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Quote Archive: Purgatory

The “Becoming Catholic” series presents the biblical, philosophical, and historical evidence for why Eternal Christendom Founder, Joshua Charles, became and remains Catholic. The series table of contents is here.

This Quote Archive on Purgatory is part of the Becoming Catholic series. Each archive of quotes is intended to serve as a reference source on the various topics addressed in the articles. They are periodically updated as more research is completed.

Apostolic Era Documents

Ancient Christian Inscription: Varius Epitaphs (c. 150)

Source: H.P.V. Nunn, trans., Christian Inscriptions (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920), 17-18.

My mother is Eucharis and my father is Pius. I pray you, O brethren, to pray when you come here, and to ask in your common prayers the Father and the Son. May it be in your minds to remember dear Agape that the omnipotent God may keep Agape safe forever.

St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215) (EAST)

St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Book 6, Ch. 14)

Now to know is more than to believe, as to be dignified with the highest honor after being saved is a greater thing than being saved. Accordingly the believer, through great discipline, divesting himself of the passions, passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, viz., to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance from the sins he has committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more—not yet or not quite attaining what he sees others to have acquired. Besides, he is also ashamed of his transgressions. The greatest torments, indeed, are assigned to the believer. For God’s righteousness is good, and His goodness is righteous. And though the punishments cease in the course of the completion of the expiation and purification of each one, yet those have very great and permanent grief who are found worthy of the other fold, on account of not being along with those that have been glorified through righteousness.

Tertullian (c. 155-c. 220) (WEST)

Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul (Ch. 58) (c. 210)

(Ch. 58) All souls, therefore, are shut up within Hades: do you admit this? (It is true, whether) you say yes or no: moreover, there are already experienced there punishments and consolations; and there you have a poor man and a rich. And now, having postponed some stray questions for this part of my work, I will notice them in this suitable place, and then come to a close. Why, then, cannot you suppose that the soul undergoes punishment and consolation in Hades in the interval, while it awaits its alternative of judgment, in a certain anticipation either of gloom or of glory? You reply: Because in the judgment of God its matter ought to be sure and safe, nor should there be any inkling beforehand of the award of His sentence; and also because (the soul) ought to be covered first by its vestment of the restored flesh, which, as the partner of its actions, should be also a sharer in its recompense. What, then, is to take place in that interval? Shall we sleep? But souls do not sleep even when men are alive: it is indeed the business of bodies to sleep, to which also belongs death itself, no less than its mirror and counterfeit sleep. Or will you have it, that nothing is there done whither the whole human race is attracted, and whither all man’s expectation is postponed for safe keeping? Do you think this state is a foretaste of judgment, or its actual commencement? A premature encroachment on it, or the first course in its full ministration? Now really, would it not be the highest possible injustice, even in Hades, if all were to be still well with the guilty even there, and not well with the righteous even yet? What, would you have hope be still more confused after death? Would you have it mock us still more with uncertain expectation? Or shall it now become a review of past life, and an arranging of judgment, with the inevitable feeling of a trembling fear? But, again, must the soul always tarry for the body, in order to experience sorrow or joy? Is it not sufficient, even of itself, to suffer both one and the other of these sensations? How often, without any pain to the body, is the soul alone tortured by ill-temper, and anger, and fatigue, and very often unconsciously, even to itself? How often, too, on the other hand, amidst bodily suffering, does the soul seek out for itself some furtive joy, and withdraw for the moment from the body’s importunate society? I am mistaken if the soul is not in the habit, indeed, solitary and alone, of rejoicing and glorifying over the very tortures of the body. Look for instance, at the soul of Mutius Scævola as he melts his right hand over the fire; look also at Zeno’s, as the torments of Dionysius pass over it. The bites of wild beasts are a glory to young heroes, as on Cyrus were the scars of the bear. Full well, then, does the soul even in Hades know how to joy and to sorrow even without the body; since when in the flesh it feels pain when it likes, though the body is unhurt; and when it likes it feels joy though the body is in pain. Now if such sensations occur at its will during life, how much rather may they not happen after death by the judicial appointment of God! Moreover, the soul executes not all its operations with the ministration of the flesh; for the judgment of God pursues even simple cogitations and the merest volitions. “Whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” [Matt. 5:28] Therefore, even for this cause it is most fitting that the soul, without at all waiting for the flesh, should be punished for what it has done without the partnership of the flesh. So, on the same principle, in return for the pious and kindly thoughts in which it shared not the help of the flesh, shall it without the flesh receive its consolation. Nay more, even in matters done through the flesh the soul is the first to conceive them, the first to arrange them, the first to authorize them, the first to precipitate them into acts. And even if it is sometimes unwilling to act, it is still the first to treat the object which it means to effect by help of the body. In no case, indeed, can an accomplished fact be prior to the mental conception thereof. It is therefore quite in keeping with this order of things, that that part of our nature should be the first to have the recompense and reward to which they are due on account of its priority. In short, inasmuch as we understand the prison pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades [Matt. 5:25], and as we also interpret the uttermost farthing to mean the very smallest offense which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection, when the recompense will be administered through the flesh besides.

