Thursday, 11 November 2010

Purgatory

When I was in the seminary in the early 1980s, we had a retreat given by an eminent Franciscan. Among other things, he described the translation of the liturgy we have now as being 'like a wet sack on a damp mattress'.

Well, yes. That was the good stuff, and generally he was an engaging and passionate preacher. However, (and of course there's a however—I'm a blogger!) he said at one time in an enthusiastic outburst:
'Purgatory wasn't even invented until the twelfth century'!

He clearly hadn't read Tertullian's De Anima. Tertullian (c.155-230) doesn't use the word (that may, of course, have been invented much later, possibly in the twelfth century), but the idea is clear enough:
It is most fitting that the soul, without at all waiting for the [resurrection of the] body, should be punished for what it has done, while not being joined to the flesh. So, on the same principle, in return for the pious and kindly thoughts in which it did not have the help of the body, it shall receive its consolation outside the body. 
  Moreover, even with things done through the body, the soul is the first to conceive them, the first to arrange them, the first to authorize them, the first to precipitate them into acts. And even if it is sometimes unwilling to act, it is still the first to deal with the thing which it means to bring about with the help of the body. In no case, indeed, can an accomplished fact happen before it has been thought about. So it is quite in keeping with this order of things, that the part of our nature which comes first should be the first to have the recompense and reward which it is due. In short, inasmuch as we understand the prison pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades, (Matthew 5:25) and as we also interpret the ‘last penny’ to mean the very smallest offence which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory punishment, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection, when the recompense will be administered through the body as well. De Anima 58

Novembrish thoughts. The eminent Franciscan has now died, so he is able to find out for himself whether what he said was true or not.

3 comments:

Jane said...

I love Fr. Corapi's riposte to the suggestion that a merciful God would never have instituted Purgatory:

" Purgatory IS the mercy of God!"

PS Thanks for your post on Rowdy children. If I had children, I'd consider moving to your parish!

Fr Levi said...

At a recent inter-faith conference, I was surprised when a rabbi informed us that purgatory was very much part of the Jewish tradition in the sense of their being a period after death of purification. They wouldn't originally have used the word purgatory, but would commonly do so now.
It would appear the concept is of considerable antiquity & is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

gemoftheocean said...

Ah...Franciscans. Either thoroughly sound, or slightly dingy. Goes back to the founder...