Thursday, January 22, 2009

Answering PE on Purgatory

PE made a comment regarding Purgatory as "pagan nonsense" in a combox below, and I was half way through writing a response and realised that in fact I was writing a blog, so I have shifted it into the main posting here for discussion. We have had this topic before, but we never tire of it.

PE said:
No, Purgatory is not the Blood of the Lamb. It is a pure fantasy claimed to be the Blood of the Lamb when the justification won through the Blood of the Lamb at Calvary is proclaimed but not quite believed. Great Caesar's Ghost, you don't get saved because you're not a sinner, and you don't quit being a sinner when you get saved. You died a sinner and were raised a saint in Baptism. You don't get into heaven because you're finally perfect or acceptable, you get in because he was perfect and acceptable.
You are really quite wrong on this one, PE - whether you are arguing from a Lutheran point of view or trying to take the line on what the ("real") Catholic point of view is.

Imagine several different jigsaw puzzles each with the same picture on them. The picture in each case is the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But because each jigsaw puzzle is cut up differently, the pieces from one puzzle do not fit the pieces from another puzzle.

Now in a similar way Scripture presents to us a number of different motifs ("puzzles") to explain the effect of the Paschal Mystery upon sinners (the same "picture"). The language matrix that belongs to each particular motif (that is, using my analogy, "the pieces" of the puzzle) all add up to the same picture, but are not interchangeable with the linguistic matrix of another motif. Do you follow me so far?

For example, the following are three different motifs:

1) The Juridical or Forensic motif (the linguistic matrix includes Justification, righteousness, vindication, reward, gift, good/evil works etc.)

2) the Salvation motif (including words such as Save,
Redemption, Rescue, Deliver etc.)

3) The Purification motif (including Cleansing, purgation, wash, etc.)

(There are of course many other motifs - eg. the Reward motif and the Sanctification motif and even the Forgiveness motif - with their particular matrices. I am trying to keep this brief.)

Now each motif is about the effect of the "Blood of the Lamb" (aka the Paschal Mystery) on the sinner. But the linguistic pieces belong only to that particular matrix and cannot just be transferred into the other motifs. Still following me?

Now the motif of cleansing has a place in Scripture which is just as prominent as the motif of justification, and it speaks of a "purification" from the "pollution" of sin (quite different from the "vindication" of the "crime" of sin in the justification motif).

Purgatory is a part of the purification motif. If you attempt to view it through the motif of justification, or even the motif of salvation, it gets all skew-wiff and ends up looking exactly like the "pagan nonsense" you claim it is.

Baptism is in fact a part of the purfication motif - with its very strong visual image of washing. Baptism is indeed being "washed in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14). But even that passage makes clear - as also Lutherans know very well - that the sacrament of baptism is not fulfilled except in the final dying and rising of the baptised person.

That is exactly what is meant by the doctrine of Purgatory. Arriving in heaven in spotless white, the Angel tells us that "these are those who are coming (the present participle) out of the great tribulation" - it is in "the great tribulation" that their robes have been "washed in the blood of the lamb".

"The Great Tribulation" certainly refers to the trials and persecutions of this life, but it is just as certain that those trials are not completed until we stand in the courts of heaven, and that passing through "the valley of the shadow of death" is itself just such a trial.

But PE goes on to say:
That is the great tragedy of the Roman church, not that it doesn't preach justification, because it does, but that it then retreats from it unable to trust so great a gift and imagine after human thinking that it must be somehow incomplete here and perfected elsewhere before it really happens fully.
You see, that is what I meant by your mixing of motifs and getting it all skew-wiff. Purification cannot really be a gift, even if it is done graciously. My mum used to wash me when I was a baby - it was a gracious act, and she did it, but "purity" was not a thing she could wrap up and give me. It was something that had to be done to me. The language of "gift" belongs to the Reward motif or the Justification motif, but not to the motif of purification.

Mind you, if you read your New Testament closely, you would realise that not only our purification, but also our justification is "somehow incomplete here and perfected elsewhere before it really happens fully". Read Galatians 5:5 very carefully. "Righteousness" is a "hope", it is something "we wait for", because in the end justification (as a "forensic motif") can only be declared final when the sentence is declared, and that will be on the Day of Judgement. (If you need further proof that the gift of eternal life is "somehow incomplete here and perfected elsewhere before it really happens fully" then check out Galatians 6:7-9).

PE goes on to say:
Which is why the Roman church expresses absolution with its "may" as though he might not, but our pastors clearly announce that he has.
I know the Lutheran formula of absolution, old chap. I used to speak it every Sunday to my parishioners and often individually in between. Both the Lutheran and the Catholic formula include a sacramental declaration of absolution in the form of "I absolve/forgive you". The only difference, is that the Catholic formula prefaces this with a sentence in the subjunctive "may God give you pardon and peace". The "may" there does not imply any uncertainty, but is, as I said, a translation of the subjunctive, and is used also in giving blessings etc. The teaching of the Church is clear: God has bound himself in his promise to forgive all who are repentant and who receive absolution. This is no different from Lutheran teaching. Not a jot.

