Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Karl Rahner on Purgatory

I am looking at Andrewes's view of purgatory in his discussion with Cardinal Bellarmine and how he approaches this issue in light of the Eucharist being effectual for both the living and the dead as the Christian Sacrifice. Now, Andrewes does reject purgatory as something created to give people hope in purgatory who have lost all fear of Hell. That is Andrewes's view of what purgatory is. It has been nuanced in numerous ways of late and Karl Rahner has an interesting way of looking at it. He said, purgatory is
"an element of the encounter with God; that is, the encounter of the unfinished person, still immature in his love, with the holy, infinite, loving God; an encounter which is profoundly humiliating, painful and therefore purifying."
So, purgatory is an aspect of the maturation process of the Christian rather than some place of 'torment' between heaven and hell. I understand that Pope Benedict XVI (Ratzinger) nuanced the doctrine of purgatory a bit as well. This would be an interesting study. I wish I had the time to look into it more. Basically, I am merely setting out Andrewes's views of it and problems with it.

Any thoughts?


Anonymous Kevin Davis said...

Purgatory was never a place "between heaven and hell." Rather, it is properly connected with heaven and has nothing to do with hell. Hell is the turning of the individual upon himself. Heaven is the turning of the individual away from oneself and toward God. Purgatory is how we get there, and, as a mature Christian understands, suffering is the primary means of de-asserting the ego contra God. The most profound moments of journeying toward God involve suffering. True moments of enlightenment come from the stripping of certain means of happiness attained by one's own means (namely, variations of pride, e.g., sex, money, power, vanity). The person then must move either toward continuing illusions of self-sufficiency or rejecting this false self so that the new creation in Christ can take form through God's grace. Baptism accomplishes this new creation, but post-baptismal sin is the means by which we entertain the illusions in that we may have formerly gloried (I'm thinking of adult baptisms). It is a turning from God of which he readily forgives to those who seek him again; however, a penitential life, which may extend by God's mercy to an afterlife purgation, must accompany this repentance in order to be purified from the primary punishment of post-baptismal sin -- attachment to oneself (or, rather, the illusion of self-willed existence) apart from God. For a child, the praying of five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys, and asking for a sibling's forgiveness may very well suffice, but for the adult who is especially steeped in certain sin(s), something more intense and dramatic is required.

7:20 am  
Blogger Jeff said...


I realise how it is described now that does not include this 'place' between heaven and hell. But many thought of it as such. Andrewes's problem with Bellarmine was that he said that the hope of purgatory replaced the fear of hell and the Church was sending people to hell who thought they had the hope of purgatory. I am only stating Andrewes's position and defining it in relation to the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

8:16 am  
Anonymous Jase said...

Kevin's comments were appreciated.

I think purgatory is as nearly misunderstood by Catholics as it is by noncatholics. It is often thought of in the negative, when in fact the final purgation is a VERY positive thing. As CSLewis said, please don't let me into heaven all filthy and dirty, I'd rather be cleaned up first.

I like Rahner's thoughts. Thanks for posting it.

One of my favorite Lewis books is The Great Divorce, which really helped me understand and better grasp the notion of purgatory, and how it really is an extension of heaven and has no proximity to hell whatsoever. After reading Lewis I came away with the idea that if heaven were to be described in geometric terms as a vast plane, then purgatory is an area of that plane that is the outer rim. (I have in my head this idea based upon Paul's words that those who barely escape the flames and find themselves on the very edge of that plane which is heaven, such that perhaps they are initially only clinging by their toes.)

So if the High King of Heaven dwells in the center of this kingdom, then those on the outer edge (who are in great need of having their souls rightly formed) are in heaven, but are still far from the throne of the King and have a great journey ahead of them before they reach the place of the king. And as Lewis described, this journey is not without the help of the saints.

I acknowledge that this might be a very simplistic and "earthy" way of describing a complex spiritual truth, but Christ himself used "earthy" descriptions and so too I find that Lewis' model has helped me grasp, at least in principle, the idea behind God's purging.

11:18 am  
Blogger Big Dog said...

When I read doctrinal history, I see that there was quite possibly a development of Purgatory from its original doctrinal position.

Many of the Alexandrian school were universalists who believed that "the lake of fire" was a place of purging, where those who had not believed on the Lord Jesus Christ would be purged of their sins.

After Augustine's pushing of the Greek doctrine of eternal torture, Purgatory took on a new doctrinal meaning, being a place of purging for non-penitent Christians. Hell became the place of torture for non-believers.

8:55 pm  

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