Chapter XIV. The Last Things
A DENIAL or ignoring of any other state of the soul after death than heaven and hell was frequent in the English Church from the sixteenth century onwards. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in his reply to the Devon rebels in 1549 urged that " The Scripture maketh mention of two places where the dead be received after this life, viz., of heaven and of hell." [J. Strype, Memorials of Thomas Cranmer, Appendix, p. 106 (edition 1694).] The homily on prayer published in 1562 contained the trenchant statement " neither let us dream any more that the souls of the dead are anything at all holpen by our prayers; but, as the Scripture teacheth us, let us think that the soul of man, passing out of the body, goeth straightways either to heaven or else to hell, whereof the one needeth no prayer and the other is without redemption." [A homily or sermon concerning prayer, pp. 299, 300 (edition Oxford, 1844).] In the seventeenth century a theologian so far removed in many respects from either Cranmer or the writer of the homily as Bishop Pearson, while describing the state of the blessed dead before their resurrection as " partial life eternal," spoke of them as being " with Christ, who sitteth at the right hand of God." [Bishop John Pearson, An Exposition of the Creed, p. 395 (edition 1669).] Such teaching may have been due partly to a revolt from ideas about purgatory current in the middle ages, and partly to the survival of a belief that an ideal Christian life would be followed by the admission of the soul to heaven immediately after death. Be that as it may, any conception of a waiting state was widely ignored, and was sometimes denied, by English Church people. And indeed such a phrase as to go to heaven has been used as synonymous with to die not only frequently by members of the Church of England but also sometimes by Roman Catholics. [The writer has heard it so used in conversation by Roman Catholic friends; and there are instances to be found in books: see e.g., expressions used by members of the Vaughan family in J. G. Snead-Cox, The Life of Cardinal Vaughan (1910), i, 29, 39, 40.] If the use of it by Roman Catholics has been consistent with a belief in a waiting state, it certainly tended in the Church of England to encourage the idea that there is no such state, and that prayers for the dead are useless and wrong.
Neither a belief in a waiting state nor the use of prayer for the dead ever became wholly extinct in the Church of England. [See e.g., instances covering a period from 1547 to 1820 in Hierurgia Anglicana (new edition, 1904), iii, 143-166. See also J. W. Legg, English Church Life from the Restoration to the Tractarian Movement (1914), pp. 315-333.] But, when the Oxford Movement began in 1833, there were few for whom either the belief or the practice had much meaning. In the revival the Tractarians went slowly. Dr. Pusey in his Letter to the Bishop of Oxford, written in 1839, pointed out that they had not wished to make prayers for the departed " a topic in public discussion," and that in No. LXIII of the Tracts for the Times the subject had been mentioned only historically "as one of the points in which all the ancient Liturgies agreed" without any "hint of regret at its exclusion" from the Book of Common Prayer or the expression of "any desire of its restoration." [E. B. Pusey, A Letter to the . . . Bishop of Oxford on the tendency to Romanism imputed to doctrines held of old, as now, in the English Church (fourth edition, 1840), p. 186.] The knowledge that the ancient Church had habitually and without any sign of hesitation prayed for the departed appears to have been the first influence which promoted the recall of the practice. It was soon reinforced by the moral and spiritual arguments by which prayer for the dead no less than for the living was shown to be a religious duty. Bishop Alexander Forbes in 1867, while laying his chief stress on the practice of the Church, wrote " the true doctrine ... is founded on the tenderest and deepest sympathies of our common human nature. Mankind will not endure the thought that at the moment of death all concern for those loved ones who are riven from us by death comes to an end. . . . Infinite love pursues the soul beyond the grave, and there has dealings with it, in which we who survive have still our co-operation. To pray for the departed is a deep instinct of natural piety." [A. P. Forbes, An Explanation of the Thirty-nine Articles (third edition, 1878), p. 312.]
