Through Fire and Water.
"We went through fire and water, and Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place." Ps. LXVI., II.
One of the greatest difficulties with which we have to contend in trying to spread the Catholic faith among people of our own Communion is found in the popular understanding or misunderstanding of the Articles of Religion. These have been interpreted for so many years almost exclusively in such a Protestant sense, that when one tries to show they are not fairly so taken in a great many instances, he is looked upon as disingenuous and disloyal in spirit to the Anglican Church. When Newman wrote Tract 90, maintaining very clearly and logically that the Articles might be fairly taken in a Catholic sense, and were not legitimately understood as Protestants were wont to understand them, he was assailed on every hand as a Romaniser, practically a Jesuit in disguise as the saying is. His work was regarded as thoroughly disingenuous. It is true that in many particulars Newman's position was unanswerable, however, and those who were determined to bring about the condemnation of his work made use of the argument that the writers and framers of the Articles held the Protestant view on all disputed points, therefore they could not fairly be thought to teach Catholic doctrine however susceptible their language might be of a Catholic interpretation. But there was no adequate proof of this. It was known that in many particulars the foremost Churchmen of the days of the Articles held strong Catholic doctrine, and it was only fair to say that if the Articles honestly and logically read supported such doctrine, they might not be used against it even though some of the men who had a hand in setting them forth were Protestants in their personal convictions. It is always a dangerous argument to insist upon a questionable interpretation because there is reason to think the writer of the passage to be interpreted held certain opinions. For in the first place many men are inconsistent and do not always think the same 'thing, and in the second place God often overrules the personal ideas of His servants to further His gracious ends. The fact seems to be that the Articles of Religion were meant to be a peace-making declaration, to reconcile the more hasty reforming spirits to the sober ways of traditional Christianity, and to moderate the excesses of medievalism by a wholesome affirmation of primitive and sound Catholic theology. Bishop Forbes has brought out, in his great work on the Thirty Nine Articles, the way in which everyone of them sets forth temperately and soundly the old faith of Church, guarding carefully against medieval abuses and at the same time steering quite clear of Protestant novelties. Among scholars and theologians it would seem impossible now to maintain seriously that the Articles were uncatholic. Nevertheless there is still the strong feeling in many quarters in the Church, among our less-instructed lay folk--a feeling to which controversialists sometimes pander--that the Articles of Religion condemn many Catholic beliefs and practices. For example one may hear it gravely argued even by ecclesiastics in high position that the Anglican Church condemns Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament because Article XXVIII says: "The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved." They urge that if a thing is not of Christ's ordinance it is unlawful. But when you point them to Article XXV., which says that Confirmation (among other Sacraments) has not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God, they are unable to maintain that the outward form of the Laying on of Hands is unlawful in Confirmation, though by their own principle they should do so. Indeed some of our Bishops gravely assert that the Laying on of Hands is essential to valid Confirmation, despite the fact that the Article asserts that no sign or ceremony was ordained of God for this Sacrament.
I. One of the most commonly quoted of the Articles, when one wants to say something against Catholic doctrine is Article XXII, which declares that "The Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God." Many an one fancies that he has a complete and crushing argument against the teaching of Purgatory and of the Invocation of Saints in the Anglican Church when he has quoted this Article. As a matter of fact we have but to look at the text of it for a moment to see that what it condemns is neither Purgatory nor the Invocation of Saints, but the Romish doctrine concerning these matters. And that expression the Romish doctrine is a noteworthy one. It is not the doctrine of the Church of Rome. That surely is the language which would have been used had the framers of the Articles meant to denounce the official teaching of the Roman Communion, There is abundant evidence that by the Romish doctrine is meant the popular belief of the Romanists of that day. There is no doubt whatever that the common notion of Christians in Europe in the later medieval times about the matters of which the Article speaks, was miserably corrupt. Purgatory was represented as a lesser hell, of the most revolting aspect; Pardons or Indulgences were hawked about and sold with utter shamelessness; Images and Relics were so associated with trickery and fraud that holy things could not be distinguished from those which were polluted; and the Invocation of the Saints had usurped the place which belongs to our Lord alone. The Romish doctrine concerning all these things was about as bad as it possibly could be; and Article XXII. sounded a righteous and well-deserved protest.
II. But are we to suppose that the Anglican Church meant to condemn the right and Catholic doctrine upon all these matters? If there is anything clear in the position of the English reformers of the 16th and 17th centuries it is that they meant to hold fast to the primitive Church, the early Fathers, and the ecumenical councils. It might be admitted for the sake of argument--though I do not believe it is true--that the Anglican divines did not know, or if they knew superficially did not comprehend, all that is involved in the appeal to Christendom in the days when the East and West were not yet separated. They unquestionably intended to take the catholicity of that period as their guide and standard in rejecting medieval Romanism; and we may not fairly judge Anglican Churchmanship by any other standard. The primitive Fathers certainly believed in purgatory and in the invocation of the Saints. The undivided Church in the days of the great ecumenical councils certainly believed in the worshipping (though of course not with divine honour) of images and relics, and we have the best grounds therefore for holding to belief both in purgatory and in invocation in the Anglican Communion.
