CHAP. XLIII. The Obscurity, and Uncertainty of the Opinion of Purgatory.
GREGORY the Great, the first of all those, of whom we have re∣maining among us any Monuments to this purpose, having in the year 593. begun to fasten together, in his aDialogues, and Sermons, the Discourses he had heard, and which he recommends to us, with this notable Observation, that they were Novelties, not heard of before, since he brings in Peter, his Deacon, putting this Question to him, Quid hoc est, quaeso te, quod, in his extremis temporibus, tammulta de animabus clarescunt, quae antè latuerunt, &c. What means it, I beseech you, that in these Last Times, there are discovered, concerning souls, so many things which were hidden before? The Leaven so spread it self since, that in the Time of bBeda, viz. one hundred and twenty years after St. Gregory, some numbred cold and temperate Purgatories, as well, as hot ones; which was further heightned by Visions, and Prodigious Relations, as if the confidence of Feigning should, as it grew Elder, grow also stronger. But, though there were no other reason to quarrel at this Opi∣nion, then the Novelty of it, as such, as had not appeared, in the West, be∣fore the end of the sixth Age, and could never obtain Naturalization in the East, and South, where it is yet unknown to the Vulgar, and discard∣ed by the Learned; and the irresolution, wherewith its Principal, and first Promoter, Pope Gregory, spoke, whether of the place of Hell, or the acti∣vity of Infernal Fire upon the Spirits, which (according to his Imagina∣tion) are tormented therein: yet they clearly justifie, that he Treated not the Question of the State of the dead; but as it were, by conjecture, and upon the Imaginations of Persons so apt to be mis-informed, as that there needed onely some common Report, and the affirmation of a confident Dreamer, to perswade them to any thing. I know well enough, that Cardinal Bellarmine → , to derive the Business somewhat higher, cites St. Augustine; who, being in some difficulty about the Explication of those Words of Saint Paul,cHe shall be saved, yet so, as by Fire, had, about the year 410. made use of these Words, which manifestly discover how far he was unresolved in the Case: dSive in hac vita tantùm ista homines patiuntur, sive etiam post hanc vitam talia quaedam Judicia subsequun∣tur, non abhorret (quantum arbitror) à ratione veritatis iste intellectus hujus Sententiae: veruntamen etiamsi est alius, qui mihi non occurrit, eligendus, non cogimur dicere injustis, &c. Salvi eritis, &c. Whether it be in this Life onely, that men suffer such things (that is to say, dolefull Regrets for the things of this World, which they have carnally loved) or, that, after this Life, some such Judgments follow, this way of understanding the place of the Apostle, is not (in my Judgment) repugnant to the reason of Truth: yet, if we must pitch upon another sense, which is not obvious to me, we are not forced to say to the un∣just, &c. You shall be saved. Continuing still in the same posture, about the year 419. he writ to his Friend Laurence,eTale aliquid, &c. That some such thing may happen, even after this Life, is not incredible; and whe∣ther Page 230 it be really so, may be questioned, and it may be either found true, or remain concealed; to wit, whether some of the Faithfull, according as they have more, or less, loved perishable Goods, may be sooner, or later saved, through a Purga∣tory Fire. And note, that having not any thing more certain to answer, he kept to the same Terms in resolving the first Question proposed to him by Dulcitius. Nay, in the year 424. which was the seventh before his death, publishing his Books Of the City of God, he harped on the same Doctrine, saying, fPost istius sanè corporis mortem, &c. But as for the time between the bodily death, and Last Judgment, if any one say, that the Spirits of the Dead are, all that while, tried in such a Fire, as they do not any way feel, who were not subject to the same Inclinations, and Affections in this Life, that their Wood, Straw, and Stubble might be consumed; but that others, who carry hence such Buildings, do onely here, or both here and there, or here so, as not there, pass through the purging Fire of a Transitory Tribulation, which burns the things of this World, though Venial in respect of Damnation, I reprove him not; for that it is possible, he is in the right.
