Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Msgr. Elliott and Fr. Flader on Purgatory

[Update: November 10, 2008: the two articles are now available on-line:
Msgr. Elliott's:
Fr. Flader's:
The Most Rev. Msgr. Peter J. Elliott, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, and Rev. Fr. John Flader have both just had articles published on Purgatory, the former in this month’s AD2000 and the latter in last Sunday's Sydney Catholic Weekly. I was not particularly impressed with either of them, since both failed to set Purgatory in the context of God’s Justice; indeed, neither Msgr. Elliott nor Fr. Flader used the word “justice” even once. Instead, both clergymen emphasised purgatory as an expression of Divine Mercy rather than of Divine Justice; Msgr. Elliott wrote that “[y]et even as there is a painful dimension to purification, Purgatory is best understood as the Divine Mercy beyond death”, and that the “fire of purgation is not so much punishment, rather a way of receiving the saving work of Christ, in atonement for the debt set up by the echoing effects of our many sins”, and Fr. Flader wrote that “we should never forget that God, in his infinite mercy, demands much less punishment than our sins deserve. If it were not for his mercy, we would never get out of Purgatory!”

These opinions notwithstanding, Purgatory is a matter primarily of satisfying Divine Justice; usually one thinks of the Divine Mercy as being applied by the gratuitous reduction of the temporal punishment through the granting of an indulgence rather than the soul’s undergoing of that punishment. It is not clear to me that, as Fr. Flader asserts, “[i]f it were not for [God’s] mercy, we would never get out of Purgatory!”, since if one is in Purgatory then one has, presumably, merited eternal life but just has a debt to pay in justice before he can receive his reward; thus it is, as it were, only a matter of time before one gets out of Purgatory. Nor is it clear to me that, as Fr. Flader says, “we should never forget that God, in his infinite mercy, demands much less punishment than our sins deserve”, since one does indeed receive the due punishment, unless favoured with an indulgence. Given that they repented of their sins during their earthly lives and thus avoided the eternal punishment, they owe nonetheless no more and no less than the temporal punishment due to them for their sins.

Furthermore, I found Fr. Flader‘s explanation of the manner in which suffering in Purgatory might be reduced through the Communion of Saints to be inadequate. Father writes that

Just as God, in his power and mercy, answers our prayers for others here on earth by shortening their sufferings, curing their diseases more quickly, healing broken relationships, etc., so he can answer our prayers for the souls in Purgatory by shortening their sufferings.
But it is by suffering vicariously on someone else’s behalf that the suffering of the other one is shortened, not (usually) by a simple reduction in the total amount of suffering owed; someone still has to pay the debt of sin. But this is not altogether clear from what Fr. Flader writes.

It is unfortunate that, in an age in which there is widespread confusion about the meaning of justice, Msgr. Elliott and Fr. Flader did not take this opportunity to make explicit the implications of Divine Justice for this life and the next. And if clergymen fail to emphasise the punitive aspect of Purgatory and ignore Divine Justice, then belief in Hell as one of the Last Things can only weaken, since Hell, with Heaven, signifies the very triumph of justice. Temporal punishment reduces with time but, as Prof. Romano Amerio says in Iota Unum, no amount of time can remove the difference between right and wrong, hence the necessity of eternal punishment.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Charles Borromeo, Bishop, Confessor, 2008 A.D.

6 comments:

Joshua said...

I would encourage you to write or email both the reverend bishop and the venerable priest concerning their articles; both are good men, personally known to me, and they would be I think delighted to discuss such matters, especially such important points as you have raised - but I don't think they read blogs so much...

Louise said...

If God gave us what we truly deserve, then surely we would all go to Hell. Is this perhaps what Fr Flader was ultimately getting at?

Cardinal Pole said...

Joshua,

I don't doubt that both Msgr. Elliott and Fr. Flader are good men; it just disappoints me that the justice aspect went unmentioned, when surely this aspect is the key to understanding Purgatory.

Louise,

Certainly, to commit a mortal sin is to deserve damnation. By repenting and receiving the Sacrament of Penance, the eternal punishment is, of course, remitted, but the temporal punishment remains to be paid in full, and it was with this temporal punishment that Fr. Flader was concerned, so I'm not sure what he meant by

"we should never forget that God, in his infinite mercy, demands much less punishment than our sins deserve"

given that it was in the context of temporal punishment.

Cardinal Pole said...

P.S. I have corrected two spelling/grammatical mistakes in the post.

Anonymous said...

Dear Cardinal,

What are some practical ways of making satisfaction in our daily lives for the temporal punishment due to our sins?
How do we know how much of the temporal punishment due to our sins has been wiped off the slate?

Cardinal Pole said...

Dear Anonymous,

you asked:

"What are some practical ways of making satisfaction in our daily lives for the temporal punishment due to our sins?"

Prayer, fasting, watches, and any suffering borne patiently and offered up as a spiritual sacrifice.

"How do we know how much of the temporal punishment due to our sins has been wiped off the slate?"

This can be difficult to tell. Speak to your confessor or consult the confessors' manuals. However, the Christian life should be one of constant penance anyway, so keep offering up those spiritual sacrifices, since even when one has satisfied for one's own sins, the satisfaction earned through one's sacrifices can still be applied to the sins of others. See here:

http://cardinalpole.blogspot.com/2008/11/dom-prosper-gueranger-osb-on.html