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In an earlier blog post, I made the point that the role of St. Peter and his successors is made remarkably clear in Matthew 16:18-19 and its immediate context:
And I tell you, you are Peter (Gr.—petros—‘rock’), and on this rock (Gr.—petra—‘rock’) I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Jesus here promises infallible authority to Peter that would empower him to speak in the place of Christ, or as his vicar on earth. Catholics believe just what the text says. When St. Peter (and his successors) “binds” something on earth, it is “bound” in heaven. That’s definitive authority–infallible authority–with the power of heaven to back it up!
A response I get fairly regularly in response to this is to claim the Church is using “this one text” to try and establish a dogma.
My first thought in response is always to say, ”How many times does God have to tell you something before you will believe and obey it?” After all, Jesus only gave us the proper form for baptism one time in Matthew 28:19, and yet all Christians believe it to be the proper form nonetheless.
Nevertheless, I do think this is a valid question that deserves an answer: Is Matthew 16 the only text that demonstrates the truth of Peter’s primacy and of the papacy in Scripture?
The answer is a resounding no!
The List Goes On and On
Below is a list of biblical texts all related to the primacy of St. Peter and the Papacy. Word count limitations prevent me from quoting all of them; you’ll have to do some homework and look up some of these texts yourself. But when you do, you’ll notice there is not a single “rock” to be found among them.
Mind you, this is not an exhaustive list. There are more biblical texts we could take a look at. Consider this my top 18 list:
1. Matt. 14:23-27: St. Peter is uniquely and miraculously empowered by Jesus to walk on water, and when his faith begins to falter, our Lord does not allow him to go under. This is a prelude to Jesus promising to communicate his authority that can never fail to Peter in Matt. 16. The gift of the papacy is here assured not to depend upon the person of St. Peter or of his successors, but on the promise and power of Christ.
2. Matt. 17:24-27: After receiving the promise of authority in Matt. 16, St. Peter is once again given supernatural power, and this time to provide for both himself and Jesus when the first-century equivalent of the I.R.S. comes calling. Peter acts as Christ’s “vicar,” or, in the place of Jesus, in miraculous fashion, once again, guaranteed by Jesus not to fail. He “pays the tax” for both Jesus and himself. If you don’t think this is miraculous, it’s almost April 15 right now. God ahead down to the closest fishin’ hole, cast a line in, catch a fish, and let’s see if there’s enough money in the fish’s mouth to pay your taxes, let alone yours and someone else’s.
3. Luke 5:1-10: The multitudes that gather to hear Jesus at the shore of Lake Gennesaret press in on him so that he has to step off shore into one of two boats that are there docked. The boat he steps into just happens to be Peter’s boat. Hmmmm. Jesus then proclaims the gospel from the barque of Peter (5:1-3)! Sound familiar? Then, Jesus tells Peter to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch. Can you imagine the people present? They must have been thinking that Jesus was nuts! Multitudes have to just stand there and watch St. Peter go fishing? St. Peter then says, “We have toiled all night and caught nothing” (vs. 5), yet he lets down the nets at the command of Jesus. When they catch so many fish they need to bring out the other boat to haul in the load, Peter realizes that Jesus is calling him to more than just catching catfish! These fish are metaphors for Christians. Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (vs.8)! But Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.”
Thus, St. Peter receives a unique and singular calling from Christ to be the fisher of men. And once again, Peter receives supernatural power that cannot fail to fulfill his unique calling.
4. Luke 22:24-32: In this text, Jesus teaches the apostles the true nature of authority, especially in verses 24-28. True authority in the New Covenant is commanded to be servant of all. He will speak with infallible authority just as Christ did, but he must also wash the feet of his brothers just as Christ did. In this context, Jesus said to the apostles:
[A]s my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you (Gr.—humas, plural—“you all”), that he might sift you (Gr.—plural again) like wheat, but I have prayed for you (Gr.—sou, singular—Peter alone) that your faith (Gr.—singular again) may not fail; and when you (Gr.—singular) have turned again, strengthen your brethren.
