Page images
PDF
EPUB

must not for a deely,” says yes St. Jes for the and by

expression of contrition, but as an act done directly towards God and a means of averting His anger. “ If the sinner spare not himself, he will be spared by God," says the writer who goes under the name of St. Ambrose. “Let him lie in sackcloth, and by the austerity of his life make amends for the offence of his past pleasures," says St. Jerome. “As we have sinned greatly," says St. Cyprian, “let us weep greatly; for a deep wound diligent and long tending must not be wanting, the repentance must not fall short of the offence.” “Take heed to thyself,” says St: Basil," that, in proportion to the fault, thou admit also the restoration from the remedy."1 If so, the question follows which was above contemplated, if in consequence of death, or the exercise of the Church's discretion, the “plena poenitentiais not accomplished in its ecclesiastical shape, how and when will the residue be exacted ?

Clement of Alexandria answers this particular question very distinctly, according to Bishop Kaye, though not in some other points expressing himself conformably to the doctrine afterwards received. “Clement," says that Author, " distinguishes between sins committed before and after baptism : the former are remitted at baptism; the latter are purged by discipline. . . . The necessity of this purifying discipline is such, that if it does not take place in this - life, it must after death, and is then to be effected by fire, not by a destructive, but a discriminating fire, pervading the soul which passes through it."

There is a celebrated passage in St. Cyprian, on the subject of the punishment of lapsed Christians, which certainly seems to express the same doctrine. “St. Cyprian is arguing in favour of readmitting the lapsed, when penitent; and his argument seems to be that it does not follow that we absolve them simply because we simply restore

| Vid. Tertull. Oxf. tr. pp. 374, 5. "Clem. ch. 12.

them to the Church. He writes this to Antonian : 'It is one thing to stand for pardon, another to arrive at glory; one to be sent to prison (missum in carcerem) and not to go out till the last farthing be paid, another to receive at once the reward of faith and virtue; one thing to be tormented for sin in long pain, and so to be cleansed, and to be purged a long while in the fire (purgari diu igne), another to be washed from all sin in suffering; one thing, in short, to wait for the Lord's sentence in the Day of Judgment, another at once to be crowned by Him.' Some understand this passage to refer to the penitential discipline of the Church which was imposed on the penitent; and, as far as the context goes, certainly no sense could be more apposite. Yet .. the words in themselves seem to go beyond any mere ecclesiastical, though virtually divine censure; especially missum in carcerem' and 'purgari diu igne."" 1

The Acts of the Martyrs St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas, which are prior to St. Cyprian, confirm this interpretation. In the course of the narrative, St. Perpetua prays for her brother Dinocrates, who had died at the age of seven; and has a vision of a dark place, and next of a pool of water, which he was not tall enough to reach. She goes on praying; and in a second vision the water descended to him, and he was able to drink, and went to play as children use. “Then I knew,” she says, “that he was translated from his place of punishment."2

The prayers in the Eucharistic Service for the faithful departed, inculcate, at least according to the belief of the fourth century, the same doctrine, that the sins of accepted and elect souls, which were not expiated here, would receive punishment hereafter. Certainly such was St. Cyril's belief: “I know that many say,” he observes, “what is a soul profited, which departs from this world either with sins or without sins, if it be commemorated in the (Eucharistic] Prayer? Now, surely, if when a king had banished certain who had given him offence, their connexions should weave a crown and offer it to him on behalf of those under his vengeance, would he not grant a respite to their punishments? In the same way we, when we offer to Him our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners, weave no crown, but offer up Christ, sacrificed for our sins, propitiating our merciful God, both for them and for ourselves.”1

| Tracts for the Times, No. 79, p. 38.

2 Ruinart. Mart. p. 96.

Thus we see how, as time went on, the doctrine of Purgatory was opened upon the apprehension of the Church, as a portion or form of Penance due for sins committed after Baptism. And thus the belief in this doctrine and the practice of Infant Baptism would grow into general reception together.

