A few weeks ago I made a post on Purgatory, commenting on another blogger’s post which mentioned an old book by Fr. F. X. Schouppe, SJ, Purgatory Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints (currently published by TAN). I then posted about St. Gregory’s Ghost Stories.
In comments, I mentioned the decree of the Council of Trent on purgatory. Here’s the full text:
Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has, following the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught in sacred councils and very recently in this ecumenical council that there is a purgatory, and that the souls there detained are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar, the holy council commands the bishops that they strive diligently to the end that the sound doctrine of purgatory, transmitted by the Fathers and sacred councils, be believed and maintained by the faithful of Christ, and be everywhere taught and preached.
The more difficult and subtle questions, however, and those that do not make for edification and from which there is for the most part no increase in piety, are to be excluded from popular instructions to uneducated people. Likewise, things that are uncertain or that have the appearance of falsehood they shall not permit to be made known publicly and discussed. But those things that tend to a certain kind of curiosity or superstition, or that savor of filthy lucre, they shall prohibit as scandals and stumbling-blocks to the faithful. The bishops shall see to it that the suffrages of the living, that is, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers, alms and other works of piety which they have been accustomed to perform for the faithful departed, be piously and devoutly discharged in accordance with the laws of the Church, and that whatever is due on their behalf from testamentary bequests or other ways, be discharged by the priests and ministers of the Church and others who are bound to render this service not in a perfunctory manner, but diligently and accurately.
Schouppe’s book was first published in English ca. 1893 (based on the date of the imprimatur by the Archbishop of Westminster), was reprinted by the original publisher in 1926, and has been republished by TAN since 1973.
The author begins with a disclaimer:
In conformity to the decree of Urban VIII, Sanctissimum, of March 13, 1525, we declare that if in this work we have cited facts represented to be supernatural, nothing but a personal and private authority is to be attached to our opinion; the discernment of facts of this kind belongs to the supreme authority of the Church. (p. v)
This is a bit puzzling, because Urban VIII wasn’t even born until 1568. Clement VII was pope from 1523-1534, but I haven’t been able to find a decree of this name on this date, or anything of interest happening on March 13, 1525. Now, Clement VIII did, in 1604, issue a document, Cum sanctissimum, which had to do with the liturgy, but I can’t find it on-line in English and the descriptions of it don’t seem relevant to the topic.
Schouppe then quotes from the relevant sections of the Council of Trent on purgatory–or should I say, from some of them. He omits (at least in this English translation) the warning:
The more difficult and subtle questions, however, and those that do not make for edification and from which there is for the most part no increase in piety, are to be excluded from popular instructions to uneducated people. Likewise, things that are uncertain or that have the appearance of falsehood they shall not permit to be made known publicly and discussed. But those things that tend to a certain kind of curiosity or superstition, or that savor of filthy lucre, they shall prohibit as scandals and stumbling-blocks to the faithful. The bishops shall see to it that the suffrages of the living, that is, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers, alms and other works of piety which they have been accustomed to perform for the faithful departed, be piously and devoutly discharged in accordance with the laws of the Church, and that whatever is due on their behalf from testamentary bequests or other ways, be discharged by the priests and ministers of the Church and others who are bound to render this service not in a perfunctory manner, but diligently and accurately. (p. vi).
Now why do you think he–or his publisher–only quoted part of Trent’s decree? Did he perhaps realize that the decree was directed to stop the flood of ghost stories that form the basis of his book?
Schouppe writes that his intent is “not to prove the existence of Purgatory to sceptical [sic] minds, but to make it better known to the pious faithful” (p. xxxiv).
He acknowledges that
The revelations of the saints, called also particular revelations, do not belong to the deposit of faith confided by Jesus Christ to His Church; they are historical facts, based upon human testimony. It is permitted to believe them, and piety finds wholesome food in them. We may, however, disbelieve them without sinning against faith …
So far, well and good. But as he goes on he equivocates:
We may, however, disbelieve them without sinning against faith; but they are authenticated, and we cannot reject them without offending against reason; because sound reason demands that all men should give assent to truth when it is sufficiently demonstrated. (p. xxxv)
This rises to the level of the scandalous, in my opinion. He admits the teaching of the Catholic Church that one does not have to believe these pious legends and alleged “revelations.” But then he tries to impose a guilt trip, and says you would be sinning against “reason” by exercising this option. Against reason? How so? Because you must “assent to truth when it is sufficiently demonstrated.” This seems to suggest that, even though you don’t have to believe in ghost stories, if the ghosts say the same thing over and over, you “sin against reason” by not believing them, since the ghosts say it so often. That, my dear Fr. Schouppe, is a sin against logic!
“That the spirits of the dead sometimes appear to the living is a fact that cannot be denied” (p. xxxvi).
That, Fr. Schouppe, is an assumption that you have not proven! And it stands in flat contradiction to the Scriptural command against communication with the dead (e.g., Deuteronomy 18:10).
“Apparitions of the souls that are in Purgatory are of frequent occurrence,” he claims (p. xxxvi). Alleged apparitions, no doubt. Jesus, however, appears to rule out such apparitions in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16).
