Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Between Life and Life


As I carry out my duties doing commital services for spring burials (in the northwoods we often store the remains during the time when the ground is deeply frozen), I endeavor to point the faithful to the day when our Lord will come again and the dead will be raised. Verses from 1 Corinthians 15 are the standard reading. The Easter greeting, "Christ is risen...", completes the event with the sounds of resurrection, not death, echoing in the air.

Yet what happens between that last breath of life in this world and the final resurrection at the end of time? In other words, what is there "between life and life"?

Seventh Day Adventists propose that the soul goes into a dormant condition, "sleeping" unaware until that last day. And if I understand the position of the Catholic church correctly, most heaven-bound believers enter a state known as "purgatory" to go through a time of "purging" or purification of unrepented sins and other sinful problems not resolved in this life. This transitional state does not have a standard time line, but may range from instantaneous to many years.

However, in contrast, Protestant Christians have long held that the believer goes directly from this life to heaven. In the last funeral I did I used Paul's familiar passage from Philippians 1 where he writes: "I desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better..." The apostle knows only two states: "departing to be with Christ" or remaining or living "in the body." He doesn't hint at any other condition.

Furthermore, in 2 Corinthians 5, which we studied last week in class, the description is equally clear: "away from the body" or "at home with the Lord." There seems to be no state between these two, nor is the believer seen as anywhere but in the presence of His Lord and Savior.

Admittedly the scriptures do not devote a lot of space to the disembodied state before the resurrection. Thus, people have conjectured about it endlessly and wondered what it was like. Unfortunately even preachers at funerals may do a disservice here by neglecting to point the faithful all the way to the final resurrection, which is the fulfillment of our salvation sealed by the resurrection of Christ himself.

So as I continue to commit the bodies to their "resting place" in anticipation of the Day of Judgment, I will also look with comfort to the fact that the faithful, now free of pain, death, and sorrow, do enjoy a beatific vision of heaven and its glories. Exactly what that entails I will have to leave to the future. John provides a glimpse, for which I am thankful, and for now that will have to sustain our curiosity.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Don,
May I clarify the Catholic belief.
At the moment of death, we are the sum of our lives, good or evil.
Those who die in perfect love of God and neighbor, enter immediately into the beatific vision of God in Heaven.
Those souls which died with absolutely no repentance for grave sins and with no love for God or others whatsoever, enter eternal damnation in hell.
However, those souls which died in Christ but without perfect love and have not done penance for the consequences of their sins, will go to Heaven after being purified of the remains of sin and its consequences in purgatory. These souls are saved and will be Heaven.
They have lived in the "gray" area and are getting used to the perfect light and love of God.Scripture say that nothing defiled can enter the kingdom of Heaven.
Those in hell lived in darkness and cannot and do not wish to be in the brightness of Christ.
At the second coming of Christ, the dead will rise in glory or corruption to share in the glory or damnation of their souls. At the resurrection, purgatory will no longer exist and in the end, their will but two places to spend eternity---glorified with Christ in Heaven or damned in hell.
We live our lives with the firm hope of being with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ forever.
Pastor, I enjoy your blog and if you wish to know the exact beliefs of the Catholic Church, get a copy of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. I would be happy to be of assistance.
In Christ Our Saviour,
Fr. Gerber

D. Engebretson said...

Dear Fr. Gerber,
Thank you for your clarifcation of the doctrine of purgatory. Your explanation of the teaching is as I understood it, although I will admit that my brief description was inadequate to fully appreciate the teaching in full.

That having been said, I still struggle with the doctrine of purgatory - not to understand it - but to reconcile it with the central doctrine of the faith, namely justification (as would be understood from the Lutheran side.) If all are sinful in this life (even saints), and if our righteousness is solely because of Christ (not of works, lest any man should boast), I fail to see how one could differentiate the level or state of "perfect love" between those "clothed in Christ." As a Lutheran the state of a Christian before God is defined by their being in Christ and by what Christ did for them and in their behalf, not by the state of their love at the time of death. It would seem that all of us would have deficienties here,- if it is agreed that all died in sin.

I agree that "nothing defiled can enter the kingdom of heaven." But how could one "clothed in Christ" by faith (through Word and Sacrament, esp. baptism) be considered defiled in the sight of God? Does not God look at us through Christ and we in turn look at God through Christ? Is not the Son of God key in this issue?

I think that a primary difference in this doctrine between Lutherans and Catholics has to do with the concepts of justification/righteousness , faith, and sin and the way our respective churches define these. We seem to understand these things differently.

