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Catholic view of Purgatory ... Is it real?

michael_legna's picture

I think Wright misses what the foundation is and that is key


Sorry I took so long getting back to you on this but I wanted to give it the attention it deserved.

Wright said –
"Paul's basic charge against the Corinthians is that as long as they are squabbling over personalities and different teachers they are showing all too clearly that they are not only pneumatikoi; they are positively fleshly, corruptible and rebellious human beings, with no smell of the divine future about them at all.

Yes, but that is just one work of many that men will perform. Saying one is of Paul. Or Cephas or Apollos is clearly and definitely the wrong approach, but it is not the only works we could do which would not be satisfactorily building on the foundation of Christ.

Additionally, this choosing of different teachers is by implication what Wright says is tested – since it leads to a lack of divine future ahead of them. It therefore is not the teaching and building of doctrines that is being referred to as tested as he tries to claim next.

Wright said –
The fundamental contrast of the present age and the future one, and the kind of human existence and behaviour that belong to each, is of the utmost importance in understanding chapter 15 (which is really why Wright brings Corinthians up at all). So is a clear understanding of the language Paul uses to describe the whole situation.

After his opening rebuke (3.1-4), Paul proceeds to describe how his work and that of Apollos fit together in the plan and calling of the true God (3.5-9). The Corinthians need to think in terms not of personalities, but of the overall divine project, how it is going forward, and how different gifts contribute to that. The builder cannot claim credit over the architect because the builder produces a house while all the architect produces is drawings.

I agree the contrast between the present age and the future one though is where the trials come from and whether those trials attack the house or the house and the foundation it is built on. In the present age as described in Matt 7...

Matt 7:24-27 24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock. 26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

...both the foundation and the house are tested.

In the future age, as discussed in 1 Cor 3...

1 Cor 3:11-15 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

...only the house is tested. The foundation in this case is ONLY those foundations which are Christ and so are beyond being tested.

This leaves no room for Wright's interpretation of the test being of the Church as a whole.

Wright said -
Paul seems to be responding to the charge that his teaching had been very basic, whereas Apollos' had been more intellectually stimulating. That, he says, it what you should expect when one person lays a foundation (which then remains out of sight and mind) and someone else builds an exciting building on top of it. But the critical point again has to do with eschatology. Founder and builder alike must recognize that there is coming a day (Paul has already mentioned it, we recall, in 1.8) when the work of building will be judged (3.10-15).

The foundation is what is laid by Apostles (Paul, Cephas, Apollos etc.). The foundation is Christ or doctrines of Christ we can accept as completely trustworthy. In the section in 1 Cor 3 under discussion it is important to note the Foundation is never tested in the fire – only the structure built upon it is tested. So Christ of course is not tested, the correct doctrines of Christ are not tested, and the teachings of the Apostles are not tested. The only thing that is tested in 1 Cor 3 is that which is added to the foundation and that is done NOT by the leadership (over which there were personality cults formed) but by the individual. It is the individual who goes through this trial where their works are tested, not the Church or its leadership. It is the individual who has some works burnt away and some survive, not the Church or its leadership. It is the individual who will suffer loss, not the Church or its leadership.

Wright said –
On that day, some work will be burnt up, while other work will last. The image of fire sweeping through a great building, with some parts going up in smoke and other parts remaining solid, enables Paul to speak vividly of continuity and discontinuity between the present age and the age to come:

[Wright's translation](12) Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay straw--(13) each one's work will become obvious, because the day will disclose it, since it will be revealed in fire; and the fire will test everyone's work, to see what sort it is. (14) If someone's work, that they have build, stands the test, they will receive a reward. (15) But if someone's work is burned up, they will suffer loss. They themselves will be saved, though, but only in such a way as through a fire.

...Well built houses, says Paul, will last; they will, in other words, be part of the coming world the Creator intends. Good, faithful apostolic work, whether in foundation-laying or in building, will last; that is what matters, not the apparent brilliance or dullness of the teaching involved.

