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Book II - Chapter XVI

Of Purgatory

Papists have mapped out the other world into four grand divisions. The lowest is hell, the region of the damned. There are the ever-burning fires; there are Lutherans, and all other Protestant heretics; and, in fine, there are all who have died beyond the pale of the Roman Catholic Church, with the exception of a few heathens, and a few Christian,--whose narrow intellects scarcely served to distinguish between their right hand and their left, and who have escaped on the ground of "invincible ignorance." The next region in order is purgatory, of which we shall have occasion to speak more fully immediately. Immediately above purgatory is limbus patrum, where the souls of the saints who died before our Saviour's time were confined till released by Him, and carried with Him to heaven at his ascension, when this region was abolished, and heaven substituted in its room. The last and remaining region is limbus infantum. To this receptacle the souls of children dying unbaptized are consigned; it being a settled point among the doctors of the Romish Church, that such as die unbaptized are excluded from heaven.

It is the lowest save one of these four localities of which we are to speak--purgatory. It is filled with the same fires, and is the scene of the same torments, as the region immediately beneath it, but with this important difference, that those consigned to it remain here only for a while.1 It is the doctrine of the Church of Rome, that no one enters heaven immediately on his departure. A short purgation amid the fires of purgatory is indispensable in the case of all, unless perhaps of those who are protected by a very special and most plenary indulgence. Even the pontiffs themselves, infallible though they be, must take purgatory in their way, and pass a certain period amid its fires, before being worthy to appear at those gates at which St. Peter keeps watch. All who die in mortal sin,--and of all mortal sins, heresy and the want of money to buy an indulgence are the most mortal,--are at once consigned to hell. Those who die in a state of grace, with the remission of the guilt of all their mortal sins, go to purgatory, where they are purified from the stain of venial sins, and endure the temporary punishment which remains due for their mortal offences. For it is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, that even after God has remitted the guilt and the eternal punishment of sin, a temporary punishment remains due, which may be borne either in this life or in the next. Without this doctrine it would scarce be possible to maintain purgatory; and without purgatory, who would buy indulgences and masses? and without indulgences and masses, how could the coffers of the Pope be replenished? The sojourn is longer or shorter in purgatory, according to circumstances, being dependent mainly upon the amount of satisfaction to be given. But the period may be much shortened by the efforts made in behalf of the deceased by his friends on earth; for the Church teaches that souls detained in that state are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, that is, by the prayers and alms offered for them, and principally by the indulgences and masses purchased for their benefit.2

The existence of purgatory is authoritatively taught and most surely believed among Roman Catholics. The doctrine respecting it decreed by the Council of Trent, and taught in the catechism of that council, as well as in all the common catechisms of the Church of Rome, is that which we have just stated. The Council of Trent3 decreed, "that there is a purgatory," and enjoined all bishops to "diligently endeavour that the wholesome doctrine of purgatory" be "everywhere taught and preached,"--an injunction which has been carefully attended to. And so important is the belief of purgatory, that Bellarmine affirms that its denial can be expiated only amid the flames of hell. One would naturally expect that Rome would be prepared with very solid and convincing grounds for a doctrine to which she assigns such prominence, and which she inculcates upon her people under a penalty so tremendous. These grounds, such as they are, we shall indicate, and that is all that our limits permit. The first proof is drawn from the Apocrypha; but as this is an authority that possesses no weight with Protestants, we shall not occupy space with it, but pass on to the second, which is drawn from Scripture, and which is made to support the chief weight of the doctrine,--with what justice the reader will judge. The following is the passage in which Papists unmistakeably discover purgatory:--"Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."4 Here, says the Papist, our Lord speaks of a sin that shall not be forgiven in the world to come; which implies that there are sins that shall be forgiven in the world to come. But sins cannot be forgiven in heaven, nor will they be forgiven in hell; therefore there must be a third place where sins are forgiven, which is purgatory. The answer which the Rev. Mr. Nolan has given to this is much to the point, and is all that such an argument deserves. "Let me suppose," says he, "a person committed a most enormous offence against the laws of this country, and that the Lord Lieutenant said, it shall not be forgiven, neither in this country nor in England; would any one be so irrational as to argue that the Lord Lieutenant meant to insinuate from this mode of expression that there was a middle place where the crime might be forgiven?"5 That our Lord meant simply to indicate the unpardonable character of the sin against the Holy Ghost, and not to teach the doctrine of purgatory, is incontrovertible, from the parallel passage in Luke, where it is said, "Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man it shall be forgiven him; but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven."6 Other passages have been adduced, which yield, if possible, a still more doubtful support to purgatory, and on which it were a waste of time here to dwell. The practice of the fathers, some of whom prayed for the dead, has been pled in argument, as if the unwarrantable customs of men lapsing into superstition could support a doctrine still more gross and superstitious. And, still farther to fortify an opinion which stands in need of all the aid it can obtain from every quarter, and finds all too little, the vision of Perpetua, a young lady of twenty-two, has been employed to silence those who refuse on this head to listen to the fathers. But if there be indeed a purgatory, and if the belief of it be so indispensable, that all are damned who doubt it, as Papists teach, why was it not clearly revealed? and why is the argument in its favour nought but a miserable patch-work of perverted texts, visions of young ladies, and the dotard practices of men whose Christianity had become emasculated by a nascent superstition? We can trace a purgatory nowhere but in the writings of the pagan philosophers and poets. The great father of poetry makes some not very obscure allusions to such a place: Plato believed in a middle state: it formed one of the compartments of Virgil's Elysium; and there souls were purified by their own sufferings and the sacrifices of their friends on earth, before entering the habitation of joy. From this source did the Roman Catholic Church borrow her purgatory.