The process of thought, of which it is the result, is drawn out in the following passage, which may be suitably introduced in this place, though I wish to express my dissent from it in various incidental points. One point of difference is important, though it does not interfere with its serviceableness here; the writer considers the growth of the doctrine as an instance of the action of private judgment, whereas I should now call it an instance of the mind of the Church working out dogmatic truths from implicit feelings under secret supernatural guidance. The passage runs thus: “How Almighty God will deal with the mass of Christians, who are neither very bad nor very good, is a problem with which we are not concerned, and which it is our wisdom, and may be our duty, to put from our thoughts. But when it has once forced itself upon the mind, we are led in self-defence, with a view of keeping ourselves from dwelling unhealthily on particular cases, which come under our experience and perplex us, 1 Mystagog. 5.

to imagine modes, not by which God does (for that would be presumptuous to conjecture), but by which He may solve the difficulty. Most men, to our apprehensions, are too unformed in religious habits either for heaven or for hell, yet there is no middle state when Christ comes in judgment. In consequence it is obvious to have recourse to the interval before His coming, as a time during which this incompleteness might be remedied; as a season, not of changing the spiritual bent and character of the soul departed, whatever that be, for probation ends with mortal life, but of developing it in a more determinate form, whether of good or of evil. Again, when the mind once allows itself to speculate, it will discern in such a provision a means, whereby those, who, not without true faith at bottom, yet have committed great crimes, or those who have been carried off in youth while still undecided, or who die after a barren though not an immoral or scandalous life, may receive such chastisement as may prepare them for heaven, and render it consistent with God's justice to admit them thither. Again, the inequality of the sufferings of Christians in this life, compared one with another, leads the unguarded mind to the same speculations; the intense suffering, for instance, which some men undergo on their death-bed, seeming as if but an anticipation in their case of what comes after death upon others, who, without greater claim on God's forbearance, live without chastisement, and die easily. I say, the mind will inevitably dwell upon such thoughts, unless it has been taught to subdue them by education or by the experience of their dangerousness.

“Various suppositions have, accordingly, been made, as pure suppositions, as mere specimens of the capabilities (if one may so speak) of the Divine Dispensation, as efforts of the mind reaching forward and venturing beyond its depth into the abyss of the Divine Counsels. If one supposition could be and habe Pertechile it

produced, sufficient to solve the problem, ten thousand others are conceivable, unless indeed the resources of God's Providence are exactly commensurate with man's discernment of them. Religious men, amid these searchings of heart, have naturally gone to Scripture for relief; to see if the inspired word anywhere gave them any clue for their inquiries. And from what was there found, and from the speculations of reason upon it, various notions have been hazarded at different times; for instance, that there is a certain momentary ordeal to be undergone by all men after this life, more or less severe according to their spiritual state; or that certain gross sins in good men will be thus visited, or their lighter failings and habitual imperfections; or that the very sight of Divine Perfection in the invisible world will be in itself a pain, while it constitutes the purification of the imperfect but believing soul; or that, happiness admitting of various degrees of intensity, penitents late in life may sink for ever into a state, blissful as far as it goes, but moreor less approaching to unconsciousness; and infants dying after baptism may be as gems paving the courts of heaven, or as the living wheels of the Prophet's vision; while matured Saints may excel in capacity of bliss, as well as in dignity, the highest Archangels. Such speculations are dangerous when indulged; the event proves it; from some of them, in fact, seems to have resulted the doctrine of Purgatory.

“Now the texts to which the minds of the early Christians seem to have been principally drawn, and from which they ventured to argue in behalf of these vague notions, were these two: The fire shall try every man's work,' &c., and “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. These texts, with which many more were found to accord, directed their thoughts one way, as making mention of 'fire,' whatever was meant by the word, as the instrument of trial and puri

« PreviousContinue »