Tertullian, The Chaplet (Ch. 3) (211)

(Ch. 3) …We take also, in congregations before daybreak, and from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord both commanded to be eaten at meal-times, and enjoined to be taken by all alike. As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honors

Tertullian, On Monogamy (Ch. 10) (c. 218)

Indeed, she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship (with him) in the first resurrection; and she offers (her sacrifice) on the anniversaries of his falling asleep.

Origen (c. 184-c. 253) (EAST)

Origen, Against Celsus (Book 4, Ch. 13)

(Ch. 13) But as it is in mockery that Celsus says we speak of “God coming down like a torturer bearing fire,” and thus compels us unseasonably to investigate words of deeper meaning, we shall make a few remarks, sufficient to enable our hearers to form an idea of the defense which disposes of the ridicule of Celsus against us, and then we shall turn to what follows. The divine word says that our God is “a consuming fire,” [Deut. 4:24; 9:3] and that “He draws rivers of fire before Him”[cf. Dan. 7:10]; nay, that He even entereth in as “a refiner’s fire, and as a fuller’s herb,” [cf. Mal. 3:2] to purify His own people. But when He is said to be a “consuming fire,” we inquire what are the things which are appropriate to be consumed by God. And we assert that they are wickedness, and the works which result from it, and which, being figuratively called “wood, hay, stubble,” [cf. 1 Cor. 3:12] God consumes as a fire. The wicked man, accordingly, is said to build up on the previously-laid foundation of reason, “wood, and hay, and stubble.” If, then, anyone can show that these words were differently understood by the writer, and can prove that the wicked man literally builds up “wood, or hay, or stubble,” it is evident that the fire must be understood to be material, and an object of sense. But if, on the contrary, the works of the wicked man are spoken of figuratively under the names of “wood, or hay, or stubble,” why does it not at once occur (to inquire) in what sense the word “fire” is to be taken, so that “wood” of such a kind should be consumed? For (the Scripture) says: “The fire will try each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work be burned, he shall suffer loss.” [cf. 1 Cor. 3:13-15] But what work can be spoken of in these words as being “burned,” save all that results from wickedness? Therefore our God is a “consuming fire” in the sense in which we have taken the word; and thus He enters in as a “refiner’s fire,” to refine the rational nature, which has been filled with the lead of wickedness, and to free it from the other impure materials, which adulterate the natural gold or silver, so to speak, of the soul. And, in like manner, “rivers of fire” are said to be before God, who will thoroughly cleanse away the evil which is intermingled throughout the whole soul. But these remarks are sufficient in answer to the assertion, “that thus they were made to give expression to the erroneous opinion that God will come down bearing fire like a torturer.”

