Monday, October 07, 2013

Dialogue on Purgatory in the Bible and in St. Ambrose (vs. Bethany Kerr)

 
This friendly and constructive exchange took place on my Facebook page, under a post from 24 September 2013. Bethany is an evangelical Protestant with Calvinist inclinations. Her words will be in blue.

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Original post:

NO BIBLICAL EVIDENCE FOR BODILY MORTIFICATION ON BEHALF OF OTHERS? THAT WOULD BE BIG NEWS TO THE PROPHET EZEKIEL

EZEKIEL 4:4-8 (RSV) "Then lie upon your left side, and I will lay the punishment of the house of Israel upon you; for the number of the days that you lie upon it, you shall bear their punishment. [5] For I assign to you a number of days, three hundred and ninety days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment; so long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. [6] And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah; forty days I assign you, a day for each year. [7] And you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared; and you shall prophesy against the city. [8] And, behold, I will put cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege."

But Ezekiel was bearing an earthly punishment for the living... He did nothing to remove punishment for the dead.

Also, he was a prophet. Prophets had to do many things that would not be instructed to believers today. (Such as, making cakes over dung, keeping silent after a wife dies, or marrying prostitutes and staying with them throughout their prostitution).
From my understanding, prophets commonly did things like this to paint a picture.
In this particular argument I wasn't claiming that he was doing something for the dead. But that is not at all unbiblical, either. Paul talks about those being baptized for the dead (1 Cor 15:29), and makes a direct reference to 2 Maccabees 12:44 (KJV): "For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead." I believe he was referring to penance for the dead, per the plausible interpretation of St. Francis de Sales.

The Apostle Paul also prayed for the dead (Onesiphorus).

I agree that prophets do weird things; no argument there. My favorite is Isaiah going around naked. One of my female friends wisecracked about, "why couldn't God pick a younger guy to do that?" :-)

But again, my target in this post was those who think such a thing is unbiblical, period: that it is impermissible and not something God would want done: even if only by a prophet, who is often commanded to do odd stuff. God can't command anything that is intrinsically wrong.


LOL @your Isaiah comment!

I would love to one day discuss these things with you more but would not want to derail your thread. I enjoy reading your posts (even if I do disagree on theology)! And you seem like someone not offended by discussion as many can be, which is nice.


It's fine, Bethany. This is on-topic. Feel free. Thanks for your very kind words, and you appear to be one who can disagree amiably, too. Good for you! I'm honored that you like reading my posts.

Yes, I definitely enjoy disagreeing amiably. (I'm a lightweight and you're a heavyweight but that won't stop me from trying.) LOL

I do wonder why you believe that Onesiphorus is an example of prayers being made for the dead. I don't see that in scripture. I saw how he made a prayer that he hoped he would find mercy on "that day".... But I don't see any reason to believe that Onesiphorus was dead at the time he prayed this. It seems speculative.

I could pray that God would find mercy on someone who wronged a friend of mine (on that day) but my prayer could have no effect once the person was already dead. If they are born again, they are already a recipient of Gods mercy... But if not, there is nothing that can be done after death. They are already recipients of Gods wrath. The time has ended for prayers on their behalf.


But you're forgetting purgatory. :-)

Well okay, purgatory... Where do you find it in scripture?

I guess I should begin with that my beliefs are very similar to Calvinism, although I do not know enough about it to be absolutely certain.

Here is a paper where I cite many Protestants on the Onesiphorus issue:
 
Onesiphorus (2 Tim 1:16-18; 4:19): Explicit New Testament Example of the Apostle Paul Praying for the Dead (Explanations of Protestant Commentaries)


I find indications of purgatory in lots o' places. See: Biblical Evidence for Purgatory: 25 Bible Passages.

I will read it tonight and get back with you soon. Thanks, Dave.

Cool. My papers will put you to sleep, though!

No they are interesting! I actually read through much of your blog right after you added me as friend a year or so ago.

Isn't that something? Wow!

I wanted to add that there is actually a Protestant argument for prayers for the dead, that presupposes the non-existence of purgatory (which would be used by, e.g., Lutherans, who do so):

Since God is outside of time, pray
ers can be "retroactive"; in other words, one could pray for a dead person, and God could apply the prayer to the person outside of time. Thus, you could actually pray for the person's salvation after he or she died. God would simply apply it on the person's behalf. We can do that since we don't know a person's destiny for sure. Prayer is always good and will have some positive result.