But the house does not stand based on it strength but on the strength of it foundation. We are saved not because our house is built well enough but because we chose to build on the foundation of Christ. That is the only foundation the Apostles can lay and they do that by preaching and introducing us to the Gospel. Those who do not build on the foundation of Christ are described as building on sand, and the trials of the world bring down such a house long before it ever gets a chance to be tested by fire.

Wright said -
Once again, Paul is longing for the Corinthians to understand themselves, the church and the work of their teachers within an eschatological narrative, a story which runs from the present age to the age to come, with church and apostle alike poised in the tense overlap between the two....

The point ["because of the future resurrection, get on with your work in the present!] is made much sharper in 3.16-17 by Paul's invoking of the Temple-image: you (plural) are the Temple of the true God, and His Spirit dwells in you, as the Shekinah dwelt in the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple, of course, is therefore holy. If anyone destroys it—as by implication, factional bickering and personality-cults are destroying it, pulling down the fabric of the community’s life—they face the threat of being themselves destroyed in the divine judgment.

Or if they were to destroy it through doing works of straw or wood, which did not measure up to the standard of gold, silver and precious stones, they face the threat of being themselves destroyed. This certainly seems more reasonable than fractional bickering and personality cults being the source of this.

Besides these works (fractional bickering and personality cults) are works of individuals who are definitely NOT those building doctrines (such as Paul or Apollos), but instead are just general members of the Church aligning themselves with the doctrines (as they see them) of one or another personality. We see this because by identifying these works as fractional bickering and personality cults, they become works not of those building (in Wright's metaphor) but of those following these supposed builders. So this following must be in some sense a building on the foundation as well or it could not be tested. In Wright's metaphor the fractional bickering and personality cults cannot be tested by fire, other wise the individuals are having their works tested by fire and the builders (whom he tries to re-focus us onto) never have their works tested by fire.

So these works once again become the building on the foundation of Christ by the individual themselves and not the Church as a whole. This type of individual purification fits into the Catholic view of purgatory and does not match the general interpretation Wright tries to focus on above.

Either way it seems Wright is now espousing a doctrine of works playing a role in salvation. A strange position for a Protestant apologist, I doubt he even realizes the implication.

Furthermore, I think Wright does this entire interpretation without considering key verses within scripture which speak of building on a foundation.

Mat 7:21-27 21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

Luk 6:47-49 47 Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: 48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. 49 But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.

Luke 12:16-21 16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. 20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

I don't think Wright's take on 1 Cor 3 is easily reconciled with these verses as they point to our actions as individuals and not to the purification of the Church and its doctrines as a whole.

JStaller said –
Probably because I did not want to give any ground in our purgatorial argument, I was steering away from your reliance on the coming Judgment Day because it seemed to be a part of that purification schema that was so critical in the era of official Purgatorial construction; now it’s obvious to me that the church-purification metaphor that I was arguing for should be restated with an emphasis on the eschatological argument. Wright has done a pretty good job of that, obviously.

I don't think he has done a pretty good job. I think there is a fair amount of muddling of the ideas in his approach. The mixing up of Church purification as a body, and individual purification for one. Personality cults and factional bickering (even when done within a group) are still personal sins, judged and purified on a personal level. Groups cannot sin and groups cannot be purified, except through purification of the individuals who make them up.

These same problems (even if we accept his idea that they were the problem of the Church as a group), would not be the problems or sins of the builder (the way he explains it) because the builders were not the one bickering amongst themselves. So the works that get burnt away become some other works than those of the builders, and since the verses in 1 Cor 3 refer specifically to the works of the builders being tried as if by fire, then his metaphor does not fit.