BTW, I appreciate the suggestion of getting a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I currently own two, and have used them extensively in teaching. Admittedly I did not consult it for this article but wrote more from memory of what I recalled.

I have long been interested in better understanding the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church, and have found my interactions with you to be very helpful in that regard. As I teach I endeavor to be as honest and acurate when describing the teachings of other churchs, while also trying to explain the differences in a helpful way without resorting to broad and easy generalizations. Therein is a challenge in teaching.

Thank you again for your reflections and clarifications!

Pastor Engebretson

318@NICE said...

Pastor,
There are two passages of Scripture that has helped me out and that the Fathers of the Church used to teach the doctrine of purgatory. Matthew 5:23-26, the believers dealings with others must be amended in this life or else "thou be cast into prision. Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing."
And Matthew 12:32, "it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come." St. Augustine and St. Gregory gather that some sins may be remitted in the world to come; and, consequently, that there is a purgatory or middle place. For if not, it would make no sense for Jesus to say that those who commit the unpardonable sin be able to have their sins forgiven in the next, becuase these go straight to hell.
However, St. Augustine writes in his great book, 'The City of God' that some face purgatory here on earth, just as St. Peter states that the one suffering physically is done with sin. So, some face a kind of purgatory here on earth and they repent and their love for Christ becomes perfect and when they die they enter right into the Beatific vision. Others, though not found in mortal sins, yet their love was not perfect for Christ (loving God and Neighbor) are put in the "Prison" as Jesus states and are there until their love is perfect (pay the last penny, as Jesus says).
I think Luther has great wisdom in the introduction to "Confession" in the shorter Catechism, "When I urge you to go to Confession, I am urging you to be Christian."
Love your posts.
Dave

Christine said...

There are two passages of Scripture that has helped me out and that the Fathers of the Church used to teach the doctrine of purgatory.

The Patristic view is not uniform here. Eastern Orthodoxy does not accept the Roman doctrine of purgatory.

As a Lutheran I would concur that there is a very distinct difference in our views concerning justification/sanctification/sin.

318@NICE said...

Christine,
Eastern Orthodoxy today may not accept the Catholic View of Purgatory. However, even in the ancient Church Eastern Fathers like St. Cyril of Jerusalem and most famous St. John Chyrostom held to that teaching. As a matter of fact Origen an Eastern mystic who held to Purgatory and even went as far as saying that God will save all in hell, even the demons and Satan one day that "all" will be restored as it was intended to be. He held that in hell because men have free will, they can still repent.
But even today the Orthodox still hope for repentance and salvation for the dead, they just don't call it purgatory.
But you are correct, today, only the Catholic Church uses the term purgatory.
Concerning justification there is not much difference in conversion, for we both hold that it is by God's grace through the blessed waters of Christian baptism where the Holy Spirit comes to us and regenerates us and our sins are forgiven.
It is the sanctification part "after" conversion that we differ. However, I do find it interesting that Lutherans do hold that one can apostasize from the faith, so we are both in agreement against the Calvinists and Baptists: that once saved always saved is not biblical.

Dave

Christine said...

Hi Dave,

Re some of your comments:

Orthodoxy today may not accept the Catholic View of Purgatory. As a matter of fact Origen an Eastern mystic who held to Purgatory and even went as far as saying that God will save all in hell, even the demons and Satan one day that "all" will be restored as it was intended to be. He held that in hell because men have free will, they can still repent.

As I recall, Origen was tained with gnostic sympathies, including his leanings towards universalism. According to Father John Matusiak of the Orthodox Church in America Orthodox Christians accept the Biblical teaching that "it is appointed to men once to die and then the judgment." They accept no intermediate state such as Purgatory. Whatever Origen's views they did not prevail in the Orthodox canon.


It is the sanctification part "after" conversion that we differ.

Lutherans teach that holiness of life and conduct follows conversion and that it is the fruit and outcome of faith; that all true Christians must be, and are, active in good works; and that, though such sanctification is progressive, perfection therein will not be attained until one enters eternal life.

318@NICE said...

Christine,
I know that Orthodoxy today does not. Yet they still pray for the dead.
However, did you notice that I responded to the point you made that only the Western Fathers held to purgatory and the Eastern Fathers did not. I listed some that did. So, just because the Orthodox today do not hold to purgatory does not mean that these views were not ever in the Eastern Church in ancient times.
The reason why I pointed out Origen is that he is a saint to the Eastern Church. Pointing out Origen, was not to defend him, but to show you that your response to me that the East never held these kinds of ideas was false. They did at one time and even Origen went way too far with it. But I'm sure you read that in my response to you.
And of course, as you may know the East does not believe in original sin.
The whole point of my comments was to just give the readers the understanding where Catholics get the doctrine of purgatory, not to debate you.
I know the Lutheran view of sanctification, I used to be a member of the LCMS and have studied the book of Concord.
All I said was that Catholics and Lutherans differ on sanctification, which, from what you wrote I think you agree.