The first thing I noticed in your article regarding purgatory (since this is the heart of the issue) is that you brought up origin and Ambrose, and that they referred to purgatory, using Psalm 66:12 as a proof text.

I do not see Psalm 66:12 in con
text as speaking of the afterlife at all:

8 Bless our God, O peoples;
let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept our soul among the living
and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
12 you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

It is poetic speak, typical of psalms, but it also is speaking of the conflicts and trials of God's people, while on earth. God brings us through many trials, through "fire and water", and yet he has brought us out to a "place of abundance". I don't see any reason to assume this text is referring to the afterlife, especially if you go on to read the rest of the chapter. There is no indication there of purgatory, only speculation.

Also, it seems that Catholics distance themselves from many of the things Origen believed, and most places that I have read from Catholic sources say that Origen didn't really have a good grasp on what purgatory actually / was/ in the first place. 

 
I don't know what he is quoted as saying that proves this verse to be referring to a place where your sins are removed from you after death, by fire, but I am sure that his beliefs were quite different than the Catholic church's beliefs of today. Even if he were to have believed it the same way, that would not be proof of the doctrine of purgatory...I mean, Tertullian became a Monatist, but I doubt the Catholic church uses quotes from that era of his life to promote their teachings, since they considered him to be a heretic after that point. I say that to say that just because one of the early church fathers believed it, doesn't make it true. It must be supported Biblically.

As for Ambrose, Catholics seem to use this statement by him to be proof that he believed in purgatory:
"Give, O Lord, rest to Thy servant Theodosius, that rest Thou hast prepared for Thy saints. . . . I loved him, therefore will I follow him to the land of the living; I will not leave him till by my prayers and lamentations he shall be admitted unto the holy mount of the Lord, to which his deserts call him"

Did you know that this is taken out of its context to give a false impression of what ambrose was saying? Only a bit earlier in his quote, this is what he says:

"The flesh, therefore, returns to earth, the soul hastens to the rest which is above..to which it is said, "Return to thy rest, oh my soul" (Ps. csvi 7) (Sec 31)

Into which rest, Theodosius hastenened to enter, and go into the city of jerusalem, of which it is said; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. (Apoc xxi 24)

That is true glory which is there assumed; that is the most blessed kingdom, which is there possessed, whither the apostle hastened, saying; we are confident therefore, and willing rather to be absent from the body ,and present with the Lord. Wherefore we labor that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. (2 cor vs 8,9)

or well pleasing to him, (sec 32)

Freed, therefore, from the doubtful contest, theodosius, of august memory, now enjoys perpetual light, endless tranquility, and according to those things which he hath done in his body, rejoices in the fruits of divine remuneration. "
I had to type that out because I could not find a text to copy and paste, and didn't have much time so please forgive grammatical errors. You can see the rest of the text here: Roman Misquotation: or Certain Passages from the Fathers [Richard T. P. Pope]


I know I've only addressed such a small part so far. Got to go to bed though. OK I was wrong. I have to address one more thing before bed. I'll leave you alone then.

From your article:

Isaiah 6:5-7 And I said: "Woe is me! for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven."

This passage is a noteworthy example of what happens when men experience God's presence directly. An immediate recognition of one's own unholiness occurs, along with the corresponding feeling of inadequacy. Like Isaiah, we must all undergo a self-conscious and voluntary purging upon approaching God more closely than in this present life."

I would just mention here that Isaiah is not yet dead- and he is in his physical body- which is different from our souls being separated from our body upon death. This cannot be compared accurately to our experience after having died and being separated from this "body of death". To be absent in the body is to be present with Christ.

I absolutely agree that if we came face to face with God at this moment, we would fall to our knees, absolutely ashamed of our sinfulness and being frightened to our core. But we are not yet separated from our bodies, which have a nature of sin. Our spirit and flesh are in constant war until death causes their separation.


Replying to your last comment first:

Again, I didn't claim that Isaiah was dead, but it is irrelevant to my point, which was how we react when we meet God: we feel unworthy and want to make ourselves clean. That is the main notion that lies behind pur
gatory.