In the context of committing his kingdom authority to the apostles to govern the church (the “Israel of God”—see Gal. 6:16), Jesus especially prays for Peter so that he may be the source of strength and unity for the rest of the apostles. If the apostles want to be protected from the devil’s attempts to divide and destroy them and the Church, they must be in communion with Peter. And notice, Jesus says specifically to Peter, that, literally from the Greek text, “the faith of you [Peter] will not fail.” This is precisely what the Catholic Church has been teaching for 2,000 years!
5. John 10:16: Jesus prophesied:
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, and one shepherd (emphasis added).
Who is this prophetic shepherd? The answer seems simple. And on one level it is. Jesus declared himself to be “the good shepherd” (Gr.—poimein—“shepherd” or “pastor”) in John 10:14. Yet, if we dig deeper into the text we discover another meaning as well. In the context of prophesying about this “one flock” and “one shepherd,” Jesus says he must gather “other sheep” referring to the gentiles. Who does our Lord use as the shepherd to bring this prophecy to pass? The answer is found in our next two texts.
6. John 21:1-17: Here, we find another example of Jesus aiding the fishing of the apostles who “caught nothing” all night long (vs. 3). At the command of Jesus they let down their nets and catch an astonishing 153 “large fish” (vs. 11). When Jesus commands the net to be hauled ashore, St. Peter heaves the entire net of fish to shore by himself. No man can lift that size of a catch out of the water and on to the shore by himself. If you take these words literally to mean Peter actually did this, it seems Peter was given supernatural strength to do what no man could naturally accomplish. Fish are symbols representing the faithful (recall Luke 5:8-10). And the symbol of “the net” is used elsewhere in the New Testament for the Church (see Matt. 13:47). Not only is Peter’s ability to carry these “fish” (all the faithful) a miracle, but the fact that the “net” is not broken is also extraordinary. The message seems to be that the Church Jesus establishes containing all of God’s faithful with Peter packing the power will never be destroyed!
It is in this context that Jesus then asks St. Peter three times, “Do you love me… Do you love me… Do you love me?” When Peter responds in the affirmative the second time, Jesus responds by commanding Peter to “tend (Gr.–poimaine—’shepherd’) my sheep” (vs. 16). Jesus the shepherd here commissions Peter to be the prophetic shepherd of John 10:16 to shepherd the entire people of God!
How do we know Peter was called to shepherd the entire flock? I would only ask this: How many of the sheep belong to Jesus? Answer? All of them. So how many of his sheep did Jesus entrust to St. Peter to shepherd? Answer? All of them.
7. Matt. 10:2: In the context of the calling and listing of the twelve apostles, Peter is referred to as “the first” apostle. We know he was not the “first apostle” chronologically. John 1:37-41 tells us Andrew believed Jesus was the Messiah first and told his brother Peter about him. Andrew would be the “first” chronologically. Peter was “first” in primacy.
Though the Greek word, protos (first), can certainly mean “first” chronologically, it can also denote “chief,” “superior” or “the first in rank.” In Acts 28:7, for example, protos is used to describe “the chief man of the Island, Publius.” In Matthew 20:27, we discover, “Whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” Luke 15:22 adds: “Bring forth the best robe…” And I Tim. 1:15 provides: “And I am the foremost of sinners.” All of these texts use protos in the sense of “chief” or “superior.”
Moreover, Christ is referred to as prototokos, or “first-begotten” in Col. 1:15. Here St. Paul uses protos in order to teach us about Christ’s eternal generation, which has been accomplished outside of time. He is; therefore, the creator and the one who has “preeminence” over all things, according to the text. Colossians 1:15-18 reads:
[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born (Gr.—prototokos) of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth…He is before all things…He is the head of the body, the church…that in everything he might be pre-eminent (Gr.—proteuon, a verb with the same root as protos and prototokos).
Thus, in a notably direct and overt manner, by referring to St. Peter as the “first” apostle, St. Matthew presents Peter (and his successors) just as we see him represented in the rest of the New Testament; he is revealed to be “chief” of the apostles, or to have a primacy of authority over all the apostles and, by extension, over the entire church.