III. It may be freely admitted, with regard to the state of the departed, that there were very wide differences of popular belief in early Christian times. This is not to say that there were not always recognized certain fundamental principles, nor that certain facts were not expressly defined by the Church universal when occasion arose to define them in order to overthrow pernicious heresies. The Church has clearly expressed herself as to there being no probation after death, and that the punishment of the wicked is eternal. But with regard to what follows immediately upon death, and the condition of souls in the world of spirits, there have been various opinions and teachings, gradually crystallizing as the weight of evidence became clear, and the bearing of the several theories was better discerned.
I. It was always believed that there was an intermediate state between this life and the full triumph of God's Kingdom which is to begin with the final judgment. For not until the final judgment do the large majority, at least, of souls receive again their bodies. We may not say absolutely that none of the departed yet have their bodies because the Bible tells us that many of the saints which slept about Jerusalem arose after our Lord's resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. One can hardly suppose that these had to surrender their bodies again to the grave. But some of the early writers hold that this intermediate state is the universal condition for all the departed, both the saved and the lost, and that neither will the righteous enter into the joys of paradise nor the wicked into the awful awe of hell until after the last judgment. Those who write thus are to be understood as dwelling upon the fact of the resurrection of the body as necessary to the completeness of human nature. The souls of the saved must have their bodies before they can enjoy the bliss of heaven in full activity, and the souls of the lost must re-enter their miserable but eternally enduring bodies, before they can know the full awfulness of hell.
2. While there are some of the early writers who incline to the opinion that the souls of the departed are in uncertainty as to their fate until the final judgment at the end of the world, there seems to be no adequate ground for such an opinion. The parable of Dives and Lazarus would appear to be conclusive against it, for it is evident that Lazarus was in happiness while Dives was conscious that he was in hell.
3. Again St. Paul teaches us very plainly that every man's work, if he have builded upon Christ as a foundation, shall be tried with fire. And he declares that the righteous are to be saved "yet so as by fire."
4. Holy Scripture in other places teaches us that the martyrs, who may be understood to have had their fiery trial in the hour of their passing, are in bliss in paradise, They cry out from under the Altar, "How long, O Lord?" yet they have fair white robes given them; and those who were beheaded for "the witness of Jesus," live and reign with Christ for a thousand years, that is during this present time before the days of anti-christ. St Paul speaks of "the spirits of just men made perfect," as of the number of those heavenly ones with whom the earthly Church is in communion.
5. It has been the general belief of Christendom, East and West alike, that the larger number of the saved are not fit to enter heaven at once upon their going forth from this world. While they are accepted, they yet need to be prepared for the unspeakable glory of the Vision of God.
IV. There may be a certain amount of vagueness in the notion we have of the nature of the preparation which is required by the souls of the faithful in order that they may be quite fitted for paradise. I think however we can understand at least two sorts of need as likely to exist in their case.
i. First that of spiritual disposition. When we think seriously of our inner selves we must be appalled at the wrong bent of the greater part of our nature. We seem possessed with the spirit of worldliness. We are so sordid, so concerned about money and the important things of this world; when we pray, our petitions are almost entirely with regard to temporal concerns, and when we are engaged outwardly in sublimest worship or devoutest meditation, our thoughts are often far away, fixed upon business, or occupation of some other sort, wrestling with the problems of this world. Then too we are so sensual. The most revolting and degrading thoughts and imaginations rise constantly within our souls, and afford our passionate longings a shameful delight. How utterly estranged we are at such times from the state of the pure in heart who alone can see God. Yet again we are so consumed with pride, self-importance, haughtiness, the consciousness of our dignity and our rights. There seems to be not the first beginning of childlike humility within us. Yet except we be converted, and become as little children, we shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. If we have any true conception of our utter un-christlikeness, we shall perceive how great a work is needed to fit us in disposition for the life of the Saints.
2. Secondly how much need must there be in the souls of the saved after death of bearing the temporal punishment due to their many sins here! For our Lord's death upon the Cross applied to our souls through the holy sacraments does indeed take away the guilt of penitent ones, and release them from the eternal punishment of hell, yet it does not set them free from the temporal penalty their transgressions have deserved in the divine sight. A man may say, I am daily afflicting my soul with self-imposed penances; howbeit who shall have the hardihood to maintain that he is suffering pain equal to that which his countless sins merit from the divine justice? Another may say, I have to endure the most terrible trials and afflictions in this life, sent upon me by God without any apparent connection with such sins as I have committed. No doubt there is splendid opportunity for us in such cases of suffering voluntary penance for our sins. Yet almost everyone seems to throw away that opportunity by refusing to take the afflictions of this life patiently and uncomplainingly. We put aside our divinely vouchsafed penances in this life by refusing to acquiesce in them, therefore we have to bear other penances after this life is over.
