Thursday, September 27, 2007

More notes on (intermediate) Heaven

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This past Monday, reviewing section 2 of Randy Alcorn's book Heaven, we came across the idea of the intermediate state. I was surprised that the strongly protestant evangelical Alcorn stumbled upon such a Catholic doctrine (but that tends to happen when you seriously study the bible). Several terms have been used to describe this, but the one that came to stick is "purgatory."

Randy dismisses the thought, saying "this is not purgatory" (page 9 in the Study Guide) but then goes on to basically describe the true doctrine. I think what he is really dismissing is the medieval misconception of what purgatory is--more of the idea that it is a temporary hell that everyone (except the most saintly and the martyrs) goes to and which one may get early release from after a few thousand years of prayer and good works.

Remember that the Temple in Jerusalem was made to resemble the cosmos of earth and heaven. The forecourt was a place of water (the lavar) and fire (the altar). The forecourt corresponds to purification. The inside holy place corresponds to illumination (the candelabra). The inner holy of holies corresponds to contemplation (darkness and divine presence). This fits the traditional threefold path: purification, illumination, contemplation. This intermediate state or period of purification is the "outer court" of heaven.

C.S. Lewis, an Anglican layman and spiritual writer, explained his Church's belief in the intermediate state this way:

"Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.'

I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don't think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

My favorite image on this matter comes from the dentist's chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am 'coming round',' a voice will say, 'Rinse your mouth out with this.' This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed." (The Business of Heaven, p. 121)

Also, the Episcopal Church's Teaching Series in the 50s addressed the subject of purgatory in the book Christian Living, by Stephen Bayne (Sometime Bishop of Olympia and first Secretary General of the Anglican Communion). On page 151-2 we read:

"We can conceive of few more frightening thoughts than that, at death, any possibility of growth or purification would be closed to us. We would hope that, by the time of our death, we had some real freedom and a soul to be saved; yet we can understand that there might still stretch before us at death a long time of learning how to live under new conditions in the presence of God. Probably most Christians share some such feeling about themselves; and it is for this reason that belief in a place or period of purification, a belief in purgatory, became almost universal among Christian people.

Our Church rejects what the Articles of Religion call "the Romish Doctrine" of purgatory, specifically the doctrine that living men and women can by their prayers and good works, influence God to shorten the purifying period either for themselves or for others. But a belief in purgatory, as such, has been widely held by Chris­tians, is quite permissible for Episcopalians, and indeed is included in our prayers as when, for example, in the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church (in the Holy Communion), we pray that God will grant the dead "continual growth in His love and service" or, in the Burial Office, we pray for the departed that "increasing in knowledge and love of Thee, he may go from strength to strength." It would not be true to say that a doctrine of purgatory is specifically stated in our Anglican formularies, but it is perfectly true that such a belief is permissible and congruous with all else that we believe about God and His ways with us, and that it is expressed in our prayers."

All Christians agree that we won’t be sinning in heaven and that "nothing unclean shall enter" into heaven (Revelation 21:27). Sin and concupiscence are utterly incompatible our final glorification . Therefore, between the sinfulness of this life and the glories of heaven, we must be made pure. Between death and glory there is a period of purification and growth. Orthodox Jews to this day believe in the final purification, and for eleven months after the death of a loved one, they pray a prayer called the Mourner’s Kaddish for their loved one’s purification. Interestingly, one of the things that set the gnostics apart from the early Christians was that the gnostics denied any belief in an intermediate state.

As to the historic Christian doctrine, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "All who die in God’s grace and friendship, 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. The Church gives the name purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned" (CCC 1030–1).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Makes sense to me! Sara