Purgatory, Indulgences, Predestination, and Relics – an Apologetical Wrapup

[Questions Asked by Protestants on Purgatory, Indulgences, Predestination and Relics briefly answered by Father M. Philipps, Rector of St. Joseph’s Church, Buffalo, NY. Cabinet of Catholic Information, 1903 Imprimatur: Archbishop John Farley]

Purgatory

Does the Bible say that there is a purgatory?

The Bible does not mention the word purgatory, but it says we should pray for the dead: “It is, therefore, a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” 2 Mach. 12. These dead cannot be the dead in heaven, because they do not need our prayers, nor the dead in hell, where there is no redemption, but it means the dead who are still in a purgative state.

What is purgatory? Purgatory is a state where those go to suffer for a time, who die having venial sins upon their souls, or who have not expiated the temporal punishment due to their sins, but who will enter heaven when they have satisfied God’s justice for their sins.

Did the first Christians believe in a purgative state after death?

At a council held in the year 253 it was decreed to use uniform prayers for the dead. At other councils in 579 and in 827 and at the Council of Trent the faithful were exhorted to pray for the dead. This proves that the first Christians believed in a state of atonement after life.

But is not the Book of Machabees doubtful in its authenticity?

In the earliest ages of the Church the book of Machabees was acknowledged as canonical and authentic.

But the author of the Book of Machabees makes apology for the errors it contains.

Yes, for errors of style, but not errors in doctrine.

What other proofs have you for the existence of purgatory? In the Apoc. 21:27 we read: “And there shall not enter heaven anything defiled.” If nothing defiled can enter heaven all those dying with venial sins on their souls are eternally lost if there is no purgative state. Then it is said that God will render to every man according to his works, and that an account will be asked for every idle word we speak. Many people die with such accounts of idle words and small faults on their soul, and certainly God will not damn them forever for such light transgressions, but purgatory will be the place to atone for such imperfections.

1 John 1:7 says: “The blood of Jesus Christ cleansed us from all sin.” If we are cleansed from all sin, purgatory is not necessary.

Neither is hell necessary, if your meaning of St. John were right, and the greatest criminals would receive the same reward as the greatest saints. Christ cleanses us from all sin, providing we use the means prescribed by Him. If we neglect these means, we have to suffer, because God will reward and punish every one according to his works.

The Bible says: “Wherever the tree falleth there it will lie;” there is, therefore, no other state than heaven and hell.

This means that if a man has fallen among the damned, he will stay there, and if he has fallen among the just who go to heaven at once or in some future time, he will stay among the just. Souls in purgatory are reckoned among the just, because some day they will enter heaven.

The Bible knows only two classes of people who leave this world: The just and the sinner.

In all these texts the Bible speaks of the last judgement, when there will be only just and sinners, but before the last judgement the souls in purgatory belong to the just, because they are on the road to heaven. [For more proofs of purgatory, see Proving Purgatory.]

Indulgences

What are eternal punishments due to sin?

Eternal punishments are the everlasting pains of hell.

What are temporal punishments due to sin?

Temporal punishments are the ills of life: sickness, losses, shortcomings, fires, war, damages, oppressions…and the pains of purgatory.

In how many ways are forgiven the temporal punishments due to sin? By penance, by prayer, by good works, by indulgences, etc.

Did Christ give to His apostles the power to grant indulgences or the forgiveness of the temporal punishments due to sin? Yes, Christ gave this power when He said to Peter: “I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatsoever thou shalt bound upon earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose upon earth shall be loosed also in heaven.”

Is it lawful for the Church to charge money for the granting of indulgences? No, the Catholic Church has at all times forbidden such abuses.

Did not the Pope charge money for the granting of indulgences when he wished to build St. Peter’s Church? He did not, but ordered that people who wished to gain an indulgence should first have their sins forgiven by a good confession, then as an act of penance they might pay some money toward St. Peter’s Church, but no one was obliged to pay this, as there were many other means to have the temporal punishments forgiven.

But Tetzel, a Dominican monk, told the people that anyone paying a dollar could gain an indulgence of their past and even of future sins.