But the Proceeding of the present Church of Rome, who triumphs so much upon these Passages, whereby she pretends to draw St. Augustine to her side, is so much the more unjust towards him; the more she presumes on the Testimony of a Witness, who does not onely not say any thing as to what she would have him, but absolutely destroys it, in as much, as he speaks of a Fire, which some feel even in this Life, and others after it. Whence it follows, that his Imagination reached no further, then a Me∣taphorical, and Intentional Fire, which may be felt, even during the Life of this Body; whereas the Romane Church supposes a real, and material one, which burns not the living, but torments the spirits of the Departed.
Secondly, That he is not confident of his having found out the true sense of St. Paul's Words: but, ingenuously, confesses; that they may be understood in some other, to him absolutely unknown.
Thirdly, That, treading, as it were, upon Thorns, he is not over-ready to give us any thing for certain; but entertains us with a simple Conjecture; which might be brought to Question, whether it were so, or not: which also he but slightly advances; as finding it not contributary to ought Impious, yet without imposing any necessity to admit it, and which, in fine, he lets pass under a Whether, an It may be, a Peradventure: so that, not presuming himself to approve it, all the kindness he hath for it, is ex∣pressed in his telling us, that he does not disallow it.
Fourthly, That the very thing, which he proposes so doubtfully, may be adjusted to the Opinion, which the most Antient had had of the general Conflagration of the Universe at the end of the World: whose Imagination it was, that it should serve as a general Lustration, through which the Spi∣rits of the Saints, even that of the Blessed Virgin, were to pass, and who reflected on nothing less, then the Purgatory, proposed to us at this day.
Fifthly, That, though he should assure us, that that certain Fire of Grief, whereof he speaks, shall be a material Fire, that it shall burn the Spirits of men, and that the Torment, which they shall endure thereby, shall afflict them from their departure out of the Bodies, they had cast off: yet should not his assurance be of greater weight to the Protestants,Page 231 then to the Church of Rome, which submits not to his Authority; but one∣ly in what she finds consistent with her own Opinions, land confidently re∣jects what she quarrels at. For, if she think it just to dissent from him, when he teaches g that In the Deity there are three Substances, that hThe Angels are corporeal, that iThe sins of the Fathers make the Chil∣dren liable to punishment, that The souls (of all the Departed) are (between the day of their departure out of this World, and that of the Last Judg∣ment)kshut up in secret Receptacles, that the Prayers made for them are beneficial to them, to the end, that either the Remission may be full, or that their Damnation be more tolerable, and that those Prayers, made on the behalf of the Damned, are a kinde of consolation to the •iving; all which things the said Holy Prelate positively affirms: why should she take it ill, that (after her Example) we should refuse absolutely to depend on his Authority. especially in a subject, wherein he does not pretend any, in as much, as it is his own acknowledgment, that he was not resolved, what he should should hold? What greater Necessity is there, that we should determine for the Affirmative, when he, himself, makes it a Question, Whether there be after this life a Purgatory for the Spirits of the Deceased; then, when he doubts, Whether the Sun, Moon, and Stars belong to the society of the blessed Spirits in Heaven? Though we had read no other Lecture of Modesly, then the reservedness, which prevailed with him to forbear resolving ought upon these two Questions, do we not deserve commendation for having (in imitation of him) kept the Scales in our Hands, rather, then Blame, which we must never expect to avoid, if, without pregnant Proof, we affirmed what he proposed onely Problematically, and without any decision. If it may, with any colour, be pretended, that the Bent of his inclination was the Affirmative of a Purgatory of some kinde, or other, and that it should be a Pattern for us to do the like, why should not his confidence in denying the lAntipodes force us by a like Negative, to dispute against our own Experience, whose Testimony, for these 150. years, assures us he was mistaken? Were it not much better, that those, who would make use of his Name, in a Cause he never main∣tained, should behave themselves according to his Moderation, and protest with him, mI would, if it might be; or, rather I will, if it may be, be overcome by the Truth, which is not openly repugnant to the sacred Scri∣ptures, in as much as that, which is repugnant to them, cannot in any sort, be ei∣ther called, or accompted Truth. I therefore intreat them, in the fear of God, to take it into their serious Consideration,