12 Comments:

At Thursday, January 22, 2009 3:20:00 am , Anonymous Athanasius said...

I would be very disappointed if Purgatory did not exist. Going through eternity burdened with all of my vices would be a very mixed blessing indeed.

 
At Thursday, January 22, 2009 3:35:00 am , Anonymous matthias said...

Speaking as a member of a denomination descended from the Radical reformation :
When we get to heaven,our corruptible takes on incorruptible,our mortal takes on immortal.Thus our vices would have gone when we are with Christ.

 
At Thursday, January 22, 2009 3:38:00 am , Anonymous Past Elder said...

I will get back to you on this.

In the meantime, you may wish to remember Brother Dietrich Reinhart OSB, 11th president of St John's University, who resigned the office on diagnosis of a malignant melanoma and died therefrom just after Christmas, I have learned.

He was Tom to me. History major, summa cum laude, later Phd from Brown. Came to be a lawyer, stayed to be a monk. Class of '71. Entered the novitiate 11 July (when else?) before my senior year (I'm class of '72). Dietrich was his Benedictine name. Huh? No St Dietrich? Think Bonhoeffer. You'd have liked him.

 
At Thursday, January 22, 2009 3:44:00 am , Anonymous Athanasius said...

"...our corruptible takes on incorruptible, our mortal takes on immortal..."

Sounds like Purgatory to me.

 
At Thursday, January 22, 2009 4:44:00 am , Anonymous matthias said...

No not Purgatory Heaven-absent from the Body present with the Lord

 
At Thursday, January 22, 2009 6:00:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Athanasius said...

"...our corruptible takes on incorruptible, our mortal takes on immortal..."

Sounds like Purgatory to me.


That's what I was going to say.

Matthias said...

No not Purgatory Heaven-absent from the Body present with the Lord

Um... Hard to know just what you mean by that, Matthias, because of the lack of proper punctuation (write it out 100 times...)

I take it you mean that Paul's words from 1 Cor 15 describe Heaven, not Purgatory.

Athanasius' point is that, as St Paul says, we die corruptible, we rise incorruptible. What happens in between - ie. between our dying and our entry into heaven (and I don't mean that there is necessarily any time or space component of that happening - I just mean the "transformation" from the one to the other) is what Catholics mean by "purgatory".

Nor (since the Church has never defined this as a transformation with duration) does this necessarily mean rule out the possibility that the believer who dies is immediately admitted into heaven in chronological time (although neither is that the defined teaching of the Church). Purgatory is simply what happens to the soul imperfectly purified before entry into heaven.

And remember too, that what Paul describes in 1 Cor 15 is the entry into heaven after the resurrection - and that hasn't happened to any human being yet. (Except Jesus. And Mary. And Elijah. And possibly Moses - any other contenders?).

 
At Thursday, January 22, 2009 6:09:00 am , Anonymous matthias said...

And possibly Enoch .I will wait to see what PE has to say in full,perhaps he is recovering from watching the events in Washington.

 
At Thursday, January 22, 2009 12:59:00 pm , Anonymous Christine said...

As for Brother Dietrich, may the angels lead him into paradise.

 
At Thursday, January 22, 2009 6:58:00 pm , Anonymous matthias said...

Please accept my condolences and those of all fellow bloggers on this site,for the loss of your friend

 
At Thursday, January 22, 2009 9:10:00 pm , Anonymous Past Elder said...

Thank you matthias. You guys would have liked him. Even I liked him.

 
At Friday, January 23, 2009 2:32:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

I'm sorry too, PE. The death of a good friend is very hard. May he rest in peace and rise with all God's blessed on the Day of Christ.

 
At Monday, January 26, 2009 7:53:00 pm , Anonymous William Weedon said...

A most neglected part of the Lutheran Symbols is Apology XII,70,71. There Melanchthon grants that the fathers speak of purgatory, but that this is not a payment for eternal punishment, nor as satisfaction, but for the purification of imperfect souls. This is said without any note correcting the great saint, so that one must conclude that IF purgatory is so understood, then the Lutheran Symbols raise no objection against the notion. Hence, our beef is not with purgation, but with the notion of working off that debt that Christ's sacrifice has already atoned for. That we will all be saved by passing through fire is the teaching of St. Paul in 1 Cor. 3, and the fire will indeed purge "wood, hay, and stubble" but leave unharmed "gold, silver, and precious stone."

 

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