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The Syrian Liturgy of St. James, is that which is in general use amongst them, and they have always retained the prayers for the dead, and continue to use them.
Let us then look to this body of Christians separated during fourteen centuries from the Catholic Church, hating the Eutychians and hated by them, separated from the Greek Church, which they anathematize, and from the Latin Church, whose language they do not understand, from whose ceremonial they differ, and which they still proclaim as their unjust condemner: what but the strong evidence of well established truth can teach them an union of testimony. They produce their ancient records; they show a custom in which they were united before their differences originated; when their fathers held the doctrine delivered to them by the Apostles. Latin, Greek, Egyptian, Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean, Persian, Muscovite and Indian, Nestorian, Eutychian, Greek Catholic, schismatic and heretic, proclaim that the original liturgies which have been received from the Apostles, contain those prayers and suffrages which they desired should be offered for the benefit of the suffering dead: and with such a host of evidence as this before him, the Rev. Joseph Blanco White tells us that "Purgatory was brought to light by Tradition upon the cessation of canonical penance," and Bishop Kemp of Maryland, with a collection of every description of clergymen in his rear, proclaims to the Protestants of the United States, that they may rely upon the testimony of Blanco White!!!
My friends, I have dwelt long upon this topic, but I must pursue it still farther, because I desire at least, upon one subject of doctrine, to afford our Right Reverend and reverend opponents a fair opportunity of defending White, if they can, and I have intentionally selected as a point for their assault, that which they generally proclaim to be the most foolish and absurd in our system, as they are pleased to call it. I shall therefore have to keep them to Purgatory for some time yet. Yours, and so forth,
CHARLESTON, S. C., Oct. 8, 1827.
To the Roman Catholics of the United States of America.
My Friends,-It is conceded by the most learned of our opponents, that the custom of praying for the dead is certainly as old as the second century of the Church, and the belief in the existence of purgatory is acknowledged by all persons to have been pretty general in the fourth century. I shall now proceed to show that our doctrine is that of the
New Testament. An ancient Christian writer stated, that to quote texts of Scripture for the purpose of proving any doctrine against heretics was, to say the least, useless, if not mischievous: for, added he, if they cannot by some ingenuity make the text by which they are condemned lose its force, they will deny its right to a place in the book, and, if necessary, will even deny the book which contains it to be canonical. When I state, then, that I will prove the doctrine of purgatory to be contained in the New Testament, I am very far from asserting that our adversaries will admit my proofs to be good: it would be unreasonable to expect this from persons who seriously assure us that the words "this is my body," mean "this is not my body,' " and that "the gates of hell shall never prevail against it," mean, "the gates of hell shall prevail against it," or who calmly assert that "whosesoever sins you shall remit are remitted to them," mean "whosesoever sins you shall remit, are not remitted to them.' Thus I do not intend to create in you the hope that such persons will acknowledge the doctrine of purgatory to be contained in the New Testament: yet I assert that it is found in this divine book.
But why, it will be asked, will not their opinion, as to the meaning of a text, be of equal authority with mine? I admit the opinion of any one of them to be entitled to as much weight as is mine: but the question is not to be decided by either their opinion or by mine. The words of the sacred text have a precise and a determined meaning, intended by the Holy Ghost, and neither they nor I can make that meaning different from what it really is: and it is now the same that it was from the beginning, for the sense of the Holy Ghost continues unaltered and unalterable. This true meaning is the true doctrine or word of God, and it is what he designed to teach to man, and is frequently very different from that similitude of meaning which opponents can force upon words. St. Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons, informs us how this true meaning is to be ascertained. This great man was born about the year 120, and was educated in the Christian doctrine by St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of St. John the Evangelist, and was the senior of Irenæus by about 40 years. Irenæus also learned from Papias and other companions of the Apostles, and was himself styled by Tertullian "the most diligent searcher of all doctrines." In his Works, Book iv, chapter 63, we read:
"This recognition is the true doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient state of the Church in the whole world, and the character of the body of Christ, according to the succession of the Bishops, to whom they delivered that Church which is in every place; which has come down
unto us, preserved without fiction, by the most full examination of the Scriptures, neither receiving addition nor diminution, and a reading without corruption, and a lawful and diligent exposition according to the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy, and the chief gift of charity, which is more precious than the recognition, more glorious than prophecy, super-eminent above all gifts."
The true knowledge of the meaning of the sacred text is, according to this, to be found by the full explanation of the writing according to that ancient doctrine of the Apostles, recognised by the testimony of the general body of the successors of the Apostles in every place. One or two, a few might err; or they might give arbitrary and novel explanations, but the true meaning is recognised by the testimony of the whole body to whose care the text and its meaning were entrusted by the Apostles.
Theodoret, in his Dialogue 1, gives us the same principle:
"Those men were the successors of the Apostles, and some amongst them were accustomed to the enjoyment of their sacred and admirable presence, many of them have been adorned with the crowns of martyrdom. Does it then appear lawful for you to brandish your blasphemous and evil tongue against them."