Protestants and Catholics agree that we have to be actually sinless to enter into heaven. We just think it'll be more of a process to get clean: not an instant "zap"! So we agree on the essentials (gotta be clean and sin-free) and disagree on secondary elements (how long it will take and how painful).


Psalm 66:12 doesn't necessarily have to be about the afterlife itself. It illustrates the principle of purging and cleansing that many biblical passages illustrate. We know that that process is a "biblical" one that God does all the time. So it stands to reason that He will after we die and enter literally into God's presence in heaven. Even a guy like C. S. Lewis agrees with that. He believed in purgatory.

I am sure that his beliefs were quite different than the Catholic church's beliefs of today.
I am, too, since all doctrines develop (including trinitarianism and Christology, very much so in the early centuries). But the essence remains the same.
Even if he were to have believed it the same way, that would not be proof of the doctrine of purgatory
That's correct. The value of the fathers is if most of them believed one thing: then we conclude that the belief is apostolic in origin.

...I mean, Tertullian became a Monatist, but I doubt the Catholic church uses quotes from that era of his life to promote their teachings, since they considered him to be a heretic after that point.
Yep; it's worthless to cite his Montanist writings.

I say that to say that just because one of the early church fathers believed it, doesn't make it true. It must be supported Biblically.

We agree. This is why I cited 25 passages in my book. I merely noted that various fathers agreed with the interpretation. That's important because how the fathers interpreted gives us a big indication of the teachings of the early Church and what the Bible teaches. It is interpreted authoritatively by the Church and eminent men in the Church: the fathers.
 


Re: St. Ambrose and purgatory: I couldn't find an entire text of the funeral sermon in question, and I don't trust anti-Catholic polemical works from 1840 to give me an accurate or anywhere near objective analysis of it. But I can cite the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church: a non-Catholic work, in its article on purgatory (pp. 1144-1145):

A more developed doctrine is taught by St. Ambrose, who asserts that the souls of the departed await the end of time in different habitations, their fate varying acc. to their works, though some are already with Christ.

This is exactly what we would expect to see from Ambrose, in his time period.
See primary evidence from St. Ambrose and analysis from the dissertation, Prayer for the Dead from Ambrose to Gregory the Great (by Laszlo Illes Kaulics): pp. 10-18.

I have three pages of citations in my book, The Quotable Augustine, on purgatory (from City of God and the Enchiridion) and four pages documenting his views on alms, Masses, offerings, and prayer for the dead.

I'll read the link you provided and get back with you! Wish I had more time... With six kids, it's harder and harder to sit and write like i would like sometimes!

Six kids! God bless you. The most important job in the world . . .


From the link you provided, it appears that Ambrose was not very consistent in his views on the afterlife.
From the article:

When speaking about the eschatology of Ambrose one should note that he does not have a fully developed and consistent theory of salvation and damnation mechanisms in the next world, whether saints go to heaven immediately or stay in some place of repose.

But this isn't surprising, as there are many church fathers, many of which disagreed with each other on a multitude of theological teachings....so I think the only way to know for sure is to see whether something is explicitly taught in the Bible - not to find where a church father here or there agreed or disagreed.

I don't see purgatory in the scripture. I have seen many verses that are supposed to refer to purgatory, but the reasoning for assigning them to that idea is speculative at best.

I grew up in a religion that taught a future rapture in our time, and being left behind or caught up, then going through a great tribulation period for seven years....this doctrine was "proven" using select few verses from the Bible to support this theology...and hey, you could definitely believe that it was true if you only saw those verses and read them in the way they are presented by the left behind movement. But a closer look at the context reveals that those verses are not supporting that theology at all. In fact, I was told Jesus was going to come and rapture people on Sept 13, 1996, based on several passages, calculations, and some pretty faulty interpretation of scripture. Obviously, he didn't come on that date, and their reasoning was flawed. Their proof texts didn't prove what they assumed it did.

I think it's sort of similar, the way purgatory is taught and then read into the scriptures. You can find scripture that sounds like it supports it, but in my opinion, its just read into it and doesn't go along with the majority of the scripture which teaches that being absent from the body is being present with Christ. We are not attached to our sinful nature anymore after we die. That's in our flesh. And I cannot depend on myself for salvation...if I did, I would without a doubt be completely doomed. I have already broken Gods law. If you break one commandment, you are guilty of all.