St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 210-258) (WEST)

St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter 51 (§20) (252)

(§20) And do not think, dearest brother, that either the courage of the brethren will be lessened, or that martyrdoms will fail for this cause, that repentance is relaxed to the lapsed, and that the hope of peace is offered to the penitent. The strength of the truly believing remains unshaken; and with those who fear and love God with their whole heart, their integrity continues steady and strong. For to adulterers even a time of repentance is granted by us, and peace is given. Yet virginity is not therefore deficient in the Church, nor does the glorious design of continence languish through the sins of others. The Church, crowned with so many virgins, flourishes; and chastity and modesty preserve the tenor of their glory. Nor is the vigor of continence broken down because repentance and pardon are facilitated to the adulterer. It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory: it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord.

Lactantius (c. 250-c. 325) (WEST)

Lactantius, The Divine Institutes (Book 7, Ch. 21) (c. 307)

(Ch. 21) …But when He shall have judged the righteous, He will also try them with fire. Then they whose sins shall exceed either in weight or in number, shall be scorched by the fire and burnt: but they whom full justice and maturity of virtue has imbued will not perceive that fire; for they have something of God in themselves which repels and rejects the violence of the flame. So great is the force of innocence, that the flame shrinks from it without doing harm; which has received from God this power, that it burns the wicked, and is under the command of the righteous…

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386) (EAST)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture No. 23 (§9) (c. 350)

(§9) Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice [the Eucharist] is set forth.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395) (EAST)

St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection (c. 382)

Just as those who refine gold from the dross which it contains not only get this base alloy to melt in the fire, but are obliged to melt the pure gold along with the alloy, and then while this last is being consumed the gold remains, so, while evil is being consumed in the purgatorial fire, the soul that is welded to this evil must inevitably be in the fire too, until the spurious material alloy is consumed and annihilated by this fire…If, then whether by forethought here, or by purgation hereafter, our soul becomes free from any emotional connection with the brute creation, there will be nothing to impede its contemplation of the Beautiful; for this last is essentially capable of attracting in a certain way every being that looks towards it. If, then, the soul is purified of every vice, it will most certainly be in the sphere of Beauty. The Deity is in very substance Beautiful; and to the Deity the soul will in its state of purity have affinity, and will embrace It as like itself.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Dead (c. 382)1

If a man distinguishes in himself what is peculiarly human from what is irrational, and if he be on the watch for a life of greater urbanity for himself, in this present life he will purify himself of any evil contracted, and overcome the irrational by reason. If he has inclined to the irrational pressure of the passions…he may afterward, in a very different manner, be very much interested in what is better, when, after his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul by the purifying fire.

St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) (EAST)

St. John Chrysostom, Homily No. 41 on 1 Corinthians (§8)

(§8) …Let us not then be weary in giving aid to the departed, both by offering on their behalf and obtaining prayers for them: for the common Expiation of the world is even before us. Therefore with boldness do we then entreat for the whole world, and name their names with those of martyrs, of confessors, of priests. For in truth one body are we all, though some members are more glorious than others; and it is possible from every source to gather pardon for them, from our prayers, from our gifts in their behalf, from those whose names are named with theirs. Why therefore do you grieve? Why mourn, when it is in your power to gather so much pardon for the departed?

St. John Chrysostom, Homily No. 3 on Philippians (v. 24)

