Catholic Teachings in the Early Church : Part 7 The Saints and Purgatory

The Saints and Purgatory

[Quotes below are listed in Rod Bennett’s book Four Witnesses]

Today’s Catholic Teaching:

Until the Lord shall come in His majesty, and all the angels with Him and death being destroyed, all things are subject to Him, some of His disciples are exiles on earth, some having died are purified, and others are in glory beholding “clearly God Himself triune and one, as He is”; but all in various ways and degrees are in communion in the same charity of God and neighbor and all sing the same hymn of glory to our God. For all who are in Christ, having His Spirit, form one Church and cleave together in Him. Therefore the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who have gone to sleep in the peace of Christ is not in the least weakened or interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the perpetual faith of the Church, is strengthened by communication of spiritual goods….

For after they have been received into their heavenly home and are present to the Lord, through Him and with Him and in Him they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, showing forth the merits which they won on earth through the one Mediator between God and man, serving God in all things and filling up in their flesh those things which are lacking of the sufferings of Christ for His Body which is the Church…. Fully conscious of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the pilgrim Church from the very first ages of the Christian religion has cultivated with great piety the memory of the dead and “because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins”, also offers suffrages for them.

~Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, no 49, 50.

Catholic Teaching in the Early Church:

[Christ] we worship as the Son of God; but the martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the Lord; and rightly so, because of their unsurpassable devotion to their own King and Teacher….We tool up [Polycarp’s] bones, more precious than costly gems and finer than gold, and put them in a suitable place. The Lord will permit us, when we are able to assemble there in joy and gladness; and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.

~Ca.A.D. 155: Martyrdom of Polycarp, chap. 17, no. 3, chap. 18, nos. 2-3, in FEF 1:31, no. 81.

[Speaking of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus] In short, if we understand that prison of which the Gospel speaks to be Hades, and if we interpret the last farthing [Mt 5:26] to be the light offense which is to be expiated there before the resurrection, no one will doubt that the soul undergoes some punishments in Hades without prejudice to the fullness of the resurrection, after which recompense will be made through the flesh also.

~Ca. A.D. 210 Tertullian of Carthage, The Soul, chap. 58, no. 8, in FEF 1:145, no. 352.

Lawrence and Ignatius, though they fought betimes in worldly camps, were true and spiritual soldiers of God; and while they laid the devil on his back with their confession of Christ, they merited the palms and crowns of the Lord by their illustrious passion. We always offer sacrifices for them, as you will recall, as often as we celebrate the passions of the martyrs by commemorating their anniversary day.

~A.D. 250: Cyprian of Carthage, Letter to His Clergy and to All His People 39 (34), no. 3, in FEF 1:229.

[AT the Eucharistic celebration] we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, Apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition; next, we make mention also of the holy fathers and bishops who have already fallen asleep, and, to put it simply, of all among us who have already fallen asleep; for we believe that it will e of very great benefit to the souls of those for whom the Petition is carried up, while this holy and most solemn Sacrifice is laid out.

~Ca. A.D. 350: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, lec. 23 (Mystagogic 5), no. 9, in FEF 1:363, no. 852.

What is more timely or more excellent than that those who are still here should believe that the departed do live, and that they have not retreated into nothingness, but that they exist and are alive with the Master?…Useful too is the prayer fashioned on their behalf, even if it does not force back the whole of guilty charges laid to them. And it is useful also, because in this world we often stumble either voluntarily or involuntarily, and thus it is a reminder to do better. For we make commemoration of the just and of sinners: of sinners, begging God’s mercy for them; of the just and the Fathers and Patriarchs and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists and martyrs and confessors, and of bishops and solitaries, and of the whole list of them, so that we may set the Lord Jesus Christ apart from the ranks of men because of the honor due Him, and give reverence to Him, while keeping in mind that the Lord is not to be equated with any man, even if that man live in a justice that is boundless and limitless.

~Ca. A.D. 375: Epiphanius of Salamis, Panacea against All Heresies 75, 8, in FEF 2:75-76, no. 1109.

There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of god, where prayer is not offered for them.  Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. for it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended.

~Ca. A.D. 400: Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 159. no. 1, in FEF 3:29, no. 1513.

A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers.  But it is done in such a way that our altars are not set up to any one of the martyrs,– although in their memory,–but to God Himself, the God of those martyrs.  Who, indeed, of the presiding priests assisting at the altar in the places of the saints ever said “We offer to you, Peter, or Paul, or Cyprian”?  What is offered is offered to God, who crowned the martyrs….that worship, which the Greeks call latria and for which there is no Latin single term, and which is expressive of the subjection owed to Divinity alone, we neither accord nor teach that it should be accorded to any save the one God.

~Ca. A.D. 400: Augustine of Hippo, Against Faustus the Manichean, bk. 20, no. 21, in FEF 3:59, no. 1603.

You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard; and this is especially clear since the martyrs, though they cry vengeance for their own blood, have never been able to obtain their request.  But if the Apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?

~A.D. 406: Jerome, Against Vigilantius, no. 6, in FEF 2:206, no. 1396.

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter; but all of them before that last and strictest judgement. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgement.

~A.D. 426: Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, bk. 21, chap. 13, in FEF 3:105, no. 1776.

There is no doubt that…[there are] lesser sins which, as I said before, can scarcely be counted, and from which not only all Christian people, but even all the saints could not and cannot always be free. We do not, of course, believe that the soul is killed by these sins; but still, they make it ugly by covering it as if with some kind of pustules and , as it were, with horrible scabs, which allow the soul to come only with difficulty to the embrace of the heavenly Spouse, of whom it is written: ‘He prepared for Himself a Church having neither spot nor blemish” [Eph 5:27]….If we neither give thanks to God in tribulations nor redeem our own sins by good works [cf. Jas. 5:19-20], we shall have to remain in that purgatorial fire as long as it takes for those above-mentioned lesser sins to be consumed like wood and straw and hay [1Cor 3:12].  But someone is saying: “It is nothing to me how long I stay there, so long as I go on finally to eternal life.”  Let no one say that, beloved brethren, because that purgatorial fire itself will be more difficult than any punishment that can be seen or imagined or felt in this life.

~Ca. A.D. 542: Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 179 (104), nos. 3-5, in FEF 3:283, no. 2233.

[FEF: The Faith of the Early Fathers by William A. Jurgen]


About Rob Brock

A Catholic convert with a fire for discipleship, catechesis, and formation that leads to transformed lives in Christ. View all posts by Rob Brock

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