I shall then, in explaining the passages of Scripture which I shall adduce, not give my own opinion, but the testimony of such men as those, to show the meaning; and hence it will not be the opinion of B. C. opposed to the opinion of any modern separatist, as to the true meaning of the text, but it will be the testimony of those ancient and venerable witnesses, from and through whom we have received the Scriptures themselves, as to the meaning of that sacred book of whose integrity and contents they are made the witnesses to us: and thus we do not interpret this venerable document by our own private judgment, but by the unanimous consent of the Fathers, and we do not give our own private opinions, but the ancient, public testimony of the doctrine of Christ and his Apostles.
The first text is found in the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter xii, 31, 32:
"Therefore I say to you: Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men; but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come."
The early doctors and pastors of the Church, explaining this expression of our Saviour, repeatedly declare that its distinct meaning is,
that the sin which he so emphatically condemns, is one whose guilt and punishment will remain to eternity, and not be forgiven, either during man's mortal term, or after his death, in that new state of existence upon which he will enter, and in which many other sins of less heinous character are forgiven by the mercy of God, and by means of the prayers and suffrages of the Church and of her children. Amongst them are St. Augustine in his xxist book Of the City of God, chapter 24, and in his book vi against Julian, chapter 5; St. Gregory in his book iv of Dialogues, chapter 39; Venerable Bede on chapter iii of Mark. And when in the twelfth century the Petrobrusians denied the doctrine of purgatory and the use of praying for the dead, St. Bernard, in his Homily lxvi, on the Canticles, quoted this text as having been always an evidence of the doctrine, as did also Peter, the venerable abbot of Cluny, in his Epistle against them.
Another testimony of the New Testament is found in Matthew, chapter v, 25, 26, and Luke, chapter xii, 58, 59.
"And when thou goest with thy adversary to the prince, whilst thou art in the way endeavor to be delivered from him: lest perhaps he draw thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the exactor, and the exactor cast thee into prison. I say to thee, thou shalt not go out thence until thou pray the very last mite."
In the first of those places it is related that our Saviour used the expression in reference to the persons whom he charged to be reconciled with their enemies before they laid their gifts on the altar: in the second, he gives it as a sequel, to the admonition concerning the judgment which he must undergo before the tribunal of God. Several of the earliest fathers testify to us that it was understood regarding purgatory, from which the soul accused by the law of God, of venial sins or of incomplete satisfaction, would not come out before the divine justice had been satisfied. Amongst those are Tertullian, in his book Of the Soul, chapter xvii; St. Cyprian, Book iv, Ep. 2; Origen, Homily 35, On Luke; Eusebius, of Emessa, Homily 3, On Epiphany; St. Ambrose in his Comment on this paragraph in Luke xii; St. Jerom in chapter v, on Matthew.
In the fifth chapter of Matthew we also read the following passage: "21. You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. 22. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
Amongst other commentators, St. Augustine, Book i, chapter 19,
"On the Sermon on the Mountain," explains this passage as denoting three grades of punishment for sin after death, of which only the last was eternal, the other two temporary, or purgatory.
In the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke, v. 9, we read:
"And I say unto you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings."
The ancient writers, in this passage, understood that by the expression of the Saviour, "when you shall fail," he meant, "when you shall die," and by the words "friends" he meant the "saints," who themselves dwelt in the sacred abodes. Hence St. Ambrose, in his comment upon this passage, and St. Augustine, in his book xxi, Of the City of God, chapter 27, states the doctrine herein taught to be, that alms given to those who are holy, will be extremely profitable to the donor, as they being saints in heaven, will, after his death, aid him by their prayers and from this very passage, St. Augustine takes occasion to state, that of those who die, some are very holy, and are immediately after death received into heaven, and can there by their prayers aid others; whilst some are so wicked, that after their death, they neither can aid or be aided; but are eternally lost: and finally that some are in that middle state, who, at the time of death, are not found deserving eternal punishment, nor sufficiently prepared for immediate admittance into heaven; and they are received into everlasting dwellings through the prayers of their friends.
In the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, verse 24, St. Peter says of our blessed Saviour:
"Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the sorrows of hell, as it was impossible that he should be holden by it."
I would not have quoted this passage were it not for the purpose of making a remark upon the difference of reading, and of the versions. I have quoted according to the Vulgate. The Greek copies have given occasion to a very curious exhibiton of this verse, "having loosed from the sorrows of death." It is clear the Saviour was not loosed therefrom, because he died upon the cross: and in the state subsequent to the pangs of death we know of no sorrow save that of hell, whether this expression means the place of eternal torments, or only a place of temporary pain. The body which lies in the grave feels no pain, has no sorrow. The ancient fathers, particularly Epiphanius and Augustine, who gave it, "loosed from the sorrows of hell," state that the pains of purgatory are meant, and not only that Christ was himself free from