, namely Purgatory as:
• “purification” rather than “punishment”
• the transforming post-death dialogue/ encounter of the soul with Christ the Judge (described in terms of the purifying fire of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
• essentially communal rather than individual?
Benedict XVI, Encyclical Spe Salvi
45. This early Jewish idea of an intermediate state includes the view that these souls are not simply in a sort of temporary custody but, as the parable of the rich man illustrates, are already being punished or are experiencing a provisional form of bliss. There is also the idea that this state can involve purification and healing which mature the soul for communion with God. The early Church took up these concepts, and in the Western Church they gradually developed into the doctrine of Purgatory. We do not need to examine here the complex historical paths of this development; it is enough to ask what it actually means. With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are.
46. Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God’s judgement according to each person’s particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.
47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. 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. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).
48. A further point must be mentioned here, because it is important for the practice of Christian hope. Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see for example 2 Macc 12:38-45; first century BC). The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church. The East does not recognize the purifying and expiatory suffering of souls in the afterlife, but it does acknowledge various levels of beatitude and of suffering in the intermediate state. The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.
Benedict XVI to clergy of Rome 7 Feb 08
• Fr Pietro Riggi, a Salesian from Don Bosco Boys’ Town: …in the catechisms of the Italian Bishops’ Conference used for teaching our faith to children …Hell is never mentioned, nor Purgatory, Heaven only once… In lacking these essential parts of our belief does it not seem to you that the whole system of logic which leads one to see Christ’s Redemption has crumbled? By the absence of any mention of sin, by not speaking of Hell, even Christ’s Redemption seems diminished. …Today, unfortunately, when the Gospel speaks of Hell we priests circumvent even the Gospel. Hell is not mentioned. Or we are unable to talk about Heaven. We cannot speak of eternal life…?
• Pope Benedict XVI: You correctly spoke of the fundamental themes of the faith which unfortunately rarely appear in our preaching. In the Encyclical Spe Salvi I wanted to speak precisely about the Last Judgement, judgement in general, and in this context also about Purgatory, Hell and Heaven. I think we have all been struck by the Marxist objection that Christians have only spoken of the afterlife and have ignored the earth. Thus, we demonstrate that we are truly committed to our earth and are not people who talk about distant realties, who do not help the earth…
• “Now, although it is right to show that Christians work for the earth – and we are all called to work to make this earth really a city for God and of God – we must not forget the other dimension. Unless we take it into account, we cannot work well for the earth: to show this was one of my fundamental purposes in writing the Encyclical. When one does not know the judgement of God one does not know the possibility of Hell, of the radical and definitive failure of life, one does not know the possibility of and need for purification. Man then fails to work well for the earth because he ultimately loses his criteria, he no longer knows himself – through not knowing God – and destroys the earth…
• “In the Encyclical I tried to show that it is God’s Last Judgement that guarantees justice. We all want a just world….
• “But both justice and true guilt exist. Those who have destroyed man and the earth cannot suddenly sit down at God’s table together with their victims. God creates justice. We must keep this in mind. Therefore, I felt it was important to write this text also about Purgatory, which for me is an obvious truth, so evident and also so necessary and comforting that it could not be absent.”
• Pope Benedict XVI: I tried to say: perhaps those who have destroyed themselves in this way, who are for ever unredeemable, who no longer possess any elements on which God’s love can rest, who no longer have a minimal capacity for loving, may not be so numerous. This would be Hell.
• On the other hand, those who are so pure that they can enter immediately into God’s communion are undoubtedly few – or at any rate not many.
• “A great many of us hope that there is something in us that can be saved, that there may be in us a final desire to serve God and serve human beings, to live in accordance with God. Yet there are so very many wounds, there is so much filth. We need to be prepared, to be purified.
• “This is our hope: even with so much dirt in our souls, in the end the Lord will give us the possibility, he will wash us at last with his goodness that comes from his Cross.
• “In this way he makes us capable of being for him in eternity. And thus Heaven is hope, it is justice brought about at last.”
Luther on Purgatory
Explanation of the 95 Theses (1518)
• “If purgatory is only a workshop of punishment, why not call it “punitory” rather than “purgatory”? For the meaning and force of the term “purgatory” imply a cleansing which can only be understood as pertaining to the remains of the old nature and sin, because of which those persons are unclean who in their affection for eathly things have hindered the purity of faith. But if by the use of the a new ambiguity…they shall say that cleansing here is the same as payment, so that then they are said to be cleansed when the punishments have been paid, I answer: It is despised as easily as it is proved. But if they shall also despise the idea that the meaning of the term includes the cleansing of faults, let it be so. I do not dispute it. Nevertheless, it has been demonstrated that both meanings are doubtful. For that reason the first meaning has been scattered abroad among the people in a distorted manner and with the greatest of certainty, especially since the basic meaning of the term does not agree with their opinion.”
Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper (1528)
• “As for the dead…I regard it as no sin to pray with free devotion in this or some similar fashion: “Dear God, if this soul is in a condition accessible to mercy, be thou gracious to it.” And when this has been done once or twice, let it suffice…
• “Nor have we anything in Scripture concerning purgatory. It too was fabricated by goblins. Therefore, I maintain it is not necessary to believe in it; although all things are possible to God, and he could very well allow souls to be tormented after their departure from the body…
• I know of a purgatory, however, in another way, but it would not be proper to teach anything about it in the church, nor on the other hand, to deal with it by means of endowments or vigils.