Skip to comments.The Early Church Fathers on Purgatory - Catholic/Orthodox Caucus
Posted on 01/30/2007 4:41:08 PM PST by NYer
The Early Church Fathers believed in purgatory and prayers for the dead.
Clement of Alexandria
The believer through discipline divests himself of his passions and passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, passes to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance for the faults he may have committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more, not yet attaining what he sees others have acquired. The greatest torments are assigned to the believer, for God's righteousness is good, and His goodness righteous, and though these punishments cease in the course of the expiation and purification of each one, "yet" etc. (Patres Groeci. IX, col. 332 [A.D. 150-215]).
If a man departs this life with lighter faults, he is condemned to fire which burns away the lighter materials, and prepares the soul for the kingdom of God, where nothing defiled may enter. For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones (I Cor., 3); but also wood and hay and stubble, what do you expect when the soul shall be separated from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones? Neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works. (Patres Groeci. XIII, col. 445, 448 [A.D. 185-232]).
The citizen of a prominent city, I erected this while I lived, that I might have a resting place for my body. Abercius is my name, a disciple of the chaste shepherd who feeds his sheep on the mountains and in the fields, who has great eyes surveying everywhere, who taught me the faithful writings of life. Standing by, I, Abercius, ordered this to be inscribed; truly I was in my seventy-second year. May everyone who is in accord with this and who understands it pray for Abercius (Epitaph of Abercius [A.D. 190]).
That allegory of the Lord [Matt. 5:25-26] . . . is extremely clear and simple in its meaning . . . [beware lest as] a transgressor of your agreement, before God the judge . . . and lest this judge deliver you over to the angel who is to execute the sentence, and he commit you to the prison of hell, out of which there will be no dismissal until the smallest even of your delinquencies be paid off in the period before the resurrection. What can be a more fitting sense than this? What a truer interpretation? (The Soul 35 [A.D. 210]).
The faithful widow prays for the soul of her husband, and begs for him in the interim repose, and participation in the first resurrection, and offers prayers on the anniversary of his death (Monogamy 10 [A.D. 213]).
It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory; 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 (Letters 51:20 [A.D. 253]).
Cyril of Jerusalem
Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition, next, we make mention also of the holy fathers and bishops who have already fallen asleep, and, to put it simply, of all among us who have already fallen asleep. For we believe that it will be of very great benefit to the souls of those for whom the petition is carried up, while this holy and most solemn sacrifice is laid out (Catechetical Lectures 23:5:9 [A.D. 350]).
Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice [Job l:5), 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 41:5 [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. When the entire people stands with hands uplifted, a priestly assembly, and that awesome sacrificial victim is laid out, how, when we are calling upon God, should we not succeed in their defense? But this is done for those who have departed in the faith, while even the catechumens are not reckoned as worthy of this consolation, but are deprived of every means of assistance except one. And what is that? We may give alms to the poor on their behalf (Homilies on Philippians 3:9-10 [A.D. 402]).
Ambrose of Milan
Give perfect rest to thy servant Theodosius, that rest which thou hast prepared for thy saints I have loved him, and therefore will I follow him into the land of the living; nor will I leave him until by tears and prayers I shall lead him wither his merits summon him, unto the holy mountain of the Lord (Funeral Sermon of Theodosius 36-37 [A.D. 395]).
There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. It is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended (Sermons 159:1 [A.D. 411]).
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 (The City of God 21:13 [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 l8:69 [A.D. 421]).
Will you be received into the Church this year?
Most telling on all of this is directly in Scripture itself, in the Gospels.
Jesus uses a particular word, a word which has been rendered "Gehenna". Gehenna (Hebrew "Gehinnom") has, and had, a very specific meaning to Jews.
It's important to realize what Jews mean by Gehenna, because Jesus was a Jew, talking to Jews, so everybody in the conversation knew what the words and concepts were. At another point in the Gospels, Jesus refers to "korban" (goods ceded to the Temple with a life estate in the original owner). He doesn't define korban, just uses it, because every single listener knew what he meant: korban, like Gehenna, has a specific meaning.
Gehenna is Jewish Hell, but Jewish Hell is not Christian Hell. Jewish Hell is a place where souls that have done wicked things go to be purified. Some are purified of their sins there (tradition says they spend 12 months there) and are then sent to Gan Eden: Jewish paradise. The most wicked never leave Gehinnom. Only those who have spent a lifetime doing good, with few bad deeds (and not very bad ones) go straight to Gan Eden. Thus is the Jewish concept of the afterlife and Gehenna. Historically, there certainly were OTHER Jewish concepts of the afterlife. Sheol, for instance, was a Sumerian concept of the land of the shades. Sadduccees, for their part, denied there was an afterlife at all. By Jesus' day (and earlier, as reflected in the prayers of atonement for the dead in 2 Maccabbees), the predominant Jewish belief (held by Pharisees and Essenes, and still held by most Jews today) was in Gan Eden and Gehenna.