Jesus atoned for all of my sin when he died and paid my debt on the cross. There is no sin that his blood was not worthy to atone for. Purgatory makes it appear that Christ could not complete the job by his death on the cross..that something more than his blood is necessary for salvation.


Jesus said that "it is finished" when he died on the cross. He paid the price. If we could suffer and thereby earn salvation for ourselves or anyone else, would we not then have a right to boast? The Bible says the reason that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works is "lest any man should boast".
The verse you cited does not speak of Christ's atonement. I other words, it does not say 'filling up what is lacking in Christ's atonement". It is speaking of the suffering that all Christians must bear in order to be image bearers of Christ...to bring glory to God. If the world hated him, it will also hate us...and if any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, they will suffer. But not as an atoning work.


There was still suffering for Christs name that was not accomplished yet...suffering that was appointed to Paul, and to other believers. Therefore, it was yet "lacking".

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But this isn't surprising, as there are many church fathers, many of which disagreed with each other on a multitude of theological teachings....

That's true, but they also had remarkable accord on doctrines that are distinctively Cathol
ic, and agreement against most if not all doctrines that are distinctively Protestant.

so I think the only way to know for sure is to see whether something is explicitly taught in the Bible - not to find where a church father here or there agreed or disagreed.

Well, it's both. Catholics believe that true doctrine will be verified by the convergence of biblical teaching, tradition (Church fathers), and the sanction of the authoritative teaching Church. Purgatory developed a bit slowly at first, but then it was accepted for many hundreds of years before being arbitrarily thrown out by Protestants.

I don't see purgatory in the scripture. I have seen many verses that are supposed to refer to purgatory, but the reasoning for assigning them to that idea is speculative at best.

That's how you would see it, with Protestant lenses on; whereas we see it all over Scripture in various ways. I don't see sola Scriptura in Scripture, and you see that everywhere. True or false premises determine a lot of outcomes of what we believe.

It's not proven in an "explicit, ironclad / no one could possibly doubt it" manner, but then it's not required to be, since sola Scriptura is a false doctrine, and is not taught in the Bible (I've written two books just about that [one / two], and can send you e-books of both for free if you like). The irony is that Protestants apply sola Scriptura to all other doctrinal questions, when it itself is not a biblical teaching, and much in the Bible contradicts it.

I was a committed evangelical Protestant for 13 years, and an apologist in those days, too. I'm quite familiar with the teachings and outlooks: used to hold many of 'em myself. I didn't get into date-setting, but I used to believe in Rapture eschatology, from reading Hal Lindsey, until I later read some Reformed stuff and stopped believing in the Rapture.

I think it's sort of similar, the way purgatory is taught and then read into the scriptures. You can find scripture that sounds like it supports it, but in my opinion, its just read into it

Again, we are not presupposing the necessity for explicit proof for everything as you are, so you don't "see" it because the proofs aren't of that nature, for the most part. But there is plenty, including prayer for the dead, baptism for the dead (Paul flat-out mentions that, and you have to interpret it somehow), and third states after death (Luke 16 alone proves that).

and doesn't go along with the majority of the scripture which teaches that being absent from the body is being present with Christ.

Here you are assuming that being in purgatory is being separate from Christ. It is closer to Him than we are on earth. Everyone in purgatory is already saved, or they wouldn't be there.

We are not attached to our sinful nature anymore after we die. That's in our flesh.
Eventually that will be the case, after God mercifully purges us of all our attachment to sin. It's not just flesh, though. The devil and his demons were spiritual creatures, and they rebelled against God. Unless you mean it only in the non-material sense . . .

And I cannot depend on myself for salvation...if I did, I would without a doubt be completely doomed. I have already broken Gods law. If you break one commandment, you are guilty of all.


Neither do we. Catholics don't believe in works salvation (heresy of Pelagianism). Trent makes that crystal clear. We believe in salvation by grace alone, but we don't separate works from faith. as Protestants do by making sanctification separate from justification and salvation. All good works that we do are caused by God's grace.

Jesus atoned for all of my sin when he died and paid my debt on the cross. There is no sin that his blood was not worthy to atone for.

Yes, of course. We don't disagree on that.

Purgatory makes it appear that Christ could not complete the job by his death on the cross..that something more than his blood is necessary for salvation.