With the restoration of prayer for the departed came the clearer recognition of the waiting state. Here, too, there were moral and spiritual considerations which reinforced the argument from history. The conviction that there are many who at the moment of death are not ready for admission to heaven, while it would not be just to condemn them to hell, had its weight; and it is not surprising that the need of preparation for heaven after death was felt not least by faithful servants of God. It has been recorded of Mr. Keble that "the prospect of such a preparation was an unspeakable comfort to him." [E. B. Pusey, What is of Faith as to everlasting punishment (1880), p. 118, note g.]
The recognition of the waiting state and the use of prayer for the dead inevitably brought up the subject of purgatory. The word purgatory had an evil sound. It was associated in men's minds with horrible punishments, which seemed unworthy of God, with material fire, which seemed unsuitable for the chastisement of a disembodied soul, with mechanical ideas applied to the things of the spirit, and with the sale of Christian privileges. "The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory" was described in the twenty-second of the Articles of Religion as "a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the word of God." Consequently, the feeling against allowing a doctrine of purgatory was at first very strong. Yet, when the matter was seriously considered, it was seen that the word purgatory might be applied to any state in which there was cleansing, and that the evil associations were rather with particular ways in which a doctrine of purgatory had been expressed and with abuses than with any doctrine necessarily involved in the assertion of some kind of purgatory. In the ninetieth of the Tracts for the Times, published in 1841, Mr. Newman mentioned as illustrations three different doctrines "concerning purgatory," no one of which was "Romish," no one of which, therefore, was condemned by the Article, any one of which might be held in the English Church. [J. H. Newman, Tracts for the Times, no. XC (1841), p. 25.] A similar attitude was adopted by Dr. Pusey, writing in the same year. He repudiated the view of purgatory which he thought to be condemned by the Article; he said that he did not hold " that there is a purgatory for the purification of the saints "; and he maintained that " our Article does not . . . condemn all notion of a purifying process after this life, but one distinct system"; and, after his wont, he tried to give due solemnity and awe to the discussion by adding " If any collect from the impression of antiquity a general awe of what may pass between death and judgement, it may be that he will acquire more reverent thoughts of the exceeding holiness of God's presence, and reflect more earnestly as to the fruit of actions or courses of action, and learn to speak less peremptorily, one way or the other, where Scripture is silent." [E. B. Pusey, The Articles treated on in Tract 90 reconsidered and their interpretation vindicated in a letter to the Rev. R. W. Jelf, (1841), pp. 87-90.] Further reflexion led Dr. Pusey to more positive affirmations. Four years later, in 1845, he wrote that he could not "deny some purifying system in the intermediate state," and mentioned this as one of the "things in antiquity " which the course of study had enabled him to see. [See letter quoted in H. P. Liddon, Life of E. B. Pusey (1893)] His ultimate opinion was expressed in 1880, when he affirmed "a preparation of souls, by which, 'in entire freedom from the guilt of sin,' [A phrase quoted from St. Catherine of Genoa, Treatise on Purgatory, chap. 5.] with a will perfectly transformed into the will of God, and in continual union with Him, with a love perfected, pure, disinterested, diffused in their heart, assured of their salvation, comforted by angels, refreshed and their waiting-time shortened through the prayers of survivors and the sacrifice of the altar, they may cast off their slough, and amid whatever processes of purifying it may please God to employ, and after whatever time, be admitted to the Beatific Vision of the All-Holy God." [E. B. Pusey, What is of Faith as to everlasting punishment (1880), p. 121.]
Gradually, the Tractarians came to affirm that the waiting state, after the particular judgement at death by which the eternal condition of the soul is decided, affords opportunity for spiritual cleansing and training as a preparation for admission to the Beatific Vision in heaven.