But we have a sure word of prophecy. The world beyond the grave has been made known to us, so far as we are able to receive it, by One who knew it better than either popes or fathers, because He came from it. When he lifts the veil, we discover only two classes and two abodes. And while we meet with nothing in the New Testament that countenances the doctrine of purgatory we meet with much that expressly contradicts and confutes it. All the statements of the Word of God respecting the nature of sin, and the death and satisfaction of Christ, are condemnatory of purgatory, and conclusively establish that there neither is nor can be any such place. The Scripture authorizes no such distinction as Papists make between venial and mortal sins. It teaches that all sin is mortal, and, unless blotted out by the blood of Christ, will issue in the sinner's eternal ruin. It teaches, that after death there is neither change of character nor of state; that God does not sell his grace, but bestows it freely; that we are not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold; that no man can redeem his brother, whether by prayers or by offerings; that the law of God demands of every man, every moment of his being, the highest obedience of which his nature and his faculties are capable, and that since the foundation of the world a single work of supererogation has never been performed by any of the sons of men; and that therefore the source whence this imaginary fund of merit is supplied has no existence, and is, like the fund itself, a delusion and a fable; it teaches, in fine, that God pardons men only on the footing of the satisfaction of his Son, which is complete and sufficient, and needs not to be supplemented by works of human merit; and that when he pardons, he pardons all sin, and forever.

But the grand criterion by which Rome tests all her doctrines is not their truth, nor their bearing on man's benefit and God's glory, but their value in money. How much will they bring? is the first question which she puts. And it must be confessed, that in purgatory she has found a rare device for replenishing her coffers, of which she has not failed to make the very most. We need go no farther than Ireland as an instance. For a poor man, when he dies, a private mass is offered, for which the priest is paid from two-and-sixpence to ten shillings. For rich men there is a HIGH or chanted mass. In this instance, a number of priests assemble, and each receives from seven-and-sixpence to a pound. At the end of the month after the death, mass is again celebrated. The same number of priests again assemble, and receive payment over again.7 Anniversary or annual masses are also appointed for the rich, when the same routine is gone through, and the same expenses are incurred. There are, moreover, in almost every parish in Ireland, purgatorial societies. The person becomes a member on the payment of a certain sum, and the subscription of a penny a-week; and the funds thus raised are given to the priest, to be laid out for the deliverance of souls from purgatory. There is, besides, ALL SOUL'S DAY, which falls on the 2d of November, on which an extraordinary collection is taken up from all Catholics for the same purpose.8 In short, there is no end of the expedients and pretences which purgatory furnishes to an avaricious priesthood for extorting money. Popery, says the author of Kirwan's Letters, meets men "at the cradle, and dogs them to the grave, and beyond it, with its demands for money."9 The writer was told in Belgium, by an intelligent English Protestant, who had resided many years in that country, that it is rare indeed for a man of substance to die without leaving from thirty to fifty pounds to be laid out in masses for his soul. No sooner is the fact known, than the priests of the district flock to the dead man's house, as do rooks to carrion, and, while a centime of the sum remains, live there, singing masses, and all the while feasting like ghouls.

Another of the innumerable frauds connected with purgatory is the doctrine of intention. By this is meant that the priest offers his mass according to the intention of the person paying. The price varies, according to the circumstances of the person, from half-a-crown to five shillings. These intentions, in many instances, are never discharged. Mr. Nolan mentions the case of the Rev. Mr. Curran, parish priest of Killuchan, in the county of Westmeath, an intimate acquaintance of his own, who at his death bequeathed to the Rev. Dr. Cantwell of Mullingar, three hundred pounds, to be expended on masses (at two-and-sixpence each) for such intentions as he (Mr. Curran) had neglected to discharge. It thus appears that Mr. Curran died owing twenty four hundred masses, most of them, doubtless, for souls in purgatory.10"The frauds," says Dr. Murray of New York, addressing Bishop Hughes, "which your Church has practised on the world by her relics and indulgences are enormous. If practised by the merchants of New York in their commercial transactions, they would send every man of them to state-prison."11 "In Roman Catholic countries," says Principal Cunningham "and in Ireland among the rest, the priests make the people believe that by the sacrifice of the mass, that is, by their offering up to God the body and blood of Christ, they can cure barrenness, heal the diseases of cattle, and prevent mildew in grain; and much money is every year spent in procuring masses to effect these and similar purposes. Men who obtain money in such a way, and upon such pretences (and this is a main source of the income of popish priests), should be regarded and treated as common swindlers."12

1 For a succinct and graphic account of the various torments with which Papists have filled purgatory, see Edgar's Variations of Popery, pp. 452-460.

2 See the common catechisms of the Church of Rome.

3 Concil. Trid. sess. xxv.

4 Matt. xii. 32.

5 Pamphlet by the Rev. L. J. Nolan, third ed. 1838, p. 52.

6 Luke, xii. 1.

7 Both occasions, Mr. Nolan informs us, are concluded with a sumptuous dinner, consisting of flesh, and fowl, and of every delicacy, which is washed down with enormous potations of wine and whisky. Half the priests of a district often contrive to live on these dinners. (Nolan's Pamphlet, p. 46.)

8 Nolan's Pamphlet, pp. 44-48.

9 Letters to the Right Rev. John Hughes, by Kirwan,--letter v.; Johnstone & Hunter; Edin. 1851.

10 Nolan's Pamphlet, p. 47.

11 Kirwan's Letters, series ii. letter vi.

12 Stillingfleet's Doctrine and Practice, by Dr. Cunningham, p. 275.

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