Category Archives: doctrine

Three Common Objections to Purgatory

Purgatory is perhaps one of the more misunderstood doctrines by Non-Catholics and Catholics alike.  Three common objections are raised by our Protestant brethren against this doctrine.  First, they regard that by believing in Purgatory, Catholics reject the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Second, Purgatory appears to be a “second chance” for those who did not choose Jesus while on earth.  And third, the word Purgatory is no where to be found in the Bible.  In this article we will address each of these objections, presenting biblical evidence as well as examining the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Isn’t Jesus’ Sacrifice Sufficient?

Contrary to Protestants’ mistaken understanding of what Catholics believe, we are actually in agreement that Jesus’ sacrifice is indeed sufficient for us to merit heaven.  The Catechism states in paragraph 1992, “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered Himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men.”  It seems that our separated brethren forget that while our justification and redemption were merited by Jesus’ sacrifice, our sanctification and purification are ongoing processes which continue until we die (and even beyond our earthly lives if we need to be purified before entering Heaven.)

Scripture states in Revelation 21:27, “But nothing unclean shall enter it [Heaven].”  Hebrews 12:14 echoes the same theme of the need to be sinless in order to enter Heaven:  “Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

Is Purgatory a “Second Chance?”

To understand Purgatory, it is essential to know the difference between guilt and reparation and mortal and venial sins.  By comprehending this, it will be clear that Purgatory is not a “second chance” for Heaven for those who rejected Jesus while on earth.  When sin has been committed, guilt can be forgiven but reparation certainly has to be made for the wrongdoing.  Reparation is something done to make up for the wrong.  For example, if a person crashes into your car, you may forgive him of his guilt but you certainly will demand that he pay for the damages.  Scripture has the best example of this in 2 Samuel 12: 13-14.  Here King David committed adultery and also murdered Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah.  David asked for forgiveness and the prophet Nathan answered him, “The Lord also has put away your sin, you shall not die.  Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”  His guilt was forgiven but reparation was demanded.  Our separated brethren have an incomplete understanding of this.  They have a mistaken notion that both guilt and reparation are forgiven by God once a person is truly sorry for their sins.

 The distinction between sins that cause death (mortal sins) and sins which wound the soul (venial sins) must be clear in order to understand Purgatory.   Scripture differentiates between these sins in l John 5:16-17.  James 1:14-15 also talks about sin which starts off as temptation then matures only to “bring forth death.”

According to the Catechism, “All who die in God’s grace, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”  (CCC 1030) We are commanded by Jesus in Matthew 5:48 to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Those who die without perfect holiness but in a state of grace will undergo purification in Purgatory.  Hence, Purgatory is not a “second chance.”  It is for the saved that need to be made clean before entering Heaven.  All souls in Purgatory eventually enter Heaven.

Where is “Purgatory” in the Bible?

The third objection, “it’s not in the Bible,” can be easily refuted.  While it is not explicitly spelled out and mentioned by name, the reality of Purgatory is found throughout Scripture.  The name is not what is important.  What is important is the doctrine itself.  The words “Trinity” or “Incarnation” are not mentioned specifically in the Bible either, yet they are central to the Christian faith.  By the way, the word “Purgatory” comes from the Latin, “purgatorium” (to purge).

The most definitive evidence of the reality of Purgatory is found in 2 Macabees 12:44-46.  In this passage Judas Macabee and his men had found, in the bodies of their fallen comrades, “tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the Law forbids the Jews to wear.”  As a result, “they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which has been committed might be wholly blotted out…for if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead…Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”  This passage shows the practice and attitude of the Jews before the time of Jesus.  They PRAYED for their dead and still do today.

Other evidence from Scripture can be found in 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15.  Here Paul refers to a foundation, Jesus, on which one builds with “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw… If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”  In this passage, if this loss meant hell, then how can the person still be saved?  This certainly is not hell, nor can it be Heaven since there is no suffering of loss.  This refers to the fires of Purgatory which cleanses and purifies the saved.