The widespread rejection of any kind of purgatory by members of the English Church in the sixteenth and following centuries was not accompanied by much modification of the corresponding ideas about hell which were inherited from the middle ages. Popular thought took it for granted that the unending pains of hell will include the material fire and the material worm as means of everlasting torment. The more cautious theologians spoke with some reserve, but the natural effect of their words was to encourage the popular belief. Bishop Pearson represents the best English theological thought of the seventeenth century, and the expressions which he uses would not suggest any other view of hell to the ordinary reader. For he speaks of the "pain of loss, the loss from God," "the pain of sense inflicted on them by the wrath of God which abideth upon them, represented unto us by a lake of fire," "the loss of heaven and the everlasting privation of the presence of God," "the torments of fire, the company of the devil and his angels, the vials of the wrath of an angry and never-to-be-appeased God." [J. Pearson, An Exposition of the Creed, pp. 394, 397 in 1669 edition.] The Tractarians, like others, inherited a way of regarding the pains of hell which viewed them as material. In the course of time they came to see that the difficulties of this opinion were great. The issue of the considerations which were forced upon them may be seen in Dr. Pusey's conclusion that neither the affirmation nor the denial of physical sufferings inflicted by material fire and a material worm is of faith. The Tractarians throughout held strongly to the Scriptural and traditional doctrine that the punishment of the lost is everlasting.
A further question about the lost, namely, who and how many they will be, can never be far from thought when the subject of eternal punishment is considered. In the early years of the nineteenth century the ordinary belief probably was that the lost would be many. A very sombre view was taken of the eternal state of the heathen, of unbaptized infants, of those who had not been given opportunities of Christian belief and life, as well as of those who had neglected opportunities and refused good of which they knew. This view owed something to traditional Catholic theology, and it had been hardened by Protestant teaching and thought. To some extent the sombre-ness of this opinion was lightened by the Tractarians, though the general sternness and gloom which accompanied much of their work did not tend to relieve it. Readers of Dr. Pusey's sermons will notice that the terrifying severity which marks some of them is for the rich, for those who know, for those who have opportunities, and that it is his way to be considerate towards the poor, the ignorant, and those whose opportunities have been few and small. In 1880 he clearly expressed what in substance he had said before, "We know absolutely nothing of the proportion of the saved to the lost or who will be lost; but this we do know, that none will be lost who do not obstinately to the end and in the end refuse God. None will be lost whom God can save without destroying in them His own gift of free-will." [E. B. Pusey, What is of Faith as to everlasting punishment? (1880), p. 23.] Two years earlier, in 1878, the whole question had been faced with extraordinary candour and balance and judgement by the Dean of St. Paul's, R. W. Church. Preaching on the text, "Then said one unto Him, Lord, are there few that be saved?" [See e.g., the sermons entitled "Why did Dives lose his soul? " preached in 1865, and "The losses of the saved," preached in 1866, collected in the volume Lenten Sermons (1874).] Dean Church brought out with unequalled power the different lines of thought which are suggested by the New Testament, and ended with an impressive appeal for trusting the justice of God. [R. W. Church, Human Life and its conditions (1878), pp. 97-124.] In this sermon may be seen the finest fruit of the Oxford Movement; and it should never be ignored by any who want to know what the ultimate direction of the Tractarians was. The Anglo-Catholics of to-day began where the Tractarians ended. To many of them the popular beliefs of the early nineteenth century would be almost inconceivable. They have inherited the results of long thought on the part of the Tractarians, and they have been affected by many influences of a different kind. The writings of Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Kingsley and Frederic William Farrar have made a mark. The general temper of recent years has pressed more hardly on Anglo-Catholics than any analogous circumstances pressed on the Tractarians. But they, like the Tractarians, are unable to relinquish the truth that there may be such deliberate and final rejection of God, such deliberate and final choice of evil, as must make restoration impossible. To this truth they are inevitably led by the teaching of Holy Scripture, the tradition of the Church, and the consideration that man's free will may eternally choose evil and that the holy God cannot take to Himself those who will not depart from sin. [Apparently very few Anglo-Catholics accept the suggestion made by Bishop Gore that the punishment of the lost may be such a dissolution of personality as will bring with it the cessation of personal consciousness. See his Practical Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (1900), ii, 212; The Religion of the Church (1916), pp. 91, 92. A similar suggestion was made by Mr. Gladstone: see his Studies subsidiary to the works of Bishop Butler (1896), pp. 172-198, 260-267. The difficulty which the present writer finds in such a view is due to (i) the solemnity of our Lord's warnings, (2) the horror of the state of the lost in the mind of the Church, (3) the improbability that God will recall from any soul the personal consciousness which He has given.]