First, Whether it be possible, their Belief, such as they propose it to us, can be the same with that of St. Augustine, who, never (for ought we could ever learn) determined in the Affirmative of any Purgatory; much less of that, which the Monastical Revelations have furnish'd us with, in despight of the most Venerable Antiquity; but hath expresly declared, by his Sermons, that he acquiesced in the common Sentiment of the Church of his Time, which held, that those, whom God calls to himself, are Translated, at their Death, either into the actual enjoyment of their Fe∣licity, or confined in the Place of their eternal Punishment. To this Effect does he express himself to his Church, upon the eleventh Chapter of St. John.nReceptus est Pauper, receptus est Dives: sed ille in sinuPage 232 Abrahae; ille, &c. The Poor man was received, the Rich man was received: but the former into Abraham's Bosom; the later where he should be thirsty, and not finde a drop of Water: the souls of all men therefore (that I may hence take occasion to instruct your Charity) all souls have, after their departure out of this World, their several Retreats: the Good are in Bliss, the Wicked in Tor∣ments, &c. The rest, which is given immediately after Death, whoever is worthy of it, receives it immediately, when he Dies. And upon the First of St. John,oIlle, qui vixit, & mortuus est, &c. He, who hath lived, is also dead, his Soul is transported into other places, his Body is disposed into the Ground; whe∣ther those words, (viz. those of his Last Will) be put in execution, or not, it does not concern him; he does, he endures quite another thing, he either re∣joyces in Abraham's Bosom, or in eternal Fire prays for a little Water. I know Cardinal ← Bellarmine either thought, or pretended to think, that all could be deduced from those Words, was, that the Souls of the Faithfull are, immediately after their Departure out of this World, gathered into rest, in as much as assured of their eternal Salvation, and that thence they derive great Joy; but that to some it is not given without the admixture of Temporal Pains. But I maintain, that his Commentary is a formal corruption of the Text, to which he applies it; in as much as S. Augustine gives us to observe therein, as things immediately opposite, the Good, and the Wicked, the Joy of the former in Abraham's Bosom, and the Torments of the later in eternal Fire: so that, as the Torment of these is an absolute Privation of Joy, and Rest; so the Joy, and Rest of the other is necessarily an absolute exemption from Torment. Besides, I do not see how long any can number among those, who rejoyce, and are in Bliss, the Spirits of such, as are sup∣posed to suffer more, then could be suffered in this Life; and much less, how the Believer, dead in the Lord, receives (when he dies) his Rest, and Joy, if he be then confined to Places of Punishment; and upon that very accompt is not in his Rest. To salve then so strange a Conception, we must say, that to Be in rest signifies, not to be in rest, and to rejoyce may be taken in the same sense, as to be tormented. But whom will they perswade to this, unless those, who have suffered such a dislocation of Understanding, as hath made them uncapable of either discerning, or disallowing any distorsion of words?
Secondly, I earnestly intreat those, who are in Communion with the Church of Rome, to tell me conscientiously, whether they think it possible, that St. Augustine held their Purgatory for an Article of Faith, when he is so far from making a certain acknowledgment of any, that he leaves it to every one (after his Example) to put it to the Question, Whether there be any, or no. Will they say, he was so weakly instructed, that he was igno∣rant, that Tenent (if so be it were such, as they would have it) made, or ought to make part of the Catholique Doctrine, or that the Catholique Do∣ctrine is duly professed, when those, who are called to teach it, openly declare they doubt thereof? It must then needs follow, that Purgatory was not known to the Christians of that Age, and therefore much less to those, who had been Disciples of the Apostles.