I’ve recently enjoyed a few of Craig Truglia’s post on the debate of purgatory between Catholics and Orthodox on his blog Orthodox Christian Theology. One of the issues that bugs me is when someone attempts to tell me what I actually believe in accords with my faith. For example, when an evangelical attempts to tell me that Catholics worship Mary—what dumbfounds me is that people who worship gods don’t deny worshiping those gods!
As I’ve read Craig’s post on purgatory, I’ve felt at times he’s doing something of the nature of telling me what my faith’s beliefs are in regards to purgatory.
Craig writes, “Augustine’s Purgatory is clearly different. The fire, which he speculates and admits is possibly “doubtful,” burns the dross of our passions that was not worn off by our repentance in our worldly lives “in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish.” Augustine viewed the process as “quick.” As we shall see in Parts II and III, this has much more in common with the modern Orthodox elucidation of what happens after we die than the dominant Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.”
The strange thing is that my understanding of purgatory is actually very similar to what he presents as Augustine’s viewpoint. Of course, no surprise to the many readers on AATW, I’ve got an Augustinian soft spot, so it’s no surprise I would agree right? However, it doesn’t appear that I’m the only Catholic who has this notion on the topic of purgatory. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI in a general audience on the topic of purgatory wrote:
“Catherine’s thought on purgatory, for which she is particularly well known, is summed up in the last two parts of the book mentioned above: The Treatise on purgatory and the Dialogues between the body and the soul. It is important to note that Catherine, in her mystical experience, never received specific revelations on purgatory or on the souls being purified there. Yet, in the writings inspired by our Saint, purgatory is a central element and the description of it has characteristics that were original in her time.
The first original passage concerns the “place” of the purification of souls. In her day it was depicted mainly using images linked to space: a certain space was conceived of in which purgatory was supposed to be located.
Catherine, however, did not see purgatory as a scene in the bowels of the earth: for her it is not an exterior but rather an interior fire. This is purgatory: an inner fire.”
It’s interesting that when I look at more traditional Catholic websites about the above quote, they charge the Pope with a development of modernism, but does the history of purgatory hold out? The earliest known debate on the topic of purgatory between East and West took place in 1230 A.D. between a Franciscan friar and a Greek Bishop Bardanes of Corfer. In the debate it appears that the Greek Bishop misunderstood the Franciscan’s explanation on “the fire” point of purgatory and connected it to an irrational fear of universalism from Origenism, not realizing a proper distinction between the two concepts.
In fact, as evidence to indicate that the above statement by Pope Benedict XVI is not a development, in 1267 Pope Clement IV issued a profession of faith which was adopted in 1274 at Lyons II. The formula, as explained by Fr. Aidan Nichols:
So far as Purgatory is concerned, the ‘Clementine formula’ abstains from any reference to fire, though it does use the term “purgatorial”, in its Greek form. Those who die in charity, truly repentant but without as yet making satisfaction for their sins, whether commission or omission, by worthy fruits of repentance, will, so the formula maintains, be purged after death, poenis purgatoriis seu cathartiis, “by purifying or cathartic pains.”
It’s interesting to note that at the start of Craig’s initial post of his series, I asked him whether he knew that if Dante’s work influenced the more physical imagery of purgatory in the middle ages. Now, after examining the papal profession of faith in the 13thcentury, as well as noting that the first use of the word “purgatorium” occurs in the writings of Hildebert of Lavardin dating anywhere from 1056-1135 A.D.; it appears one can reason that either Dante’s work in the 14thcentury either influenced the cultural perception or the cultural perception of that particular time period influenced him.  However, the Augustinian viewpoint was still within the frameworks of Pope Clement IV profession of faith.
Further Reflections on the topic may be needed, such as the development of the sacrament of Confession in regards to the penance preceding absolution to the development of it in the future. However, I believe the topic needed a better examination of the development of theology within a historical timeline.
Aidan Nichols O.P., Rome and the Eastern Churches, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 293.