8. Acts 1:15-26:
During those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers (there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place). He said, “My brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled which the holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus … For it is written in the Book of Psalms: “Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it” (citing Psalm 69:25). And: “May another take his office” (citing Psalm 109:8). Therefore it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us … become with us a witness to his resurrection. So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two you have chosen …” Then they gave lots … and the lots fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.
It is St. Peter who is clearly in charge in choosing and ordaining a new apostle to replace Judas. He stands in the midst of the apostles and gives an authoritative interpretation of Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. And mind you, these are not exactly obvious interpretations of these texts. Psalm 69:25 uses the plural, yet Peter applies it singularly to Peter. The context of Psalm 109:8 also uses the plural (see verse 20). This is not exactly self-evident. Yet, St. Peter then declares the apostles must choose a successor of Judas based upon these two texts. And there is nary a question from the rest of the apostles like, “Hey, Peter, that’s a pretty shaky interpretation of those two texts. What hermeneutical principles are you using, anyway?”
In the case of St. Peter, the old saying is true, “It is my (Peter’s) way or the highway.”
9. Acts 2:14-41:
It is St. Peter who is in charge at Pentecost and preaches the first sermon whereby 3,000 are baptized. And you’ll notice a theme we are going to often see in the Book of Acts (and in the Gospels as well). Peter is listed as a category all by himself. Acts 2 says, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them.” There’s Peter alone, and then there is “the eleven.”
10. Acts 3:1-10:
Peter and John are “about to go into the temple,” when a man who was “lame from birth” called out to them begging alms. We note that it is Peter who speaks and it is Peter who performs the first miracle in the Acts of the Apostles. Another “first” for St. Peter. We will see more.
11. Acts 4:3-12:
When St. Peter and St. John are arrested and called before the Sanhedrin, it is St. Peter in verse 8, who speaks for both and preaches boldly of Christ and the name of Jesus.
12. Acts 5:1-15: It is St. Peter who clearly depicted as in charge of the Church in collecting funds for world evangelism. And it is St. Peter who pronounces God’s judgment on Ananias and Sapphira, speaking for God in the process. And it is then, in verse 15, that after seeing “more than ever” numbers of converts flood into the Church, that the sick were brought to him in hope that even his shadow might pass over them so that they may be healed.
13. Acts 5:29: After the apostles were arrested and then miraculously set free by the angel of the Lord, they are before the Sanhedrin for the second time. St. Luke records:
Peter and the apostles said in reply, “We must obey God rather then men.”
Once again, St. Peter is set apart from the rest of the apostles. If he was just one of the apostles with no special position St. Luke would not set him apart like he does. Why does he do this? Because St. Peter has the keys of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:15-19). He is the Shepherd over the whole flock of God’s people (cf. John 10:11-16, 21:15-17).
In fact, every time St. Peter is mentioned in sacred Scripture with the other apostles, he is either listed first (see Matthew 10:2, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16 and Acts 1:13, etc.), or given a special place apart from the other apostles (see I Cor. 9:5, Mark 1:36, Mark 16:7 and Luke 9:32) except for one example in Galatians 2:9. This one example is often used by non-Catholics to demonstrate absolute equality among the apostles or even to prove St. James to have been the true leader of the early Church rather than St. Peter.
And when they perceived the grace that was given to me (St. Paul), James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the gentiles and they to the circumcised.
A closer look at the context clears up this apparent difficulty. In Galatians 2, St. Paul is speaking in the context of the church at Jerusalem. We know from Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History …) that James was the first bishop of Jerusalem after the apostles dispersed throughout the world. It would not be surprising to list James first in the context of the diocese (or city, as it were then) over which he presides. Even today, if there were a Council held in a diocese other than Rome, the local bishop would normally be given a special place of honor in some distinct manner. This, in fact, has been the case many times in the history of the Church. James should be given a place of honor because he is the head of local Church there in Jerusalem.
This is the context of Galatians 2. However, notice the difference between this second visit St. Paul made to Jerusalem and his first visit fourteen years earlier (cf. Galatians 2:1).