If Tetzel really said this he acted contrary to the teachings of the Church, who never approved of such teaching. Good authorities tell us that Tetzel never said it. In the thesis which Tetzel published in 1517 he states that for the gaining of an indulgence is required: sorrow, a good confession and communion, fasting, visiting the church, and that an indulgence does not forgive sins, but only the temporal punishments of past sins, and not of future sins.

Why does not God forgive sins without the mediation of priests and popes?

God could easily do so, but He had good reasons in leaving it to the ministry of priests. First, priests act in the name of Jesus and they correct the sinner in his evil ways. Secondly, they impose a penance on the sinner, as Jesus would do if He were still on earth. Thirdly, the sinner has more certainty about God’s friendship, and is not left in a life-long doubt about the forgiveness of his sins.

Indulgences forgive the temporal punishments imposed by the Church, but not those imposed by God. When Christ gave the power of forgiving punishments he said: “Whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Whatsoever means all kinds of punishments, those imposed by the Church as those imposed by God.

What do you mean by the treasury of merits in the Church?

By this treasury we mean the infinite merits of Christ, the superabundant merits of the Blessed Mother, and of the Saints. Christ gave to His Church the power to distribute these merits to penitent sinners, and remit to them the temporal punishments due to their sins.

People will lose the spirit of doing penance, seeing how easily temporal punishments can be forgiven.

No, to gain an indulgence is required a contrite heart free from sin, and averse to all inclinations to sin. To people who are thus disposed the time of penance can be easily shortened.

Predestination

Did God predestine some people to heaven and some to hell?

No, this would be against the infinite justice of God. Every soul in this world is destined for heaven, and God gives to every soul sufficient grace to go to heaven if they want to go. 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Tim.2:4; Wis.2:27

But the Bible says that God predestined some.

All these texts of predestination have reference to the extraordinary graces that God gave to some people, as to St. John, St. Paul, etc. These are the few chosen ones, but God gives ordinary and sufficient grace to all men to be saved.

Is it just to damn a soul for all eternity?

The damned by their own free will and knowledge prefer sin to God, and they knowingly and willingly never changed their mind, not even on their death-bed; God, therefore, cannot take them to heaven against their will.

Why did God not leave out the creation of the damned?

God could have left out the creation of the damned as He foresaw their loss; but He created them anyhow, and certainly He knew best why He did so. The damned had sufficient grace from God to work out their salvation, but through their own free will and knowledge they preferred their sinful ways.

Relics

Why do Catholics honor relics of the saints?

Because relics are the remains of the bodies of saints, who were once living members of Christ and temples of the Holy Ghost, because their souls are now with God and because these bodies will surely one day rise with Christ.

Do Catholics believe that by wearing a relic no evil can befall them?

A relic will avert evil from us only in so far as we deserve it by our faith and good works and by the prayers of the saint whose relic we wear.

How do you know that the saint you honor is in heaven?

We know it by the holy life he led on earth, by the true wonders or miracles that he wrought, and by the Catholic Church canonizing a saint.

Does the Bible say that we should honor relics?

In Exodus 13:19, we read that “Moses took Joseph’s bones with him; because he had adjured the children of Israel, saying: God shall visit you if you carry my bones from hence with you.”

In Acts 9:15, we read: “In so much that they brought forth the sick into the streets and laid them on beds…that when Peter came his shadow at least might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities.”

In the Acts 19:12: “And God wrought by the hand of Paul more than common miracles. So that even there were brought from his body to the sick handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked spirits went out of them.” [For more arguments in favor of devotion to relics, see Left Behind.]

  • Mandarin

    I have a question regarding this statement:

    “Every soul in this world is destined for heaven, and God gives to every soul sufficient grace to go to heaven if they want to go.”

    Are babies that die before receiving baptism given sufficient grace? How so? Thanks.

  • Good question, Mandarin. Traditionally, theology concluded that the proposition “all adults are given sufficient grace” was theologically certain. This was so stated precisely to accommodate the issue touched upon in your question. It would have to be said that unbaptized infants are not given sufficient grace for salvation.