CHAPTER V.
Of some other passages by which prayer, alms, deeds and holy actions for the departed are authorised.

THE second argument which we draw from the Holy Word in favour of Purgatory is taken from the Second of the Machabees, chapter xii.; where the Scripture relates that Judas Machabaeus sent to Jerusalem twelve thousand drachms of silver for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, and afterwards it says: It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought tray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins. For thus do we argue. It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins; therefore after death there will be time and place for the remission of sins; but this place cannot be either hell or Paradise, therefore it is Purgatory. This argument is so correct that to answer it our adversaries deny the authority of the Book of Machabees, and hold it to be apocryphal, but in reality this is for lack of any other answer. For this book has been held as authentic and sacred by the third Council of Carthage , which was held about 1200 years ago, and at which S. Augustine assisted, as Prosper says (in Chron.); and by Innocent I. in the Epistle to Exuperius ; and by S. Augustine in the 18th Book of the City of God, c. 36,-whose words are these: “It is the Catholic Church which holds these books canonical, and not the Jews; ” and by the same S. Augustine, in the book De Doctrina Christiana, chap. viii.; and by Damasus, in the decree on the canonical books which he made in a council of seventy bishops; and by many other Fathers whom it would be long to cite. So that to answer by denying the authority of the book, is to deny at the same time the authority of antiquity.

We know how many things are alleged in support of this negation, which things for the most part only show the difficulty there is in the Scriptures, not any falsehood in them. It only seems to me necessary to answer one or two objections that are made. They first say that the prayer was made to show the kind feeling those persons had towards the departed, not as if they thought the dead had need of prayer: but this the Scripture contradicts by those words: that they nzay be loosed from sins. Secondly, they object that it is a manifest error to pray for the resurrection of the dead before the judgment ; because this is to presuppose either that souls rise again and consequently die, or that bodies do not rise again unless by means of the prayers and good actions of the living, which would be against the article I believe in the resurrection of the dead: now that these errors are presupposed in this place of the Machabees appears by these words _For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. The answer is that in this place they do not pray for the resurrection either of the soul or of the body, but only for the deliverance of souls. In this they presuppose the immortality of the soul. For if they had believed that the soul was dead with the body they would not have striven to further their release. And because among the Jews the belief in the immortality of the soul and the belief in the resurrection of bodies were so connected together that he who denied one denied the other; -to show that Judas Machabaeus believed the immortality of the soul, it is said that he believed the resurrection of bodies. And in the same way the Apostle proves the resurrection of bodies by the immortality of the soul, although it might be that the soul was immortal without the resurrection of bodies. The following occurs in the I st of Corinthians, chapter xv.: What doth it profit me if the dead rise not again ? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die. Now it would not at all follow that we might thus let ourselves run riot, even if there was no resurrection: for the soul, which would remain in existence, would suffer the penalty due to sins, and would receive the guerdon of her virtues. S. Paul then in this place takes the resurrection of the dead as equivalent to the immortality of the soul. There is therefore no ground for refusing the testimony of the Machabees in proof of a just belief. But if, in the very last resort, we would take it as the testimony of a simple but great historian- which cannot be refused us- we must at least confess that the ancient synagogue believed in Purgatory, since all that army was so prompt to pray for the departed.

And truly we have marks of this devotion in other Scriptures which ought to make easier to us the reception of the passage which we have just adduced. In Tobias, chap. iv.: Lay out thy bread and thy wine on the burial of a just man; and do not eat or drink thereof with the wicked. Certainly this wine and bread was not placed on the tomb save for the poor, in order that the soul of the deceased might be helped thereby, as the interpreters say commonly on this passage. It will perhaps be said that this Book is apocryphal, but all antiquity has always held it in credit. And indeed the custom of putting meat for the poor on sepulchres is very ancient even in the Catholic Church. For S. Chrysostom, who lived more than twelve hundred years ago, in the 32d Homily on the Book of S. Matthew, speaks of it thus: “Why on your friends’ death do you call together the poor? Why for them do you beseech the priests to pray?” And what are we to think of the fasts and austerities which the ancients practised after the death of their friends? The men of Jabes Galaad, after the death of Saul, fasted seven days over him. David and his men did the same, over the same Saul, and Jonathan, and those who followed him, as we see in this [last] chapter of 1st Kings, and in the 1st chapter of 2nd Kings. One cannot think that it was for any other purpose than to help the souls of the departed; -for to what else can one refer the fast of seven days? So David, who, in the 2nd Kings, chapter xii., fasted and prayed for his sick son, after his death ceased to fast, showing that when he fasted it was to obtain help for the sick child, which, when it died, dying young and innocent, had no need of help; wherefore David ceased fasting. Bede, more than 700 years ago, interprets thus the end of the 1st Book of Kings (in Sam. L. iv. a io.). So that in the ancient Church, the custom already was to help by prayer and holy deeds the souls of the departed:- which clearly implies a faith in Purgatory.

And of this custom S. Paul speaks quite clearly in the 1st of Corinthians chap xv., appealing to it as praiseworthy and right. What shall they do who are baptized for the dead if the dead rise not again at all? Why then are they baptized for them? This passage properly understood evidently shows that it was the custom of the primitive Church to watch, pray, fast, for the souls of the departed. For, firstly, in the Scriptures to be baptized is often taken for afflictions and penances ; as in S. Luke, chap xii., where Our Lord speaking of his Passion says: I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized and how am I straitened until it be accomplished!-and in S. Mark. chap x., he says : Can you drink of the chalice that I drink of; or be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized? -in which places Our Lord calls pains and afflictions baptism. This then is the sense of that Scripture: if the dead rise not again, what is the use of mortifying and afflicting oneself, of praying and fasting for the dead? And indeed this sentence of S. Paul resembles that of Machabees quoted above: It is superfluous and vain to pray for the dead if the dead rise not again. They may twist and transform this text with as many interpretations as they like, and there will be none to properly fit into the Holy Letter except this.

But [secondly] it must not be said that the baptism of which S. Paul speaks is only a baptism of grief and tears, and not of fasts, prayers, and other works. For thus understood his conclusion would be very false. The conclusion he means to draw is that if the dead rise not again, and if the soul is mortal, in vain do we afflict ourselves for the dead. But, I pray you, should we not have more occasion to afflict ourselves by sadness for the death of friends if they rise no more – losing all hope of ever seeing them again – than if they do rise? He refers then to the voluntary afflictions which they undertook to impetrate the repose of the departed, which, questionless, would be undergone in vain if souls were mortal and the dead rose not again. Wherein we must keep in mind what was said above, that the article of the resurrection of the dead and that of the immortality of the soul were so joined together in the belief of the Jews that he who acknowledged the one acknowledged the other, and he who denied the one denied the other. It appears then by these words of S. Paul that prayer, fasting, and other holy afflictions were practised for the departed. Now it was not for those in Paradise, who had no need of it, nor for those in hell, who could get no benefit from it; it was, then, for those in Purgatory. Thus did S. Ephrem expound it twelve hundred years ago, and so did the Fathers who disputed against the Petrobusians.

The same can one deduce from the words of the Good Thief, in S. Luke, chap. xxiii. when, addressing Our Lord, he said: Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. For why should he have recommended himself, he who was about to die, unless he had believed that souls after death could be succoured and helped? S. Augustine (Contra Jul., B. vi.) proves [from] this passage that sins are pardoned in the other world.

 

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