What is important to realize is that Jewish Gehenna is both Hell AND Purgatory. Purgatory is IN Hell. That's what Jews think. And thought. And their word for this place was Gehenna. Gehenna, or Gehinnom in Hebrew (Gehenna is actually Yiddish) is also a nasty valley near Jerusalem where bad rites were historically performed, so the name for the Jewish concept of Hell was probably pulled from that valley name, or vice versa.
Jesus didn't say "Hell", "Hades", "Tartarus", "Purgatory" or "Sheol" when he was referring to the place that those who do wicked things go. He referred to Gehenna.
Now, whenever Jesus called up a Jewish concept that he wanted to CHANG, such as the Levitical and Deuteronomic law of divorce in the Torah, he was always explicit..."Scripture says..., but I say..." or "Your tradition says..., but I say...". But Jesus didn't do that when he used the term Gehenna. He just said Gehenna, and incorporated it into his sentences and warnings. He used Gehenna in its normal sense, and indeed in the only sense that any Jew listening to it then or now ever COULD understand it.
Which means that if you just read the Gospels and read what Jesus is saying, and understand it as a Jew does, Jesus is talking about Hell AND Purgatory. In Judaism they are the same place: Gehenna. Gehenna is Hell. Hell acts as purgatory to those who have their sins purified there. The truly wicked remain "where the fire is never quenched and the worm never ceases".
Once one realizes what Jesus said with clear understanding of the Jewish word he used and Jewish beliefs of the Jewish audience he was addressing, the argument about Hell versus Purgatory sort of falls away. Jesus answered it. Both. Gehenna.
On another thread there are lots of folks screaming about this. I hope that by posting it here, in a caucus thread, we can avoid that.
And I hope that some of you found this discussion interesting and illuminating.
"What about prayers to the dead, in hope that they could better present the case before our Lord?"
This question, formulated in this fashion, seems to have come up quite a bit lately around here. The prayers you refer to are to the Theotokos or to various saints which The Church has recognized as such. They are intercessory in the sense that we ask that they intercede for us before Christ. To us, they are not at all "dead" but in fact more alive, alive in Christ, than we are. In many ways, our prayers to them are in the same vein as asking a friend to pray for you. For most of us, our connection to particular saints, and for all of us to the Most Holy Theotokos, is deep and abiding.
Funny, I put some of this stuff in one of my blogs today:
from the account of St. Perpetua, written about 202:
"A few days later, while we were all praying, I happened to name Dinocrates - at which I was astonished, because I had not had him in my thoughts. And I knew that same moment that I ought to pray for him, and this I began to do with much fervor and lamentation before God. The same night this was shown me. I saw Dinocrates coming out of a dark place where there were many others, hot and thirsty; his face was pale with the wound which he had on it when he died. Dinocrates had been my brother according to the flesh, and had died pitiably at the age of seven years of a horrible gangrene in the face. It was for him that I had prayed and there was a great gulf between us, so that neither of us could approach the other. Near him stood a font full of water, the rim of which was above the head of the child, and Dinocrates stood on tiptoe to drink. I was grieved that though the font had water he could not drink because of the height of the rim, and I awoke realizing that my brother was in travail. But I trusted that I could relieve his trouble and I prayed for him every day until we were removed to the garrison prison - for we were to fight with the wild beasts at the garrison games on Geta Caesar's festival. And I prayed for him night and day with lamentation and tears that he might be given me. The day we were in the stocks, this was shown me. I saw the place I had seen before, but now luminous, and Dinocrates clean, well-clad and refreshed; and where there had been a wound, there was now only a scar; and the font I have perceived before had its rim lowered to the child's waist; and there poured water from it constantly and on the rim was a golden bowl full of water. And Dinocrates came forward and began to drink from it, and the bowl failed not. And when he had drunk enough he came away - pleased to play, as children will. And so I awoke and I knew he suffered no longer."
"We have loved him during life, let us not abandon him, until we have conducted him by our prayers into the house of the Lord." Saint Ambrose said.
The greater number of the several thousand extant belong to the ante-Nicene period -- the first three centuries and the early part of the fourth.
The period of great martyrdom. These people gave their lives for what they heard (orally preached). They had no Bibles to read, yet accepted and believe the words of those who spoke, assuring them that the Messiah had been born, died and resurrected in the Holy Land. They not only accepted these oral teachings but sacrificed their lives (in burtal fashion) in defense of their new christian faith.
How many "christians" would be willing to do that today, without the aid of written scripture?! How many still doubt what they read, much less what they hear?! These first century martyrs are saints indeed.
Thank you, K, for expressing the view of the Orthodox Church. Now that you can read the writings of he Early Church Fathers and the supporting Scriptural passages, what is your position? And I repeat to you the same admonition made to ConservativeMind - ask our Lord to open your mind and heart to His words.
Please check the guidelines on what a Caucus-type thread is.
Okay, thank you. That is a beautiful concept.
Per forum rules, I will refrain from commenting on it further and take my leave.
But allow me first to also thank NYer. This series has been most educational and entertaining.
I have been most interested in the role that the perspective of "dead" has in the increasing horizontalism in the the world. That is, the loss of perspective of God and our future with Him. The idea that the dead are "dead" as in terminated seems to have become pervasive and feeds the relativism that afflicts us. Because we don't have an eternal future, things don't matter, particularly morality.
