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purgatory_r1_c1Fr Aidan Kimel’s thought-provoking series on St Isaac prompt me to a post. Francis Phillips commented, correctly, that the Catholic Church has not held, dogmatically, that Purgatory is a place, and Fr Aidan responded:

This is accurate, if we restrict ourselves to the magisterial teaching of the Latin Church. But it also the case that over the centuries plenty of Latin theologians have understood purgatory, as well as hell, as a place. It’s not clear to me when Catholic theologians stopped thinking of Purgatory in this way.

The distinction drawn between the Magisterial teaching of the Church and the views of individual theologians is critical here. One often reads that the Church teaches x or y, when a more accurate rendering would be that theologians x and y have given that as their opinion.  Because of the sheer mass of writing in the Latin tradition, the number of theological opinions expressed is nearly infinite. If the Church has not commented adversey upon those views, they can be held by the faithful; if the Church has definitively said that such a view cannot be held, then they cannot. Thus, on Universalism, there is some doubt as to whether the views condemned at the fifth Council were accurate representations of what Origen wrote, but none that we cannot hold dogmatically the belief that all will be saved. However, were one to express (as Jess often does) the hope that this might be so, then, as long as she does not insist it is so, she expresses what the church calls a pious opinion.

It is natural enough to wish to see hell as St Isaac does, which is that it is the same place as Heaven, but when experienced by those who reject God’s love, it is terrible for them, but that, I am afraid, requires us to read Scripture as allegory too much for the taste of Catholic theologians. Whilst they acknowledge (as they might well, for it is so) that we are told little about hell, they do know what we are told, and it is always that it is another place, and that God is active in sending people there, as in Matthew 22:11-14. If we take Matthew 25 seriously, those who do not prepare for the coming of God will find themselves locked out of Heaven. Lest we missed it, Matthew 13 tells us that:

Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

WHen He comes, the Son of Man will divide the sheep from the goats, the one will go into everlasting life, the other to eternal punishment. And, as the story of Dives and Lazarus informs us, there is an unbridgeable gulf between Hades and Abraham’s bosom, and it is plain that there are people in Hades and that they are suffering.

It would be pleasant and much more in keeping with modern theological trends, to hold what St Isaac holds, but in order to hold it, I am afraid one has to discount far too much scripture.

The Latin Church has never stated dogmatically that Purgatory is a place, but it has stated that hell is. Fr. Aidan offers a fascinating Patristic florilegium here, but, of course, as he himself says, such things are never wholly satisfactory, although this one is superb.  The Orthodox, of course, have no one bishop who may speak with authority for all, the Roman Church does, and so, for me and for many, rather than pitch our learning against that of the voice of the ages, we accept what the Church says.