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:18-19)… Then, after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas… and when they perceived the grace of God was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (Gal. 1:18-2:9).
St. Paul originally went to Jerusalem not to see James, though he did see James. He went to confer with St. Peter. After receiving revelation from God, St. Peter is the first man St. Paul wants to see. This was not just a casual meeting. It lasted fifteen days. It was fourteen years later (cf. Gal. 2:1), after St. Peter had gone and established his see in Antioch (cf. Gal. 2:11, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History), that St. Paul lists James first in the context of the Church of Jerusalem.
An interesting not: There are four lists of apostles given in Scripture. Matthew 10:2-4 (which we saw before), Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16 and Acts 1:13. In every case St. Peter is first and Judas is last (except in Acts, Judas is not listed at all because he had committed suicide). In oriental culture, the listing of names is important. It connotes position and honor. Notice in all the lists the order is generally identical. There is a bit of juxtaposition in St. Mark’s list, but St. Peter’s place is always the same. This is reminiscient of the early Church. There was some juxtaposition in the early Church when it came to the second and third place of honor in the Church, but never a doubt who was at the helm: The Bishop of Rome.
14. Acts 8:14-23:
In this text we see St. Peter leading when he and St. John confirm the new converts in Samaria because of the evangelistic efforts of St. Phillip. And once again it is St. Peter who takes the helm in pronouncing judgment on Simon the sorcerer who wanted to buy the power to confirm or convey the Holy Spirit (verses 18-23).
15. Acts 9:32:
Here we have an interesting little passage in verse 32 most pass over too quickly.
As Peter was passing through every region, he went down to the holy ones living in Lydda (NAB).
Here we have St. Peter making his pastoral rounds. To what part of the Church? All of it! Why? St. Peter is the shepherd of the whole world. He then proceeds to do another first. He raises Tabitha from the dead in Joppa (cf. 9:40-43).
16. Acts 10:1-48:
In this chapter from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus personally sees to the fulfillment of the prophecy of John 10:16, which we saw above. He appears to St. Peter and commands him to bring the gospel to the gentiles by way of Cornelius, the centurion. When Peter then “commanded [Cornelius and his household] to be baptized” in Acts 10:48, the prophecy of John 10:16 was fulfilled. There was now one fold and one shepherd for Jews and Gentiles. That ministry has continued to this day in the successors of St. Peter, the bishops of Rome.
It would be easy to pass over this text and miss its importance. It is most significant that it is St. Peter to whom God gives a vision to allow the gentiles to be baptized and enjoy full membership in the Church. This was a radical move! If you think we have a problem with racism in the 21st century, we have nothing on first century opinion of the gentiles!
If we read further, into Acts 11:18, after the other apostles and other disciples heard Peter declare what God had done, they say, in chapter 11:18:
When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.”
They heard St. Peter speak and the question was settled. The question would continue to plague the Church with reference to how the gentiles and Jews were to harmonize in the Church. But the question of Gentiles being in the Church was settled by St. Peter and the question would not be raised again. Peter had spoken, the rest of the Church “held their peace.” Would to God we today would do the same!
17. Acts 12: 3-11:
In this text, St. Peter is arrested again. Notice that the entire Church then goes to ‘round the clock prayer for him until he is released miraculously. This is not recorded to have been the case when St. James or any others were arrested. When the head of a fledgling Church struggling for its existence is put in jail, you better believe everyone is praying!
18. Acts 15: 1-12:
The ministry of St. Peter as “the shepherd” of the Universal Church continues. When there was a heresy spreading in the church at Antioch (and elsewhere) so widespread and problematic that Paul and Barnabas could not quell the resulting confusion, the church there decided to “go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question” (vss. 1-2). The question concerned salvation and the Old Covenant law in relation to the gospel. Some among “believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise…and…to keep the law of Moses’ (vs. 5) or else you ‘cannot be saved’” (vs. 1). In particular, they spoke of the gentiles who were converting to Christ, but the same would apply to all. The real question was: Are Christians saved by the grace of Christ in the New Covenant or must they obey the Old Covenant as well for salvation? The first Church Council (of Jerusalem) was convened and the theological question was put to rest by the pronouncement of St. Peter.