(Ver. 24) …Mourn for those who have died in wealth, and did not from their wealth think of any solace for their soul, who had power to wash away their sins and would not. Let us all weep for these in private and in public, but with propriety, with gravity, not so as to make exhibitions of ourselves; let us weep for these, not one day, or two, but all our life. Such tears spring not from senseless passion, but from true affection. The other sort are of senseless passion. For this cause they are quickly quenched, whereas if they spring from the fear of God, they always abide with us. Let us weep for these; let us assist them according to our power; let us think of some assistance for them, small though it be, yet still let us assist them. How and in what way? By praying and entreating others to make prayers for them, by continually giving to the poor on their behalf. This deed hath some consolation; for hear the words of God Himself, when He says, “I will defend this city for Mine own sake, and for My servant David’s sake.” [2 Kings 20:6] If the remembrance only of a just man had so great power when deeds are done for one, how great power will it not have? Not in vain did the Apostles order [Apostolic Constitutions] that remembrance should be made of the dead in the dreadful Mysteries. They know that great gain resulteth to them, great benefit; for when the whole people stands with uplifted hands, a priestly assembly, and that awful Sacrifice lies displayed, how shall we not prevail with God by our entreaties for them? And this we do for those who have departed in faith, whilst the catechumens are not thought worthy even of this consolation, but are deprived of all means of help save one. And what is this? We may give to the poor on their behalf. This deed in a certain way refreshes them. For God wills that we should be mutually assisted; else why hath He ordered us to pray for peace and the good estate of the world? why on behalf of all men? since in this number are included robbers, violators of tombs, thieves, men laden with untold crimes; and yet we pray on behalf of all; perchance they may turn. As then we pray for those living, who differ not from the dead, so too we may pray for them.

St. Augustine (354-430) (WEST)

St. Augustine, Confessions (Book 9, Ch. 8, §36)

(§36) And I believe You have already done that which I ask You; but accept the free-will offerings of my mouth, O Lord. For she [St. Augustine’s mother, St. Monica], when the day of her dissolution was near at hand, took no thought to have her body sumptuously covered, or embalmed with spices; nor did she covet a choice monument, or desire her paternal burial-place. These things she entrusted not to us, but only desired to have her name remembered at Your altar, which she had served without the omission of a single day; whence she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed, by which the handwriting that was against us is blotted out [Col. 2:14]…

St. Augustine, Sermon 159 (§1) (c. 411)2

(§1) …However, perfection of some kind is to be found in this life, and the martyrs achieved it. That’s why, as the faithful know, Church custom has it that at the place where the names of the martyrs are recited at God’s altar, we don’t pray for them, while we do pray for the other departed brothers and sisters who are remembered there. It is insulting, I mean, to pray for martyrs, to whose prayers we ought rather to commend ourselves

St. Augustine, City of God (Book 21, Ch. 13, 16, 24)

(Ch. 13) …But temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But of those who suffer temporary punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgment; for to some, as we have already said, what is not remitted in this world is remitted in the next, that is, they are not punished with the eternal punishment of the world to come.

 (Ch. 16) …[Y]et if either of these ages [infancy or boyhood] has received the sacraments of the Mediator, then, although the present life be immediately brought to an end, the child, having been translated from the power of darkness to the kingdom of Christ, shall not only be saved from eternal punishments, but shall not even suffer purgatorial torments after death. For spiritual regeneration of itself suffices to prevent any evil consequences resulting after death from the connection with death which carnal generation forms…

 (Ch. 24) For some of the dead, indeed, the prayer of the Church or of pious individuals is heard; but it is for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not spend their life so wickedly that they can be judged unworthy of such compassion, nor so well that they can be considered to have no need of it. As also, after the resurrection, there will be some of the dead to whom, after they have endured the pains proper to the spirits of the dead, mercy shall be accorded, and acquittal from the punishment of the eternal fire. For were there not some whose sins, though not remitted in this life, shall be remitted in that which is to come, it could not be truly said, “They shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in that which is to come.” [Matt. 12:32]

St. Augustine, The Care to be Had for the Dead (§§3, 7, 22)

(§3) …In the books of the Maccabees we read of sacrifice offered for the dead. Howbeit even if it were nowhere at all read in the Old Scriptures, not small is the authority, which in this usage is clear, of the whole Church, namely, that in the prayers of the priest which are offered to the Lord God at His altar, the Commendation of the dead has also its place

 (§7) When therefore the faithful mother of a faithful son departed desired to have his body deposited in the basilica of a Martyr, forasmuch as she believed that his soul would be aided by the merits of the Martyr, the very believing of this was a sort of supplication, and this profited, if anything profited. And in that she recurs in her thoughts to this same sepulcher, and in her prayers more and more commends her son, the spirit of the departed is aided, not by the place of its dead body, but by that which springs from memory of the place, the living affection of the mother.