JStaller said –
You’ve often asked me, Michael, when I think “purgation” happens, if not in purgatory. I suspect this might be a maneuver intended to force me into a dilemma of “when,” leaving me with the unbalanced equation of post-death unpurged sin, the remainder of fleshly debt that Purgatory handily relieves. Aside from the fact that this ignores the vastly different soteriology between us, I like Wright’s indirect solution—meaning, he didn’t intend to address your question with his statement, but he did anyway.

“Once again, Paul is longing for the Corinthians to understand themselves, the church and the work of their teachers within an eschatological narrative, a story which runs from the present age to the age to come, with church and apostle alike poised in the tense overlap between the two...”

“The overlap between the two.” Purgatory is now; if I must argue for a definitive time during which our sins are purged,

Then this judgment and trial by fire of our works is on going and we suffer loss all the way along and are saved as if by this fire/trial? I think this means the judgment all through life you propose would apply to all men. I think this judgment would not be based on what foundation one built on. But we know that those who build on any foundation other than Christ cannot have their works stand. No works no matter how good can stand without our having accepted Christ.

JStaller said -
I would argue the present—and, instead of resolving the unbalanced debt with a post-death purgation,

There is no unbalanced debt implied in the doctrine of Purgatory. We are not paying anything back, we are not given a second chance to repent or to make up for our failings. We are simply being reduced to that which is acceptable to enter heaven and then only if we have accepted Christ as the foundation of our lives.

JStaller said -
I would fall back, in this passage, on the plurality of the audience—Paul is not talking to an individual about his or her soul; Paul is talking to a group about their church; the church is what is purged in this passage,

I know that is Wright's interpretation but it does not fit the concept of sin. Individuals sin, pluralities or groups do not sin. The works that must be tried and lost are those which do not conform to God's will. The everyman who suffers loss is not the Church as an inanimate object does not suffer loss. The Church also is not saved, salvation is reserved for mankind as individuals. Wright's interpretation does not fit the section of 1 Cor 3 we are addressing which is why he skims over the section so quickly and interprets it entirely from context and never addresses the actual verses themselves.

Wright's interpretation also does not fit the metaphor of builder, since the builders are neither the Church nor the individuals who lead (sch as Paul, Cephas and Apollos) and over who the factional bickering and personality cults arise. If it is their works which are being tried as if by fire as scripture says then there is no point in bringing up the factional bickering and personality cults because they had no part in them. Wright has to identify another set of sins, if he wants to identify the builders as he does. Otherwise his explanation is inconsistent.

JStaller said -
and the ‘unbalanced debt’ of the church at the end of the age would be not “sin” but “sinners,” leaving at the end of the age “every man” (who builds on the foundation Paul has laid)“saved,” because they are a part of the church, though perhaps parts of the church that those “everymen” built have been “burned up” “as by fire.”

I don't see how the idea of unbalanced debt fits at all, as Christ paid the full debt. But perhaps you are merely misunderstanding the concept of Purgatory and using a term you think best fits. But it does not. There is no debt being paid during a purging. Unrefined gold does not pay a debt to have its dross removed.

JStaller said -
I should think you as a Catholic might enjoy the metaphorical or literal image of the Protestant and apostate parts of the church, constructed of hay and stubble as you contend, being purged away by God’s purifying fire of judgment, leaving standing only the true Church of God

I hope I never enjoy such a thought, it would not speak very highly of me. I have little concerned though with the idea of the Church (as a group) needing purification as the Church is not an animate or sentient object, therefore it cannot sin or commit faulty works, only the men who make up the Church can sin, and only they can be purified. The Church cannot be baptized, nor confess, nor can it repent. It merely is. But it is composed of individual men who can do these things and they are the ones who will have everyman their work tired as if by fire. Not just the leadership who some claim are the only builders - everyman. Not the Church as a group which does no building - everyman. It is the everyman which can become involved in factional bickering and personality cults arise, so it is they who must have their works tried by fire and suffer loss and be saved as if by fire if they have built on the foundation of Christ so as to weather the flood when it rises and beats upon the house they built.