DISCLAIMER: I have not read Dr. Walls book yet, although it is in my amazon wish list now! This is not a critique on his book in any way, as a matter of fact I anticipate agreeing with much of his book and enjoying it. This is more of a response to what appeared as mischaracterizations of the Catholic position in the blog post that possibly came from the book. My goal is to hopefully clarify the Catholic position and build consensus between Catholics and Evangelicals on this issue, one of which I believe the evangelical will find far lest repugnant once understood.
I think it is important that All Christians, and especially Evangelicals explore these topics to understand what they really disagree with. What are they really PROTESTing about purgatory in this case?
I left some comments on Mr. Waugh's blog post that correlated with my previous post on purgatory and trying to bring clarification by posting the Catechism References (1030-1032), as well as posting a quote by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger regarding the sanctifying state of Purgatory as opposed to a third place of punishment. These quotations are available on my other blog post C.S. Lewis Believed in Purgatory- Rightly So .
Mr Waugh graciously enough admitted that he was not an expert on Catholic doctrine, and pointed me to some catechism references and the Catholic Encyclopedia that seemed to indicate that Purgatory was a place of punishment. All of the references to punishment however are "temporal punishment". I am a passionate Catholic, but I too, Mr. Waugh, am not an expert on Catholic Doctrine, so I originally overlooked these areas of the Catechism. Now having them brought to my attention, I believe I can clarify the misunderstanding that they seem to show, which you admit to a Protestant is confusing. I agree with that, and when I was Evangelical, I too would have found it confusing, and know first hand the large number of misconceptions that I had about the Catholic Church as all of those misconceptions had to be reconciled prior to me agreeing to join the Catholic Church. Surprisingly, that process ended up being fairly quick for me, it was as if once the first domino was pushed over, the rest seemed to fall away quickly.
So back to the issue at hand,
First, I think that we are dealing with some definition issues that I think need to be cleared up.
Purgatory- So hard to some up in a single definition, but Catholic.com did a good job when they said,
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a "purification, so as to achieve
the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven," which is experienced by those "who die in
God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified" (CCC 1030). It notes that "this
final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned"
The full text from Catholic Answers (Catholic.com) regarding purgatory can be found in a Catholic Purgatory Tract . It should be noted too, that this tract has an imprimatur from Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego. An imprimatur, means that this can be considered free of doctrinal error and useful for teaching the Catholic faith. It is something that not all Catholic books and documents have, and gives a sense of the reliability of what is written, in this case very good reliability.
Temporal Punishment- The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines temporal punishment well, and makes the clear distinction between temporal punishment and eternal punishment, I believe that this is the main area of confusion, where the evangelical sees any form of punishment after death as eternal and thus unjust since Christ has paid our price for our sins. Of course, Catholics believe in Christ's redemptive power as well and that he has saved us from eternal punishment for our sins, however the effects of sin still remain in our spirit and our character and of course in the world in which we affect. It is this type of affect of sin that Purgatory answers.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.84
1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the "old man" and to put on the "new man."
Evangelicals should be able to relate very well with the final sentence there that refers to removing the "old man" and putting on the "new man". I remember in my time as an Evangelical, that I saw that as happening at conversion and was symbolized in baptism. But to truly believe that, one must believe that sanctification is also completed at that time, which even evangelicals will say it is not. So it is this idea of sanctification we are talking about here.
I read a good analogy on the Catholic Answers Forum that I will share here regarding this idea of temporal punishment.
Let's say you kill somebody, and go to confession and are forgiven. But you have to pay the consequences of that sin...you sit in jail for a very long time. That MAY meet God's justice, and if you don't pay now, you will pay later.
Let's say you throw a rock through my window. You repent, go to confession, are forgiven, and get absolution. Jesus paid for your sin. But what about my window? Does Jesus pay for it? No, that's your responsibility. Paying for the window is the temporal punishment for throwing a rock through it.
But what about all the "broken windows" we did not get around to paying for in our lives, metaphorically speaking? God's justice needs to be satisfied, and that is why there is purgatory. Temporal punishment occurs in this life, or the next. And God is so loving He accepts our prayers in lieu of after-death purification.
I think it is important for us to remember that this is not just what temporal punishment and purgatory is about, but also what sanctification is about. Once a person acknowledges their sinfulness, effects change in their lives and the lives of those around them, then through God's grace and forgiveness one can be fully sanctified and enter God's presence.
The Catholic Church teaches that all attachement to sin must be removed from the soul before entering God's presence. The Evangelical position would have us believe that God simply declares us righteous and I guess looks the other way, that somehow sinfulness can enter into his presence. At the very least I think they may concede that some sort of final sanctification occurs at death through a miracle of God. The miracle for Catholics is the state of purgatory.
If the Evangelical does believe in true sanctification at death by God, so that we are made pure and blameless to enter his presence, I wonder why they bother to follow Christ's teachings in this life. I think they would say that if you truly love God you will do what he says, and I agree, but we also need to understand that there is a benefit not just physically to us and those around us, but also spiritually to righting our wrongs, to paying penance, to fasting, to love our neighbors as ourselves. All of these things bring us more into intimate communion with God, the One who is Holy and Blameless, Just and Merciful, and a true Father. Not a father who spoils His Children, but one who lovingly disciplines in order to mold them into communion with him.
It should probably be clarified here that in the state of Purgatory, there is not a second chance. Catholic teaching is clear here. It should also be noted that the souls in Purgatory do not work off their sins. No one in Purgatory merits for themselves anything. Purgatory instead should be viewed as a state of being in which your attachments to the temporal consequences of your sins are removed. It may be painful or uncomfortable, it may be instant or take time, all of those types of things are speculative. What is known for certain is that one must be pure to enter God's presence and Purgatory is a Logical, Biblical, and Historical way of looking at that issue.
Another thought I had on this idea of punishment is, in eternity, anytime spent outside of God's presence would be considered punishment. So in that sense Purgatory is certainly punishment, in fact I think most Catholics would see it as a form of punishment. The issue I more have with the blog post and possibly the book, is this idea that you are being punished as some sort of eternal punishment, or that you can somehow work your way into heaven from Purgatory. That is simply just not the case.
I think that if one can get their head around the idea that Purgatory may be an instantaneous encounter with Christ's love, which the Catholic Church speculates as possible, then perhaps the doctrine of Purgatory is not so far fetched for the Evangelical reader.
In closing I would like to end with a quote from Pope Benedict the XVI regarding this doctrine, in his encyclical Spe Salvi I believe he sums it up in a beautiful way that even an Evangelical reader can appreciate and hopefully recognize as not just plausible, but likely.
Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.