How do Schouppe’s ghosts manifest themselves?
When the souls in Purgatory appear to the living, they always present themselves in an attitude which excites compassion; now with the features which they had during life or at their death, with a sad countenance and imploring looks, in garments of mourning, with an expression of extreme suffering; then like a mist, a light, a shadow, or some kind of fantastic figure, accompanied by a sign or word by which they may be recognized. At other times they betray their presence by moans, sobs, sighs, or hurried respiration and plaintive accents. They often appear enveloped in flames. When they speak, it is to manifest their sufferings, to deplore their past faults, to ask suffrages, or even to address reproaches to those who ought to succor them. Another kind of revelation, adds the same author, is made by invisible blows which the living receive, by the violent shutting of doors, the rattling of chains, and the sounds of voices (p. xxxix).
That sounds more like the spirits of Charles Dickens than anything attested in Scripture.
But does Schouppe try to justify his approach? Not at all. Having merely made these unproven (and, in fact, falsifiable) propositions, he turns around and attacks those who would raise questions.
Let us add that the Christian must guard against too great incredulity in supernatural facts connected with dogmas of faith. St. Paul tells us that Charity believeth all things (1 Cor. 13:7), that is to say, as interpreters explain it, all that which we may prudently believe, and of which the belief will not be prejudicial (p. xl).
So, if you have charity, he asserts, you’ll believe the ghost stories. If not, then you must be infected by “Protestant Rationalism” and can’t approach these mysteries with a humble spirit of simplicity (p. xli).
I’m going to skip over the ghost stories, which I’ve already commented on. Let’s cut to the chase–how do you avoid purgatory, according to Fr. Schouppe? Primarily “by the water of tears, and by the fire of charity and good works” (p. 368).
[W]e must cherish a great devotion towards the Blessed Virgin Mary. … Those who wear the holy scapular have a special right to the protection of Mary. The devotion of the holy scapular, unlike that of the Rosary, does not consist in prayer, but in the pious practice of wearing a sort of habit, which is as the livery of the Queen of Heaven” (p. 369)
Besides devotion to Mary (especially wearing the scapular) and good works, “Christian mortification and religious obedience” is a third means of satisfaction (p. 384). This is “bearing in union with Him the trials he may have to encounter in this life, or the suffering which he voluntarily inflicts upon himself” (p. 384). A fourth means is receiving the Sacraments (p. 387).
Then we get to this, which he places at the end of his list:
The fifth means for obtaining favor before the tribunal of God is to have great confidence in His Mercy. In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped; let me never be confounded, says the Prophet (Ps. 30).
According to Scripture, this should have been placed first and foremost.
Which is the firmer ground upon which to build–Ghost stories and human works, or faith in the mercy of God? Which will be of value in the final judgment?
The 1983 US Catholic-Lutheran dialogue concluded:
Our entire hope of justification and salvation rests on Christ Jesus and on the gospel whereby the good news of God’s merciful action in Christ is made known; we do not place our ultimate trust in anything other than God’s promise and saving work in Christ.
The Joint Declaration of 1999 built on earlier national agreements like this. This was the formula of agreement:
3. The Common Understanding of Justification
14. The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church have together listened to the good news proclaimed in Holy Scripture. This common listening, together with the theological conversations of recent years, has led to a shared understanding of justification. This encompasses a consensus in the basic truths; the differing explications in particular statements are compatible with it.
15. In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.
16. All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God’s gift through the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that renewal of life which God will bring to completion in eternal life.
17. We also share the conviction that the message of justification directs us in a special way towards the heart of the New Testament witness to God’s saving action in Christ: it tells us that as sinners our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we receive in faith, and never can merit in any way.
18. Therefore the doctrine of justification, which takes up this message and explicates it, is more than just one part of Christian doctrine. It stands in an essential relation to all truths of faith, which are to be seen as internally related to each other. It is an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ. When Lutherans emphasize the unique significance of this criterion, they do not deny the interrelation and significance of all truths of faith. When Catholics see themselves as bound by several criteria, they do not deny the special function of the message of justification. Lutherans and Catholics share the goal of confessing Christ in all things, who alone is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator (1 Tim 2:5f) through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts.
The final corollary was clarified and underscored in the Annex:
The doctrine of justification is measure or touchstone for the Christian faith. No teaching may contradict this criterion.
The Common Statement clarified the means of justification:
Justification takes place “by grace alone” (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified “apart from works” (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25). “Grace creates faith not only when faith begins in a person but as long as faith lasts” (Thomas Aquinas, S. Th.II/II 4, 4 ad 3).
The folks who adore Schouppe’s work don’t have much regard for things like the Joint Declaration. Those who are committed to the Joint Declaration (like Ratzinger/Benedict) don’t bring ghost stories into their talk of final purification, as I noted here.
… Purgatory is understood in a properly Christian way when it is grasped christologically, in terms of the Lord himself as the judging fire which transforms us and conforms us to his own glorified body ….
… [T]he purification involved does not happen through some thing, but through the transforming power of the Lord himself ….
Which will you cling to–the Risen Christ, or the words of ghosts?