Sunday, August 9, 2009

Purging Misconceptions of Purgatory, Part II: Historical Continuity

As the title mentions, this is an unanticipated continuation of my column I wrote over a month ago on the biblical and logical foundation of the Church’s doctrine on purgatory. The desire to continue writing on this subject came from two events: 1) The fact that many people enjoyed the column; 2) A Lutheran minister had read it and said it was the most persuasive thing he had read on the topic of purgatory. Before you begin thinking you may see him in this year’s RCIA class, he did qualify the statement by saying he still doesn’t believe the doctrine. With that, I would like to continue the apologetic crusade—filled with charity—and address a couple more points that will further solidify the veracity of the Church’s wisdom in upholding this doctrine in spite of criticisms.

While the theological necessity of purgatory appears to be undeniable and the biblical evidence persuasive, the overall argument is still incomplete. The best way to validate a biblical truth claim is by looking for historical evidence that would confirm the particular interpretation of Scripture at hand. In other words, is there a line of continuity between the Church’s belief in purgatory and the belief of the Early Church? The answer appears to be a resounding yes!

One of the most persuasive texts comes from the middle of the second century (c. AD 160) in a Christian apocryphal work called The Acts of Paul and Thecla. Whether or not the story in this writing is historical is not important since the value of this work is in the story itself. Like every story or book whether fiction or non-fiction, the surrounding worldview informs the norms and practices of the narrative. In the story of Paul and Thecla, the deceased daughter of Trifina appears to Trifina in a dream. The daughter requests that Trifina take Thecla as her new daughter in place of the deceased daughter. When given the reason, the daughter says it is so “that she [Thecla] should pray for me, that I may be transferred to the place of righteousness” (ANF VIII: 490, brackets mine). Notice that there is never an explanation of this request on behalf of the deceased daughter as if this was some foreign custom being added to the narrative. Praying for the deceased had become so common by the mid-second century that it found its way into story telling. In other words, the practical elements of purgatory were being expressed without apology less than a century before Christianity was recognized as a separate religion from that of Judaism!

Story telling is not the only historical manifestation of a belief in purgatory by the Early Church. Archaeology has discovered burial stones with epitaphs that request prayers for the deceased. One such epitaph is by a man by the name of Abercius who after expressing a love for his Christian faith, requests that “everyone who is in accord with this [the Christian faith] and who understands it pray for Abercius” (Epitaph of Abercius, c. AD 190, brackets mine). Again, the customs and practices of the Early Church express an understanding of and belief in purgatory.

Yet another dimension of the historical record that has archived an image of the Early Church adhering closely to the image of the Catholic Church today is the written accounts of Christian martyrs. One such story articulates a vision of Perpetua’s blood brother who apparently died from disease. The sister received a vision of her brother being purified through fire after death and, with the help if her prayers, seeing him eventually purified for his eternal reward (cf. ANF III: 701-02, c. AD 202).

In the end, an entire monograph could be dedicated to an analysis of all the Early Church Fathers who explicitly spoke about the doctrine of purgatory whether that be through Origin’s commentary on 1 Cor. 3, or Tertullian’s interpretation of Mat. 5:25-26 (cf. Homilies of Jeremias [c. AD 244] & ANF III: 234-5 [c. AD 210]. The fathers of the Church are overwhelmingly in favor of the doctrine of purgatory and in light of such company—which only confirms the previous columns attempt to express purgatory’s biblical foundation and theological necessity—a sense of arrogance is almost needed to outright reject the doctrine without question. If the Judaism of Christ’s day believed in a form of it, the biblical text spoke of it, heaven needs it, and the Early Church practiced and preached it, then it would appear as if this doctrine is not up for dissenting.

I mentioned at the beginning of this column that my intention was to address a “couple” more points about purgatory, but I have only mentioned one additional point being the continuity of the Early Church Fathers. My next column will address the question about indulgences. Is it possible that while the Church got the doctrine of purgatory correct, she erred with the dispensation of indulgences? Stay tuned…

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Concrete Ways to Support Campus Ministry

I can’t believe how fast the summer is going by! I feel as if May was only yesterday with June nowhere to be seen. As July nears its half-way mark, campus ministry is preparing to go full steam ahead which is both exhilarating and nerve-racking. The first two weeks of school are critical weeks for ministry as many new students are quickly transitioning from a life guided by parental wisdom, to a life ruled by the self. Numerous are the parents who have come to me over the summer while tabling on campus pleading with me to contact their son or daughter because they are witnessing a sense of rebellion toward anything that resembles “parental insight.” In a sense, we are the hope to these parents that we will do everything in our power to contact them and continue to build upon the foundation they have laid.

We obviously take this call seriously as it can easily become a life or death situation. To that end, we are preparing dozens of students to pound the pavement come August 18th to lend a helping hand to new students as they move in, to introduce them to the family of St. Thomas, and to invest in them so that when times get tough—which they always do—they have a friend to turn to. With just under 6,000 new students coming to CU this year, we are inviting every student of St. Thomas to help with this ambitious mission!

With all available students on campus, this leaves us with little assistance for events at the Catholic Student Center. Our goal is to offer daily events during the week preceding school so that the students of St. Thomas will be able to offer a concrete invitation to each student they meet on campus so as to introduce them to the family of St. Thomas.

All of this may sound familiar as I have written on the topic of parish and alumni support a few weeks back. While I only received a few responses expressing a willingness to volunteer, I did not expect much since I was unable to give specifics to our fall outreach efforts. I come to you now with a concrete plan and a hope that we may obtain the 100 volunteers I wished for in the previous column (you may find that column on our website). Please prayerfully consider volunteering for one of these events:

1) Open House BBQ: August 18th, 20th, and 22nd from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

a. Looking for three sets of 10 volunteers to setup at the Catholic Student Center, provide sides, flip burgers, and clean up.

b. This will be a time to meet new students and show them around the Catholic Student Center.

2) Student Mass BBQ: August 23rd from 7:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

a. Hoping for 15 to 20 volunteers to help setup, provide sides, flip burgers, and clean up for the big new-student welcome party immediately following the first Student Mass of the semester.

3) Open Air Mass BBQ: August 30th from 7:30 p.m – 9:30 p.m.

a. Hoping for another 15 to 20 volunteers to help setup, provide sides, flip burgers, and clean up following the BBQ.

4) Cookie Baking: Cookies Due Between August 21st and 23rd

a. Looking for 10 people who would each be willing to bake 100 cookies and place them into little baggies in pairs of two.

b. These go as gifts to the new students we visit in the dorms during the first week of class.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me via phone or email. If you are student and would like to volunteer for on-campus outreach, please contact Hilary Rowe at for more information. For those of you who are graciously willing and wanting to take time out of your day for the sake of campus ministry, please contact me with the particular event you would like to volunteer for. If you are reading this in the pew then please sign up on your way out. You can find the signup sheets on a table in the narthex. Thank you for the sacrifices you all make to ensure this ministry reaches those who need the healing touch of Jesus Christ! May God be Praised!