 (§22) Which things being so, let us not think that to the dead for whom we have a care, anything reaches save what by sacrifices either of the altar, or of prayers, or of alms, we solemnly supplicate: although not to all for whom they are done be they profitable, but to them only by whom while they live it is obtained that they should be profitable. But forasmuch as we discern not who these be, it is meet to do them for all regenerate persons, that none of them may be passed by to whom these benefits may and ought to reach. For better it is that these things shall be superfluously done to them whom they neither hinder nor help, than lacking to them whom they help

St. Augustine, The Enchiridion (§§67, 69-72, 109-110)

(§67) It is believed, moreover, by some, that men who do not abandon the name of Christ, and who have been baptized in the Church by His baptism, and who have never been cut off from the Church by any schism or heresy, though they should live in the grossest sin and never either wash it away in penitence nor redeem it by almsgiving, but persevere in it persistently to the last day of their lives, shall be saved by fire; that is, that although they shall suffer a punishment by fire, lasting for a time proportionate to the magnitude of their crimes and misdeeds, they shall not be punished with everlasting fire. But those who believe this, and yet are Catholics, seem to me to be led astray by a kind of benevolent feeling natural to humanity…

(§69) And it is not impossible that something of the same kind may take place even after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it. This cannot, however, be the case of any of those of whom it is said, that they shall not inherit the kingdom of God, unless after suitable repentance their sins be forgiven them. When I say suitable, I mean that they are not to be unfruitful in almsgiving; for Holy Scripture lays so much stress on this virtue, that our Lord tells us beforehand, that He will ascribe no merit to those on His right hand but that they abound in it, and no defect to those on His left hand but their want of it, when He shall say to the former, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom,” and to the latter, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire.”

(§70) We must beware, however, lest anyone should suppose that gross sins, such as are committed by those who shall not inherit the kingdom of God, may be daily perpetrated, and daily atoned for by almsgiving. The life must be changed for the better; and almsgiving must be used to propitiate God for past sins, not to purchase impunity for the commission of such sins in the future. For He has given no man license to sin, although in His mercy He may blot out sins that are already committed, if we do not neglect to make proper satisfaction.

(§71) Now the daily prayer of the believer makes satisfaction for those daily sins of a momentary and trivial kind which are necessary incidents of this life. For he can say, “Our Father which art in heaven,” seeing that to such a Father he is now born again of water and of the Spirit. And this prayer certainly takes away the very small sins of daily life. It takes away also those which at one time made the life of the believer very wicked, but which, now that he is changed for the better by repentance, he has given up, provided that as truly as he says, “Forgive us our debts” (for there is no want of debts to be forgiven), so truly does he say, “as we forgive our debtors”; that is, provided he does what he says he does: for to forgive a man who asks for pardon, is really to give alms.

(§72) And on this principle of interpretation, our Lord’s saying, “Give alms of such things as you have, and, behold, all things are clean unto you,” [Luke 11:41] applies to every useful act that a man does in mercy. Not only, then, the man who gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, hospitality to the stranger, shelter to the fugitive, who visits the sick and the imprisoned, ransoms the captive, assists the weak, leads the blind, comforts the sorrowful, heals the sick, puts the wanderer on the right path, gives advice to the perplexed, and supplies the wants of the needy—not this man only, but the man who pardons the sinner also gives alms; and the man who corrects with blows, or restrains by any kind of discipline one over whom he has power, and who at the same time forgives from the heart the sin by which he was injured, or prays that it may be forgiven, is also a giver of alms, not only in that he forgives, or prays for forgiveness for the sin, but also in that he rebukes and corrects the sinner: for in this, too, he shows mercy. Now much good is bestowed upon unwilling recipients, when their advantage and not their pleasure is consulted; and they themselves frequently prove to be their own enemies, while their true friends are those whom they take for their enemies, and to whom in their blindness they return evil for good. (A Christian, indeed, is not permitted to return evil even for evil. ) And thus there are many kinds of alms, by giving of which we assist to procure the pardon of our sins