Purgatory is described as a prison in Matthew 5:26 where “You will never get out till you have paid the last penny.”  In hell there is nothing to be paid back.  You are in there forever.  Surely this passage, as well as the passage from 1 Peter 3:19 where Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison” do not refer to hell.   Jesus has nothing to say to the eternally damned in hell.

In conclusion, we have shown that Purgatory is indeed scriptural.  It shows the depth of God’s love and mercy for us.  God, who is a consuming fire, draws us closer to Him, burning our sinfulness away.  This entails suffering and pain so as to wipe out every vestige of our selfish desires.  We must, by accepting the finished work of Jesus, cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our sanctification so we may “inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.”  (Matthew 25:34)

Book Review: “A Map of Life”

A Map of Life“, by Frank Sheed, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1994.  Originally published by Sheed & Ward, London, 1933.  147 pages.

Francis Joseph "Frank" Sheed, 1897-1982.
Francis Joseph “Frank” Sheed, 1897-1982.

I first heard of Frank Sheed, a 20th lay Catholic apologist while I was in college when a friend recommended his book, “Theology and Sanity” to me.  After moving to Guam I learned of Sheed’s involvement in the Catholic Evidence Guild in the United Kingdom and of his other works, including “A Map of Life“, which I am reviewing here.

A Map of Life“, a short work of only 147 pages, is subtitled, “A simple study of the Catholic faith,” and that it is.  And a map too, a map that lays out the principle features of Revelation, with the ultimate destination highlighted.

In fact, a map is useless unless it clearly shows how to get to the destination, and it is there that Sheed starts, with heaven.  Not the heaven of pearly gates, harps, and clouds, but the heaven as the great Doctors of the Church describe it, as the state of direct knowledge of God and of direct love of God, the source of infinite knowledge, love, and beauty.  This decripition doesn’t do justice to Sheed’s prose, which soars far above mine.

“There is a road leading man to that ineffable intimacy with God that we call heaven.  The condition of walking the road aright is the Supernatural Life.  It will seen that every single thing that happens to man has its bearing on this Supernatural Life and is a good thing or a bad thing depending on whether it helps or hinders it.  Every single doctrine of the Catholic Church is bound up with this, and every single practice of the Catholic Church is concerned with this and with nothing else, and apart from this, has no meaning.” page 35.

The book has only 14 chapters, with an average length of 10 or so very readable pages.  After discussing life’s purpose and heaven, Sheed goes on to Creation, the Fall, the Incarnation, the Church, the Trinity,  Sin, Suffering, Supernatural Life, Hell, Purgatory, and finally, Heaven again.

Sheed is very “Thomistic” in his perspective, that is, he follows the reasoning of St. Thomas Aquinas.  One thread that runs throughout the book is the Thomistic concept of the two faculties of spirit, any spirit:  intellect and will.  The intellect’s chief action is to know, and it’s object is truth, while the will’s chief action is to love, and it’s object is goodness.  And the supreme truth and goodness, is God, of course.  The relation of God’s infinite intellect and will to the Holy Trinity is discussed in chapter 8, in a way that was never presented to me before in my fifty years as a Catholic.  The effect of the “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and charity on our fallen intellects and wills is discussed in an enlightening way in chapter 12.  I doubt that you’ve ever heard those virtues presented that way ever before.  I certainly have not.

In summary, “A Map of Life” is a marvelous introduction to the Catholic faith for an adult reader thinking about entering the Church, or even for adults like me, who never quite got the big picture by attending CCD as a youth.

The Lamb of God

The next day, he saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29 NJB

Just what does John the Baptist mean by calling Jesus  the “Lamb of God”?  Well, to make a long story short, he’s referring to the fact the Jesus is the Lamb of the New Passover.  That’s how Jesus saw himself, and that’s how the inspired authors of the New Testament saw him.  To see this, let’s start with explaining the Passover and how it was celebrated in Jesus’s time and then move on to the Scriptural evidence.  After that, we’ll spend a bit of time reflecting on the question, “Why a sacrifice?” Continue reading The Lamb of God