The apostles and elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice…that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe…we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly kept silence… (Vs. 6-12, emphasis added)
Like we saw in Acts 11:18, when the Pope finally speaks on a matter, the rest are silent. And so it should be.
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This may well be the most common single question I receive concerning our Catholic Faith whether it be at conferences, via email, snail mail, or any other venue. In fact, I’ve answered it twice today already, so I thought I might just blog about it.
We’ll begin by making clear just what we mean by “Purgatory.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
All who die in God’s grace, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (1030).
This seems so simple. Its common sense. Scripture is very clear when it says, “But nothing unclean shall enter [heaven]” (Rev. 21:27). Hab. 1:13 says, “You [God]… are of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look on wrong…” How many of us will be perfectly sanctified at the time of our deaths? I dare say most of us will be in need of further purification in order to enter the gates of heaven after we die, if, please God, we die in a state of grace.
In light of this, the truth about Purgatory is almost self-evident to Catholics. However, to many Protestants this is one of the most repugnant of all Catholic teachings. It represents “a medieval invention nowhere to be found in the Bible.” It’s often called “a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.” It is said to represent “a second-chance theology that is abominable.” And most often the inquiries come from Catholics who are asking for help to explain Purgatory to a friend, family member, or co-worker.
A Very Good Place to Start
Perhaps the best place to start is with the most overt reference to a “Purgatory” of sorts in the Old Testament. I say a “Purgatory of sorts” because Purgatory is a teaching fully revealed in the New Testament and defined by the Catholic Church. The Old Testament people of God would not have called it “Purgatory,” but they did clearly believe that the sins of the dead could be atoned for by the living as I will now prove. This is a constitutive element of what Catholics call “Purgatory.”
In II Maccabees 12:39-46, we discover Judas Maccabeus and members of his Jewish military forces collecting the bodies of some fallen comrades who had been killed in battle. When they discovered these men were carrying “sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear” (vs. 40), Judas and his companions discerned they had died as a punishment for sin. Therefore, Judas and his men,
“… turned to prayer beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out… He also took up a collection… and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably… Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”
There are usually two immediate objections to the use of this text when talking with Protestants. First, they will dismiss any evidence presented in II Maccabees because they do not accept its inspiration. And second, they will claim these men in Maccabees committed the sin of idolatry, which would be a mortal sin in Catholic theology. According to the Catholic Church, they would be in Hell where there is no possibility of atonement. Thus, and ironically so, they will say, Purgatory must be eliminated as a possible interpretation of this text if you’re Catholic.
The Catholic Response:
Rejecting the inspiration and canonicity of II Maccabees does not negate its historical value. Maccabees aids us in knowing, purely from an historical perspective at the very least, the Jews believed in praying and making atonement for the dead shortly before the advent of Christ. This is the faith in which Jesus and the apostles were raised. And it is in this context Jesus declares in the New Testament:
And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12:32, emphasis added).
This declaration of our Lord implies there are at least some sins that can be forgiven in the next life to a people who already believed it. If Jesus wanted to condemn this teaching commonly taught in Israel, he was not doing a very good job of it according to St. Matthew’s Gospel.
The next objection presents a more complex problem. The punishment for mortal sin is, in fact, definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed (the definition of Hell) according to Catholic teaching (see CCC 1030). But it is a non-sequitur to conclude from this teaching that II Maccabees could not be referring to a type of Purgatory.
First of all, a careful reading of the text reveals the sin of these men to be carrying small amulets “or sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia” under their tunics as they were going in to battle. This would be closer to a Christian baseball player believing there is some kind of power in his performing superstitious rituals before going to bat than it would be to the mortal sin of idolatry. This was, most likely, a venial sin for them. But even if what they did would have been objectively grave matter, good Jews in ancient times—just like good Catholics today—believed they should always pray for the souls of those who have died “for thou [O Lord], thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men” (II Chr. 6:30). God alone knows the degree of culpability of these “sinners.” Moreover, some or all of them may have repented before they died. Both the ancient Jews and Catholic Christians always retain hope for the salvation of the deceased this side of heaven; thus, we always pray for those who have died.