Dave

Christine said...

Actually, Dave, I never posed the Eastern/Western dichotomy. All I said was that the Patristic view was not unanimous and that "Eastern" Orthodoxy today does not accept the doctrine of Purgatory. I acknowledge that Orthodox Christians pray for the dead but here again, I offer Father Matusiak (one of my favorite EO references) to state that the view between prayer for the dead and the doctrine of Purgatory are two different things:

Concerning prayers for the dead, your question, which is more of a statement, seems to be directed at those who teach that after death humans may encounter "purgatory," an intermediate state in which the "punishment" accorded to sin must be "purged" before one can enter the eternal Kingdom of God. This teaching, found among the Roman Catholics but completely alien to Orthdox Christianity [which rejects the doctrine of purgatory], implies that one should pray for the release of the souls of the departed from such punishment and may imply that the departed, of their own will, can freely repent of the sins they committed during this lifetime.

Orthodox Christians pray for the dead so that the Lord will have mercy on their souls, that He will grant them eternal rest "in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," that He will extend His unfathomable love upon them, and that He will receive them into that state "in which there is neither sickness, nor sighing, nor sorrow, but life everlasting." Saint Paul clearly teaches that those who have gone before us are still members of the Body of Christ, the Church. And it is the duty of the members of the Church to pray for one another. Just as the living continually beseech God to have mercy on them ­ and may rightly offer prayers to God on behalf of their living spiritual sisters and brothers as well as request prayers on their own behalf from others ­ so too we have the duty to pray for all members of the Body of Christ, even those who have departed this life and still "belong to Christ." One will find that the early Christians, surrounded as they were by death as a result of official persecution on the part of the Roman Empire, took great care to honor the dead, to bury them with great care and reverence -­ to the point of offering the Eucharistic celebration on their graves, which is one of the earliest indications of the veneration of their relics! -­ and to remember them especially on the anniversary of their deaths which were seen as "birthdays" into eternal life. In asking God to have mercy on the souls of the departed, we also ask God to have mercy on us who are still in this life, and we recognize that we too shall die. All members of the Church, living as well as faithful departed, cry before the throne of God, "Lord, have mercy on us."

I might add here that the standard Reformed reactions to prayers for the dead are reactions to certain teachings in Roman Catholicism. The arguments against these teachings and practices should not, in blanket fashion, be used against Orthodox Christianity which rejects some of the very same teachings and practices, such as the recent reintroduction of "indulgences" by Pope John Paul II. Orthodoxy is not a form of Roman Catholicism and it should not be assumed that the teachings of the Orthodox Church are one and the same as those of Roman Catholicism.

It should also not be assumed that, just because the Orthodox may have a similar ritual to another Christian body, it has the same meaning. One must look beyond externals, as Christ continually challenged the pharisees, and evaluate things on the spirit which drives those externals."


Sorry for the lengthy post and I apologize if I came across as combative. As I've posted before, my father was Catholic, my husband is Catholic and I have lotsa Catholic relatives so there's not too much Catholic teaching that's foreign to me.

318@NICE said...

Christine,
Thanks for your comments. I guess I take the Orthdox as the Eastern Church since 1054.
But I find that quote about why the Orthodox pray for the dead. I guess I don't quite understand why they pray for the saints already in heaven? Why pray for mercy for them and rest for their souls? He said that they were in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That's interesting. I noticed that he said that God would receive them into a "state" where there will be no more tears.
See, that's what I was trying to say earlier is that the East, even though they deny purgatory of the West, still hold to a form of it. For he is saying that the reason why they pray for their dead is because at death they have not yet achieved the "final" "state" of happiness yet. That's what Catholics are saying about Purgatory. So, they even put these faithful in a different place and in a different state before reaching heaven.
But, I do find it interesting that because both Catholics and Orthodox are from the ancient Church that doctrines like this exist in both.

Dave

Christine said...

Dave, it seems in the final analysis what the Orthodox reject is Purgatory as a *place* or *state of being* alongside heaven and hell.

D. Engebretson said...

Dave and Christine -
Thank you for the addtional insight into Catholic and Orthodox teaching regarding this issue. Between the two of you and Fr. Gerber I have been given quite an education :)