Prayer for the departed is an accepted practice with all Anglo-Catholics. It is thought to have support in particular expressions, and still more in the general tone, of Holy Scripture. It has been the ordinary usage of the Christian Church in public worship and in private devotion as far back as there is evidence. It is demanded by considerations of reason. If there is survival after death, reason suggests that the life before and after death is continuous, and that such help as may be afforded to those still on earth through intercessory prayer cannot be denied to the departed.
The present century has seen a great revulsion in English opinion about prayers for the dead. To a large extent the South African war of 1899, and to a far greater extent the Great War of 1914, shook popular prejudices, and drove English people to prayers for those whom they mourned. So far as the events of the time have promoted earnest prayer, the results have been altogether good; but a not unnatural effect of the distress and sorrow caused to human love has in some cases tended to impair the solemnity of the decisions made in the present life. For the present life is the only revealed time of probation. God in His unerring wisdom and unfailing love takes into account all the circumstances and all the opportunities or lack of opportunities of each soul. He knows and understands all that has been seen or unseen in each life. His judgement, exercised at the moment of death, is not subject to the imperfections or misconceptions of our human judgements. But, so far as there is revelation, and so far as the belief of the Church has discerned, the probation of each life is ended at death. The Catholic prayers for the departed are not prayers for a new probation, or for the reversal of what has been in life on earth, but for the gifts of God to the souls in whom, whatever their failures and imperfections and sins, He has found something which He can accept.
Anglo-Catholic theology, then, regards the moment of death as the time of the particular judgement, that is, the judgement of God on the individual soul. After death is the waiting state. About it we know little. Our understanding of its nature and its conditions is necessarily limited. Of it experience can tell us nothing. We can form no idea what the life of a bodiless soul is like. We believe that the departed are living; for our Lord has told us so. We believe that they can be helped by our prayers; for otherwise the whole historic witness of Christian worship would mislead us. We can understand that, as in this life, progress may require some kind of pain; that a clearer discernment of what the events of this life have meant may deepen sorrow for past sin; and that the preparation for the Beatific Vision of the All-Holy God may need a discipline no less real because it is wholly spiritual. Such discipline may be called penal, since all suffering borne by a soul which once has sinned is part of the punishment for sin. It may be said to be purifying, since all chastening rightly endured has cleansing power. If any have gone further, and have used images of material things, such language can be justified only as the metaphorical speech which may suggest realities which it fails to describe.
The waiting state is the prelude to the new life of body and soul united by the resurrection. What the details of the resurrection will be like we cannot tell. Here, again, our ignorance is great. But the Church is committed to the truth that the future life will have the fulness which body adds to soul, and that the essential quality which makes one body the possession of one soul through all material changes from childhood to old age will be for ever preserved. The Catholic of to-day will not get much further than the description by St. Paul that the future body will be uncorrupt and glorious, powerful and spiritual; he may free himself from the embarrassments which have hampered truth in too many carnal conceptions of the resurrection which have been too prevalent; he may regret that the earnest endeavour of some Greek theologians to preserve the teaching of St. Paul long had an influence less wide than the attempts to model the heavenly life on an earthly pattern; but he knows that he cannot abandon the doctrine of the resurrection without falsifying the New Testament as well as parting company with the creeds of the Church.
Neither have we any detailed knowledge of what heaven is. Such knowledge, like that of the waiting state and of the resurrection, is outside our present capacity. "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be"; and the revelation to us of that which we are to enjoy is made in figures and images not easy to understand. But we know of future conformity to the divine will and pattern: "We shall be like Him"; of fellowship with others in the life of the city of God;3 of abiding service: "His servants shall serve Him"; of the sight of the incarnate Son of God: "We shall see Him as He is"; of admission to the Beatific Vision: " They shall see His face."