A Plainer Text
In Matthew 5:25-26, Jesus is even more explicit about Purgatory.
Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.
For Catholics, Tertullian for example, in De Anima 58, written in ca. AD 208, this teaching is parabolic, using the well-known example of “prison” and the necessary penitence it represents, as a metaphor for Purgatorial suffering that will be required for lesser transgressions, represented by the “kodrantes” or “penny” of verse 26. But for many Protestants, our Lord is here giving simple instructions to his followers concerning this life exclusively. This has nothing to do with Purgatory.
This traditional Protestant interpretation is very weak contextually. These verses are found in the midst of the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” where our Lord teaches about heaven (vs. 20), hell (vs. 29-30), and both mortal (vs. 22) and venial sins (vs. 19), in a context that presents “the Kingdom of Heaven” as the ultimate goal (see verses 3-12). Our Lord goes on to say if you do not love your enemies, “what reward have you” (verse 46)? And he makes very clear these “rewards” are not of this world. They are “rewards from your Father who is in heaven” (6:1) or “treasures in heaven” (6:19).
Further, as St. John points out in John 20:31, all Scripture is written “that believing, you may have [eternal] life in his name.” Scripture must always be viewed in the context of our full realization of the divine life in the world to come. Our present life is presented “as a vapor which appears for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away” (James 1:17). It would seem odd to see the deeper and even “other worldly” emphasis throughout the Sermon of the Mount, excepting these two verses.
When we add to this the fact that the Greek word for prison, phulake, is the same word used by St. Peter, in I Peter 3:19, to describe the “holding place” into which Jesus descended after his death to liberate the detained spirits of Old Testament believers, the Catholic position makes even more sense. Phulake is demonstrably used in the New Testament to refer to a temporary holding place and not exclusively in this life.
The Plainest Text
I Corinthians 3:11-15 may well be the most straightforward text in all of Sacred Scripture when it comes to Purgatory:
For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
No Christian sect I know of even attempts to deny this text speaks of the judgment of God where the works of the faithful will be tested after death. It says our works will go through “fire,” figuratively speaking. In Scripture, “fire” is used metaphorically in two ways: as a purifying agent (Mal. 3:2-3; Matt. 3:11; Mark 9:49); and as that which consumes (Matt. 3:12; 2 Thess. 1:7-8). So it is a fitting symbol here for God’s judgment. Some of the “works” represented are being burned up and some are being purified. These works survive or burn according to their essential “quality” (Gr. hopoiov – of what sort).
What is being referred to cannot be heaven because there are imperfections that need to be “burned up” (see again, Rev. 21:27, Hab. 1:13). It cannot be hell because souls are being saved. So what is it? The Protestant calls it “the Judgment” and we Catholics agree. We Catholics simply specify the part of the judgment of the saved where imperfections are purged as “Purgatory.”
The Protestant respondent will immediately spotlight the fact that there is no mention, at least explicitly, of “the cleansing of sin” anywhere in the text. There is only the testing of works. The focus is on the rewards believers will receive for their service, not on how their character is cleansed from sin or imperfection. And the believers here watch their works go through the fire, but they escape it!
First, what are sins, but bad or wicked works (see Matthew 7:21-23, John 8:40, Galatians 5:19-21)? If these “works” do not represent sins and imperfections, why would they need to be eliminated? Second, it is impossible for a “work” to be cleansed apart from the human being who performed it. We are, in a certain sense, what we do when it comes to our moral choices. There is no such thing as a “work” floating around somewhere detached from a human being that could be cleansed apart from that human being. The idea of works being separate from persons does not make sense.
Most importantly, however, this idea of “works” being “burned up” apart from the soul that performed the work contradicts the text itself. The text does say the works will be tested by fire, but “if the work survives… he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss.” And, “he will be saved, but only as through fire” (Gr. dia puros). The truth is: both the works of the individual and the individual will go through the cleansing “fire” described by St. Paul in order that “he” might finally be saved and enter into the joy of the Lord. Sounds an awful lot like Purgatory.
