Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Fathers Speak: Purgatory

The Fathers Speak: Purgatory

          One of the most important dogmas of the Faith jettisoned by Martin Luther (to him, at least) was the belief in Purgatory.  Luther was rightly disturbed by the scandalous practice that had developed, particularly in Germany, where he was from, of selling indulgences, whereby people felt they could “buy” their relatives’ way out of Purgatory by giving money to the Church.
          The Council of Trent condemned this already illicit practice, but Luther denied the existence of Purgatory altogether, going so far as removing references to it from the Bible.  It remains a common area of attack among anti-Catholic fundamentalists.  However, a look at the statements of the Fathers of the Church on the subject easily counters the false claims that Purgatory was a medieval invention meant to be an easy source of revenue.

A woman, after the death of her husband . . . prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice [of the Mass] – Tertullian, On Monogamy, A.D. 216

It is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord – Cyprian of Carthage, Letter 51, A.D. 253

If he has inclined to the irrational pressure of the passions, using for the passions the cooperating hide of things irrational, he may afterward in a quite different manner be very much interested in what is better, when, after his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul by the purifying fire – Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Dead, A.D. 382

St. John Chrysostom, A.D. 392
Not in vain was it decreed by the apostles that in the awesome mysteries remembrance should be made of the departed. They knew that here there was much gain for them, much benefit. – Homilies on Philippians

Why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them – Homilies on First Corinthians

St. Augustine
Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment… But by the prayers of the holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided – The City of God, A.D. 419

That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, through a certain purgatorial fire – Handbook on Faith, Hope and Charity, A.D. 421