The Father William Most Collection
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
"Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place?" (Ps. 24:3) "Who can stand when He appears? For he is like a refiner's fire"(Malachi 3:2).
The inspired writers of the Old Testament had a great perception of the majesty, the awful holiness of God. They knew that nothing defiled can stand before Him. Yet we know from St. Paul (1 Cor 13:12 )that in heaven the soul has a vision of God, sees Him face to face. That of course is metaphorical language, but yet it conveys awesome truth. A soul has no eyes, nor does God have a face. But it does mean the soul will know God directly.
How could that be? When we see someone on this earth, we take into our eyes and brain an image of him. That works well enough, for although any image is finite or limited, so is the person. But what image could make God known? None of course. So the soul must know God without an image. This can be only if God Himself directly joins Himself to that soul, to do what an image would do in seeing others.
What then needs to be the absolute purity of a soul, to which He who is like a refiner's fire joins Himself! Surely, God will not join Himself to anything defiled.
Yet that is precisely what Luther thought, what they think who claim infallible salvation. Luther claimed (Epistle 501, to Melanchthon): "Even if you sin greatly, believe more greatly." The man may be, and really is, total corruption, according to Luther. But God does not mind that, Luther said. The Holy Spirit could even dwell within total corruption -- we are thinking of St. Paul's words (1 Cor 6:19) that we are the temples of the Holy Spirit! Will the Holy Spirit dwell in total corruption? Or will absolute Holiness join Himself to total corruption after death? Most certainly not.
Luther thought justification was not a real cleansing - it was just that the merits of Christ, like a white cloak, would be thrown over the sins of the sinner. God would not look under the rug. But the man himself would remain totally corrupt.
Therefore it is obvious: there must be some means of purgation after death, if the soul is not fully refined and pure. So there must be a purgatory. Thank heaven there is a purgatory -otherwise, so many could never see God for all eternity.
Logically, if one follows out Luther's fancy, a man who goes out and kills several others and then turns the gun on himself should go at once to be joined to the infinite purity of God! Yes, for Luther wrote (Weimar ed. vol 2, p. 371; Letters I, Luther's Works, American ed. vol 48, p. 282: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.... No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day."
So, Judas Maccabeus was quite right in having sacrifices offered in the Temple for the souls of those fallen in battle who had sinned by wearing amulets (2 Mac. 12:42-46). But, our Protestant friends will object: that book is not part of inspired Scripture. To which we reply: A prominent Baptist Professor, Gerald Birney Smith, once (Biblical World 37, 19-29) surveyed every means he could think of to determine which books are inspired and which are not. He found no possible way unless there would be a divinely protected teaching authority to decide. Of course, he denied there was such an authority. He reported that Luther said if a book preaches justification by faith strongly it is inspired. But that cannot be true -- for Luther never proved that was the criterion, and further, he could write such a book, and so could I, and it would not be inspired. Also many books of the Bible do not preach that either). Yet we Catholics do have such a teaching authority, the Catholic Church, as we find from a study of apologetics. That teaching authority has determined that the Books of Maccabees are inspired. Really, no Protestant should quote Scripture at all, for he has no means of knowing which books are inspired - unless of course he wants to accept the authority of the Catholic Church for that!
So we hope our Protestant friends will begin to be kind to their departed, and pray for their souls, which in many cases will come before the "refiner's fire". Still further, and more importantly, we hope they will not just think nothing need be done if they commit grave sin - merely thinking it is all right will not make it so!
And may our Catholics also be kind to the departed, and not virtually canonize them in funeral eulogies, making it seem no prayers for them are needed. St. Augustine, in his Confessions, written ten to fifteen years after the death of his mother, St. Monica, still asked for prayers for her soul! Therefore... .
The chief suffering in Purgatory is the temporary loss of God. That is hard for us to picture now - when we so easily do without thinking of Him. But then, there will be distractions from our five senses, which are gone. More important, with death, the lights go on. We mean this: our intelligence has two components: the material brain in our heads; the natural power of the spiritual intellect to know. The power of a spirit to know is wonderfully great. But at present, the two are tied together, so that one does not function without the other. The material brain therefore holds down our present ability to know God. Therefore, even if the material brain in a given person is of highest quality, yet it is a poor thing compared to the power of the spiritual soul to know. But with death, with the connection broken, the natural power of our spirit to know asserts itself. Then we understand the information about God we took across the line with us, even without yet seeing Him directly. Then we will intensely desire Him -- but if the sentence is purgatory, we must do without Him for some period.
Is there fire in purgatory?. The eastern segment of the Catholic Church has no such tradition; the western does, and reports numerous apparitions of souls from purgatory.
In any event, it is most important to get our bills paid now, as it were. If we pay them now, we get at the same time an increase in the power of the soul to eventually see God. But paying them in purgatory brings no such increase: it is just paying old bills.