A reader emailed me the following:
Update: I am addressing Justification first because of the content of the email. I just don’t think that I can explain purgatory without first tackling how we are saved.
“My question is, what is the belief or reason the Catholic Church hangs on to the practice/belief of purgatory. Purgatory would trouble me. I believe that by grace you are saved through faith and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. Like-end of story. I believe salvation that when Jesus Christ died and suffered for me and AROSE again on the 3rd day-that is all I can bank on for salvation as all my doings are like filthy rags.I am born in sin. He has given me a freedom and now I can go ahead and trust Him to take me with Him to heaven when the trumpet sounds whether i am dead or alive when He returns. I must stop here—please attempt to understand my concerns & curiosity. Much love for all Catholics and I ask God to bless your church as it is doing great things, but purgatory, why??? God’s richest blessings to you and yours as we carry on spreading the gospel and telling the good news of Jesus to those who don’t know Him or maybe don’t care anything about Him. Peace be with you.”
Purgatory is a hard concept for many of our separated brothers and sisters to understand. Unfortunately, after 40 years of poor catechesis, many Catholics think that the Second Vatican Council did away the doctrine of Purgatory. I even had a Catholic who was part of a team responsible for formation tell me that the Church no longer believes in Purgatory. He held fast even when I showed him that the doctrine was in the Catechism!
“Until the Lord shall come in His majesty, and all the angels with Him and death being destroyed, all things are subject to Him, some of His disciples are exiles on earth, some having died are purified, and others are in glory beholding “clearly God Himself triune and one, as He is”; but all in various ways and degrees are in communion in the same charity of God and neighbor and all sing the same hymn of glory to our God.”
But I digress (getting of soap box now). There are a few statements in the email that I would like to address because they are essential to understanding the Catholic belief in Purgatory.
First we have to tackle the how we are justified question.
Our reader asks,
“I believe that by grace you are saved through faith and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast
This gets to the core of the difference/misunderstanding between Catholic and Lutheran beliefs. Lutherans believe in the doctrine of Sola Fide, that is that we are saved through faith alone and not by any thing (works) that we do. We cannot work our way into heaven.
Catholics share this belief.
The Council of Trent (1518) which was called in response the Reformation stated clearly in its first Cannon on justification:
“If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states:
161 Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. 42 “Since “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘But he who endures to the end.'”
On June 16, 1998 the Lutheran World Federation unanimously approved the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity approved the same Declaration on June 25,1998. Here is an excerpt from the statement:
15.In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.
16.All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God’s gift through the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that renewal of life which God will bring to completion in eternal life.
Catholics and Lutherans have a common understanding that we can only be justified, cleansed of our sins, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Catholics believe that justification comes through faith and Baptism (CCC #1987,Rm 6:8-11).
Where we differ
But we still have disagreements. Catholics believe that we are made holy by Baptism. Yes we are inclined to sin, but we are not corrupted, by sin. Christ call us to “be perfect” ( Matthew 5). We were made clean by baptism. Our sanctity is restored.
When we commit a sin, even a mortal one, we can be restored to union with God. Sin is not a permanent condition. Unless we chose it.
We are not filthy rags. God made all things good. We are made in the image and likeness of God. The filthy rag comment from the above reader, comes from a miss reading of Isaiah 64:6. Please go here for more information. http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/quickquestions/keyword/sola%20fide
Again we are made to live as children of God. We are made in his image. But God also gave us free will. We are free to accept and cooperate with God ; we are also free to reject him. We are free, even after a profession of faith, even after baptism to say no to God.
As St. Augustine said, the fallen angels had faith. They believed. They more than believed because they knew that God existed. Yet they still rebelled.
It takes more than belief to be a disciple. It takes more to live a life of discipleship;
Now we get into complicated territory.
Catholics and Lutherans agree that we are free to reject God. We are free to reject God’s grace. But Catholics also believe that we have to cooperate with God. We have to say yes. Jesus warned us in the Gospel that it is not enough to have faith; it is not enough to believe. It is not enough to be passive. We have to act.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Mathew 7:21).
Catholics take this very seriously. It makes me quake in my high heeled shoes (from Matthew 25):
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations 15 will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The Prophet Eziekel (36) foretold that our sanctity would be restored by Christ, through faith and baptism:
I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.
Christ makes all things new.
We are not filthy rags.
So what about good works? For Catholics doing good works is living the life of love. Of Agape. Of Charity. It is how we cooperate, how we are obedient to God.
We cannot, gosh darn, earn our way into heaven. But we can, by how we live our lives, reject heaven. That is how we end up in hell. Note; The Catholic teaching on hell is that there is a hell. Satan is there. Jesus warned that we could end up there. But we don’t know who if any human being is there. We hope and pray that all are saved.
Part II: Why Purgatory.