(§109) During the time, moreover, which intervenes between a man’s death and the final resurrection, the soul dwells in a hidden retreat, where it enjoys rest or suffers affliction just in proportion to the merit it has earned by the life which it led on earth.

(§110) Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead are benefited by the piety of their living friends, who offer the sacrifice of the Mediator, or give alms in the church on their behalf. But these services are of advantage only to those who during their lives have earned such merit, that services of this kind can help them. For there is a manner of life which is neither so good as not to require these services after death, nor so bad that such services are of no avail after death; there is, on the other hand, a kind of life so good as not to require them; and again, one so bad that when life is over they render no help. Therefore, it is in this life that all the merit or demerit is acquired, which can either relieve or aggravate a man’s sufferings after this life. No one, then, need hope that after he is dead he shall obtain merit with God which he has neglected to secure here. And accordingly it is plain that the services which the church celebrates for the dead are in no way opposed to the apostle’s words: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad”; for the merit which renders such services as I speak of profitable to a man, is earned while he lives in the body. It is not to everyone that these services are profitable. And why are they not profitable to all, except because of the different kinds of lives that men lead in the body? When, then, sacrifices either of the altar or of alms are offered on behalf of all the baptized dead, they are thank-offerings for the very good, they are propitiatory offerings for the not very bad, and in the case of the very bad, even though they do not assist the dead, they are a species of consolation to the living. And where they are profitable, their benefit consists either in obtaining a full remission of sins, or at least in making the condemnation more tolerable.

St. Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) (WEST)

St. Pope Gregory the Great, Dialogues (Book 4, §§41-42, 57 62)3

Peter:

I should like to know if we have to believe in a cleansing fire after death.

Gregory:

(§41) In the Gospel our Lord says, ‘Finish your journey while you still have the light.’ [John 12:35] And in the words of the Prophet He declares, ‘In an acceptable time I have heard thee, and in the day of salvation I have helped thee.’ [Is. 49:8] St. Paul’s comment on this is: ‘And here is the time of pardon; the day of salvation has come already.’ [2 Cor. 6:2] Solomon, too, says, ‘Anything you can turn your hand to, do with what power you have; for there will be no work, nor reason, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the nether world where you are going.’ [Sir. 9:10] And David adds, ‘For his mercy endures forever.’ [Ps. 117:1] From these quotations it is clear that each one will be presented to the Judge exactly as he was when he departed this life. Yet, there must be a cleansing fire before judgment, because of some minor faults that may remain to be purged away. Does not Christ, the Truth, say that if anyone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit he shall not be forgiven ‘either in this world or in the world to come’? [Matt. 12:32] From this statement we learn that some sins can be forgiven in this world and some in the world to come. For, if forgiveness is refused for a particular sin, we conclude logically that it is granted for others. This must apply, as I said, to slight transgressionsAll these faults are troublesome for the soul after death if they are not forgiven while one is still alive. For, when St. Paul says that Christ is the foundation, he adds: ‘But on this foundation different men will build in gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, or straw…and fire will test the quality of each man’s workmanship. He will receive a reward, if the building he had added on stands firm! If it is burnt up, he will be the loser; and yet he himself will be saved, though only as men are saved by passing through fire.’ [1 Cor. 3:12-15]…

(§42) When I was still a young layman, I heard my elders and men acquainted with the circumstances tell of Paschasius, a deacon of the Apostolic See. His highly orthodox and brilliantly written books on the Holy Spirit are still read. He was a man of outstanding sanctity and very zealous in the practice of almsgiving. His kindness to the poor was remarkable, while for himself he had nothing but contempt. In the dispute over the papacy between the parties of Symmachus and Lawrence, which was accompanied by the excitement of popular demonstrations, he cast his vote for Lawrence. Even though Symmachus was later on accepted unanimously by both parties, Paschasius would not change his affiliation, but to the end of his life reserved his devotion and respect for Lawrence, the man whom the Church by the judgment of her bishops had refused to set up as her head.