However, if you believe we have an eternal future. Then there really is no praying to the dead. Although praying to someone in Hell wouldn't help much here, would it? Therefore it only makes sense to pray to the living in Christ, especially those who have left this veil of tears.
"Just as no one sells merchandise when the celebration ends, thus also in the tomb no one makes deals for the Kingdom of God." +Basil the Great
"After death, it will be impossible for anyone through thoughts of God to heal the sickness brought on by sin, for confession has power on earth, but not in hell." +Gregory of Nyssa
"#4 was blatantly silly, but as a Protestant, I do have an honest question.
What about prayers to the dead, in hope that they could better present the case before our Lord?
This is not intended to be an attack, I just never understood it.
Enosh, I will answer your honest question with an answer that is honest. Whether it is accurate or not is limited to my understanding. As a Protestant, I know that you favor Scripture above all (and as a Catholic, I am particularly reverential towards and focused upon the Gospels). With those things in mind, here is your answer.
Do you pray for living people?
Have you ever asked any living person to pray for you?
Almost certainly yes to the former, and perhaps even yes to the latter. Protestants (most of them, there are many flavors, I am assuming you are mainstream) DO pray for living people, and DO ask for prayers from other living people.
Do you think these prayers do any good?
When you pray for somebody else, or somebody else prays for you, is this merely a gesture on your part to remember someone, or do you believe that God hears those prayers, and sometimes finds favor in prayers not just for a living person himself, but also prayers made FOR that living person by some other living person.
Once again, I don't think that as a Protestant you could have any objection to this.
Jesus tells you this is a good thing, to pray together. At Matthew 18:19-20
Alright, now I am going to refer you to the Gospels, to a specific, hard lesson that Jesus gives to the Pharisees when they ask to whom the widow is married in paradisethat the God of Abraham and Isaac is not the God of the dead but of the living: Abraham and Isaac are not dead. They live. The dead are not dead. They live. Elsewhere.
That is why it is licit to ask for the prayers of the dead. They aren't dead.
Interesting. It makes sense that Jewish practice would become more developed just prior to the coming of the Christ. So the timing of 1st and 2nd Maccabees would be perfect. Have you ever wondered why Jesus came at that precise moment in history? Because the Jews were as ripe as they would ever be to be plucked. It's the only thing that makes sense. Hence, the latest texts and the new Testament would reflect the height of Jewish practice as preliminary to and types of Christian liturgy. The conflicts between the Sadducees and the Pharisees on the topic of the state of the dead, and the practices in Maccabees would reflect the most refined perspective they would have on life after death, atonement, and intercession. Before they would receive the fullness of Truth.
My position is the position of the consensus patrum and The Church. There is nothing we can do for ourselves to affect the outcome of either the Particular nor the Final Judgment. Unless one attains theosis in this life, a very rare event, our only hope is God's unending mercy, which is what we here on earth pray for when we pray for the dead. Personally, I believe there is likely some sort of burnishing or purification which goes on in the place of the dead and before the Final Judgment. But this is not expiation; it is purification. God's love refines and purifies those who have a similitude to Christ and torments those who have none. The Fathers wrote of God and God's love as being like fire, purifying precious metals and fine pottery, but blackening, even destroying base metals and inferior clay. This personal opinion is in accord with a very ancient thread of theology in The Church.
If I read a broad range of the Fathers, avoiding proof texting the Fathers to fit any particular position, the consensus patrum and thus Holy Tradition becomes clear. In essence, even if I disregard popular notions of what the Latin Church means by purgatory, the distinction between expiation and purification remains.
Another reason for Jesus to come them is the Roman Empire.
Although it was not geographically the biggest empire in human history, within its direct borders and satellite sphere of influence (recall that Celts and Germans converted to Christianity spontaneously, because of the heavy Roman influence) were actually concentrated the greatest concentration of humanity in history. With a range essentially spanning from the Arctic to the mid-Sahara, and from the Atlantic to the Volga and Iranian mountains, and with trading posts in India, Rome embraced or directly (or semi-directly dominated) a full one third of the population of the whole Earth. No other Empire has come close.
And Rome's particular status as the FIRST grand empire in Europe proper, and the uniter of the entirety of the ancient Middle East (except for Iran) within its boundaries brought together every competing tradition and placed it all under one ruler and one system.
Which meant that the new faith could reach, by the roads and within the realm, a third of the people of the Earth within a few short years, and all with one overlord's language, or two, Greek in the East, Latin everywhere.
That has never happened again.
The fact of Rome was the moment in history before the present and mass communications and high-speed travel where one man and a small band could reach a third of the people of the earth. It was big enough and antique enough that oppression could be brutal, but not effective.
Had Jesus come earlier or later, there would have been no Rome as foundation for rapid expansion.
I haven't actually stated my position, yet, only observed what Jesus said.
My position is that I am going to find out, unfortunately, the hard way. Because I know what's good and what's bad, and that vomit sure tastes good sometimes, dammit.
No, I'm a cradle Catholic. That's what I'm going to be teaching tomorrow night. I'm working on the lesson plan tonight. Wish me luck!