Not at all. Like I said, those in purgatory are saved, and they're saved because of God's grace and His work on the cross on our behalf. They are simply being cleansed so that they are fit to enter into God's presence. No more games about it being merely extrinsic, imputed, forensic justification; after we die it is the real thing: we have to be literally holy and without sin to be fit to enter into God's awesome presence.

That's what purgatory does. As I stated before, both sides agree about holiness in heaven. There's no sin there. How we get to that state from our present one is what is disputed.


Colossians 1:24 ["Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" -- RSV] is a specific sense of our participating in the death of Christ (which is a frequent biblical theme). The Church teaches that Jesus' death was super-sufficient and efficient for the salvation of all who are saved. We simply have to accept that work and repent, so that it can be applied in our particular case.

I think what is meant is that Christ intends for us to join in spreading the redemption that He won on the cross (many verses on sharing Christ's suffering and on helping to distribute His grace and salvation). Therefore, Paul would be saying that He is doing that, and that Jesus can't do it because He can't do the part that is what His followers do. It's not a limitation on God; only saying that we play a role in it, too. "Both/and" and not "either/or." This is biblical synergy. But the cooperation is not absolute equality: God is the cause of the grace and salvation; we only help distribute and apply it. It's part of redemptive suffering on behalf of others. The Navarre Bible Commentary expresses this, as well:

24. Jesus Christ our Lord perfectly accomplished the work the Father gave him to do (cf. Jn 17:4); as he said himself when he was about to die, “It is finished,” it is accomplished (Jn 19:30).

From that point onwards objective redemption is an accomplished fact. All men have been saved by the redemptive death of Christ. However, St. Paul says that he completes in his flesh “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”; what does he mean by this? The most common explanation of this statement is summarized by St. Alphonsus as follows: “Can it be that Christ’s passion alone was insufficient to save us? It left nothing more to be done, it was entirely sufficient to save all men. However, for the merits of the Passion to be applied to us, according to St. Thomas (Summa theologiae, III, q. 49, a. 3), we need to cooperate (subjective redemption) by patiently bearing the trials God sends us, so as to become like our head, Christ” (St. Alphonsus, Thoughts on the Passion, 10).

St. Paul is applying this truth to himself. Jesus Christ worked and strove in all kinds of ways to communicate his message of salvation, and then he accomplished the redemption by dying on the Cross. The Apostle is mindful of the Master’s teaching and so he follows in his footsteps (cf. 1 Pet 2:21), takes up his cross (cf. Mt 10:38) and continues the task of bringing Christ’s teaching to all men.

Faith in the fact that we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ, John Paul II says, gives a person “the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of Redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service. In the Body of Christ, which is ceaselessly born of the Cross of the Redeemer, it is precisely suffering permeated by the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice that is the irreplaceable mediator and author of the good things which are indispensable for the world’s salvation. It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the force of the Redemption” (Salvifici doloris, 27). 


I'm a little confused now. I want to be sure I understand your position, Dave. Do you believe that Jesus' blood is sufficient and completely paid our debt in full, to those who are regenerate?

Yes, this is Catholic teaching. It's sufficient for the
salvation of all men (not just the regenerate: which comes through baptism), but alas, some men reject it and God allows them to do that.

Do you believe that one who is saved is kept secure by Christ, and if they die (while in sin) they have to be refined but are still saved by grace?

Long discussion. The elect are who they are, and God knows that, but we don't. That's the problem in these sorts of analyses. The Reformed / evangelical notion of "absolute assurance of grace" is not a biblical position. Even Paul didn't talk like he was absolutely sure (several passages). Catholics believe we can have a strong "moral assurance" that we are in good graces with God and will most likely be saved in the end, by examining ourselves to see if we are not in a state of serious sin. One can fall away from a state of grace and lose one's salvation (dozens of Bible passages).

We believe that almost all those who are saved still have a "stain of sin" on their soul and will have to undergo purification in purgatory in order to be fit to enter into God's presence in the sinless environment of heaven.

Do you believe that there is anything we must do to keep our salvation?


We have to persevere in faith, do good works (that are the evidence of a genuine faith that isn't merely the bare assent of faith alone) and be free of mortal sin, that places that salvation in grave danger. That's why we have confession: to give believers a chance to "clean themselves up" and do better in the future, by being open to the leading of God's grace and His Word.



I think the purification does (or can, if we allow it) begin in this life. It's all of a piece. It's simply completed after death.
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