Paschasius died during the reign of Pope Symmachus. A possessed person touched his dalmatic, which had been laid on the coffin, and was instantly cured. A long time afterward, Germanus, Bishop of Capua, whom I have already mentioned, came to the baths of Angulus at his doctor’s advice. As he entered the hot baths, he found the deacon Paschasius standing there as an attendant. Germanus was shocked and asked what a man of his dignity was doing in such a place. ‘The only reason I am serving here,’ the deacon answered, ‘is that I endorsed the party of Lawrence against Symmachus. But I beg you, pray for me to the Lord. When you come back and no longer find me here, you will know that your prayers have been heard.’

Germanus, therefore, gave himself to fervent prayer, and, when he returned a few days later, Paschasius no longer appeared. This purification from sin after death was possible because the deacon had sinned through ignorance, and not through malice. What we are to believe is that through his previous almsdeeds he obtained the grace of receiving forgiveness at a time when he was no longer able to do meritorious works

(§57) Peter:

Is there anything at all that can possibly benefit souls after death?

Gregory:

The holy Sacrifice of Christ, our saving Victim, brings great benefits to souls even after death, provided their sins can be pardoned in the life to come. For this reason the souls of the dead sometimes beg to have Masses offered for them.

Bishop Felix, whom I mentioned above, said that he had been told of such a case by a saintly priest who was still living two years ago in the diocese of Centum Cellae, a pastor of the Church of St. John in Tauriana. This priest used to bathe in the hot springs of Tauriana whenever his health required. One day, as he entered the baths, he found a stranger there who showed himself most helpful in every way possible, by unlatching his shoes, taking care of his clothes, and furnishing him towels after the hot bath.

After several experiences of this kind, the priest said to himself: ‘It would be not do for me to appear ungrateful to this man who is so devoted in his kind services to me. I must reward him in some way.’ So one day he took along two crown-shaped loaves of bread to give him.

When he arrived at the place, the man was already waiting for him and rendered the same services he had before. After the bath, when the priest was again fully dressed and ready to leave, he offered the man the present of bread, asking him kindly to accept it as a blessing, for it was offered as a token of charity. But the man sighed mournfully and said, ‘Why do you give it to me, Father? That bread is holy and I cannot eat it. I who stand before you was once the owner of this place. It is because of my sins that I was sent back here as a servant. If you wish to do something for me, then offer this bread to almighty God, and so make intercession for me, a sinner. When you come back and do not find me here, you will know that your prayers have been heard.’ With these words he disappeared, thus showing that he was a spirit disguised as a man. The priest spent the entire week in prayer and tearful supplications, offering Mass for him daily. When he returned to the bath, the man was no longer to be found. This incident points out the great benefits souls derive from the Sacrifice of the Mass. Because of these benefits the dead ask us, the living, to have Masses offered for them, and even show us by signs that it was through the Mass that they were pardoned

(§62) …This parable [Matt. 18:32-35] shows us that, if we do not sincerely forgive injuries, we shall have to give a second account of the sins for which we have already done penance and experienced the joy of forgiveness. So, while we are enjoying days of grace, while our Judge holds off the sentence, and the Examiner of our sins awaits our conversion, let us soften our hardened hearts with tears and practice charity and kindness toward our neighbor. Then we can be sure that, if we offered ourselves during life as victims to God, we will not need to have the saving Victim offered for us [the Eucharist] after death.