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Did you hear the latest? On Sunday, King Philippe of Belgium signed a law that legalized child euthanasia in Belgium without age limit. And just so you know, the King of Belgium is a Catholic.
I pray God the Church moves to excommunicate Philippe, because if this doesn’t get us there, I have to ask what would? But that is just my humble opinion, of course. I am not in management; I am in sales.
The bill originally passed the Belgium House of Representatives by a vote of 86-44 with 12 abstentions on February 13, following approval by the Senate last December.
As many of you know, in 2002, Belgium became the second country in the world to officially legalize Euthanasia for adults. The Netherlands was the first in the Fall of 2000. Now its on to the killing of infants.
Consider this: The 2002 Belgium Act on Euthanasia, which legalized euthanasia for adults, but supposedly only for those who were terminally ill or who were experiencing “unbearable suffering” with no hope of improvement, led to an explosion of deaths at the hands of doctors, reaching to an average of 1,400 per year. And as we will see below, “terminally ill,” and “unbearable suffering” have proved to be quite elastic in meaning.
Definition of “Unbearable Suffering?”
In December 2012, it was reported that doctors had euthanized 45 year-old old deaf identical twins who were going blind and believed they had nothing left to live for. Terminally ill? “Unbearable suffering?” I suppose “pain” has been expanded now to include the “emotional?”
In another case, a 44-year-old woman with chronic anorexia nervosa was euthanized. Chronic and purposeful barfing up of breakfast now takes on new meaning.
A 64-year-old woman suffering from chronic depression was also euthanized without informing her loved ones. Who better to make the decision to end her life than a woman in the midst of terrible depression and isolated from her family?
This causes me to ponder things a bit. Because there is now no age limit to euthanasia in Belgium, who will decide what the definition of “unbearable suffering” is for a one or two year-old? After all, infantile colic can be pretty darn “unbearable!” And perhaps the “unbearable” part could be extended to the suffering of the parents, right? I mean, after all, isn’t the goal to eliminate suffering? Isn’t that the “humane” thing to do?
The bottom line here is this: our Western world is speeding along on a collision course with the Almighty that will not end well for the Western world. America, for our part, has voted into the White House our most immoral president ever, a Democrat majority in the Senate that has become a collective evangelist for death and name the immorality you like best, and a feckless Republican majority in the House of Representatives afraid to stand up against anything beyond the abuse of new-born puppies.
I can remember when you were called an “extremist” if you were to warn that euthanasia may come to the United States. That was, until America watched as Terry Schiavo was starved to death over a period of 13 days in 2005. Euthanasia came to America, folks.
Forgive my bit of a pessimistic rant here, but the question is: When will we Americans wake up? Pope John Paul II said it best in Christifidelis Laici 38:
The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.
Once we legalized murder and euphemistically called it “choice,” can we really be surprised by anything that follows? Now it’s just a matter of who has the most power to determine what category of humans is next to be slaughtered. We gave up our rights when we sacrificed the right of every human being to be protected from being butchered in the sanctuary of his or her mother’s womb.
Call me an extremist, but I’m afraid we will see child euthanasia come to America just as it has come to Belgium. Barring the intervention of almighty God–please God, let it be so–it is only a matter of time.
The truth is, Belgium has just taken the next logical step along the path that began with the legalization of abortion. After all, if you can kill a pre-born baby in the womb for any reason, or no reason, no questions asked, the killing of a newborn in the name of “humanely ending suffering” seems a no-brainer for our modern world.
In fact, in this upside down world in which we live, the question is often put to we who are pro-life, words to the effect of, ”How can you be so ’inhumane’ as to insist that we don’t kill babies?” Makes perfect sense, right?
Folks, the time has come for all of us to engage in the culture war. If you would like to know more about how to do just that, and specifically by defending the Church’s teaching against euthanasia, abortion, homosexual unions, and more, click here.