V. And because we recognize these two aspects of our need of purgatory, we naturally think of two corresponding characteristics of that place of purifying.
1. There must be very real soul-pain there, which is likened in Scripture to the effect of fire upon the body. We may think of the faithful dead as in joy and felicity, because they are saved, and because they realize that they are going on ever higher and higher towards paradise. Yet we ought not to forget that there is penitential pain in purgatory. The surgeons in the great hospital may be never so kind and tender-hearted, yet the ether cannot remove all suffering from the sorely wounded patients. The gracious knife must cut to the very quick to remove every evil growth, and the white hot cautery extirpate with sharp anguish the mortifying flesh. The souls of the faithful in the place of purification have to go through fire.
2. And likewise through water. For the water is the natural opposite of the fire. We may believe that there is wonderful joy in purgatory and very sweet refreshing to the sin-tried souls. The consciousness of the divine love and goodness, the realization of the marvellous cleansing that is being effected more and more all the time in their nature fills them with keenest delight. The joy of their salvation and of their purging is as fresh sweet water to the thirsty man in the desert, or to the poor fever-racked sufferer on the bed of sickness.
VI. And the thought of the fire and the water through which the souls in purgatory are passing on their way to God's wealthy place, makes us understand the better the nature of the prayers for the dead which the Church on earth is always offering. We do not know that our petitions here, not even the offering of the adorable Sacrifice of the Altar can shorten the time of their stay in the place of purifying, nor that these can lessen the severity of the penalty which all who are there must endure. God has not told us that. We are fain to distrust any such conception of Indulgences as can apply the prayers and good works of the faithful upon earth to the shortening of the stay of particular souls in the other world. Yet we are safe in believing that our intercessions, through our Lord's infinite merits, can supply very gracious alleviation of their penances to those who are being there prepared for heaven. The intercessions of the faithful on earth certainly bring them refreshment, as the cooling draught refreshes most gratefully the sick man. They surely procure for them light, whether by opening more and more the windows of that place of cleansing to the celestial sunshine, or by increasing the capacity of the yet half-blind ones to discern the brightness which reaches down to them from the land of the Saints. They without doubt bring to the patient waiters in purgatory rest and peace, through the growing consciousness, which floods their hearts, of the marvellous fulness of God's pardon and the way in which all the mischief wrought by their transgressions in the flesh is being overruled and made to work for the divine glory. It is good to pray for the dead, and especially to have the great Eucharist offered on their behalf.
VI. After the happy souls of the faithful have gone through fire and water, their Lord brings them out into a wealthy place. It is literally a place of fatness or satiety, as it is said in another psalm "When I awake up after Thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it." This is none other than the paradise of God, the sweet heavenly country, where His Saints see Him face to face and are content. It matters not that they have not yet their bodies. They will be given them in good time, and then they shall enter with fullest activity into the joy of their Lord. In thinking of the Saints we have a signal evidence of the gracious compensations which are everywhere to be found in God's dealings with His children. "He is not unrighteous," says the Apostle, "to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shown towards His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister." We who pray for the faithful dead in purgatory are more than rewarded by the intercessions on our behalf offered by the blessed Saints in paradise. The Christian Church has always invoked the prayers of the Saints in heaven just as she has taught Christians upon earth to pray one for another. It is of course marvellous that our Lord should teach us to pray one for another and to ask prayers one for another, when He is all our Stay and the Giver of every good gift we can enjoy. Yet such is His gracious will. We ask our earthly friends to pray for us without any disparagement of His all-complete mediation on our behalf. Much more may we ask the prayers of our heavenly friends without any infringement of His worthiness. It is but reasonable to suppose they can know everything about earthly affairs which He would have them know to increase their joy in the progress of His kingdom. We cannot reasonably doubt that it is His will to let them know that we desire their prayers. They can pray so much better than our earthly friends, for they are never distracted. They pray with such great devotion, too, for they are looking upon the very Face of their King while they supplicate. They can pray with marvellous wisdom and unction because they now understand the tremendous realities of things temporal and eternal, as no one on earth possibly can.
See, then, I beseech you, how wonderfully the Church's belief in purgatory and in invocation helps our understanding of that sublime doctrine of the Communion of Saints. For the faithful dead we pray, and not one of them is forgotten in the Church's memorial. For us the Saints in glory pray, that we may attain to their high estate. Thus are we all bound together in one great fellowship of intercession about the throne of Christ our King.