Other Documents

The Acts of Paul and Thecla (c. 160)

And after the exhibition, Tryphena again receives her. For her daughter Falconilla had died, and said to her in a dream: “Mother, you shall have this stranger Thecla in my place, in order that she may pray concerning me, and that I may be transferred to the place of the just.”

Ancient Christian Inscription: Epitaph of Abercius (c. 190)4

I, the citizen of a chosen city, erected this in my lifetime that I may have in time to come a place wherein to lay my body. My name is Abercius, the disciple of the Holy Shepherd, who feeds the flocks of His sheep on the hills and plains, and who has great eyes that look into every place…These things I, Abercius, commanded thus to be written when I was on earth; and truly I was seventy and two years old. Let him who understands this, and everyone who agrees therewith, pray for Abercius

The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (Ch. 2, §§3-4) (c. 203)

(§3) Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid color, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age, who died miserably with disease—his face being so eaten out with cancer, that his death caused repugnance to all men. For him I had made my prayer, and between him and me there was a large interval, so that neither of us could approach to the other…And I was upset, and knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then was the birthday of Geta Caesar, and I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me.

 (§4) Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me. I saw that that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. And…he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment.

Acts of Philip (c. 350)

And the Savior said to Philip: “But since you have disobeyed me, and have requited evil for evil, and have not kept my commandment, on this account you shall finish your course gloriously indeed, and shall be led by the hand by my holy angels, and shall come with them even to the paradise of delight; and they indeed shall come beside me into paradise, but you will I order to be shut outside of paradise for forty days, in terror under the flaming and turning sword, and you shall groan because you have done evil to those who have done evil to you.”

Apostolic Constitutions (Book 8, §§40-41) (c. 400)

(§40) …Concerning those that are at rest in Christ: After the bidding prayer, that we may not repeat it again, the deacon shall add as follows:

 (§41) Let us pray for our brethren that are at rest in Christ, that God, the lover of mankind, who has received his soul, may forgive him every sin, voluntary and involuntary, and may be merciful and gracious to him, and give him his lot in the land of the pious that are sent into the bosom of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, with all those that have pleased Him and done His will from the beginning of the world, whence all sorrow, grief, and lamentation are banished. Let us arise, let us dedicate ourselves and one another to the eternal God, through that Word which was in the beginning.

 And let the bishop say: O You who is by nature immortal, and has no end of Your being, from whom every creature, whether immortal or mortal, is derived; who made man a rational creature, the citizen of this world, in his constitution mortal, and added the promise of a resurrection; who did not suffer Enoch and Elijah to taste of death: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, who art the God of them, not as of dead, but as of living persons: for the souls of all men live with You, and the spirits of the righteous are in Your hand, which no torment can touch [Matt. 22:32; Wis. 3:1]; for they are all sanctified under Your hand: do Thou now also look upon this Your servant, whom You have selected and received into another state, and forgive him if voluntarily or involuntarily he has sinned, and afford him merciful angels, and place him in the bosom of the patriarchs, and prophets, and apostles, and of all those that have pleased You from the beginning of the world, where there is no grief, sorrow, nor lamentation; but the peaceable region of the godly, and the undisturbed land of the upright, and of those that therein see, the glory of Your Christ; by whom glory, honor, and worship, thanksgiving, and adoration be to You, in the Holy Spirit, forever. Amen…

Footnotes

  1. Jimmy Akins, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church (San Diego: Catholic Answers Press, 2010), 389-90. ↩︎
  2. St. Augustine, Edmund Hill, OP, trans., The Works of Saint Augustine: Sermons, III/5 (148-183) (New York: New City Press, 1992), 121. ↩︎
  3. St. Pope Gregory the Great, Odo John Zimmerman, trans., The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 39: St. Gregory the Great, Dialogues (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2002), 247-50, 266-67, 274-75. ↩︎
  4. H.P.V. Nunn, trans., Christian Inscriptions (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920), 24. ↩︎
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