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THERE is so near a connection between the two points of purgatory and prayers for the dead, as they are now established in the church of Rome, that it is impossible to state the one as we ought, without entering on some consideration of the other. It has been so much the rather thought fit to give an account to the world of both these, in that the opinions of the primitive Fathers touching the state of the souls departed, and the early practice of praying for the dead founded thereupon, being not well understood by the generality nowadays, seem to give our adversaries a greater pretence to antiquity in these points, than in most others that are in debate betwixt us.
For what concerns the latter of these, I shall in the next Discourse say what I suppose may be sufficient to shew, how little grounds the ancient custom of praying for the dead in the primitive ages of Christianity will afford to the practice of those who pretend to be their followers in the same custom now. As to the business of purgatory, which is our present concern, we willingly allow it to have been of very venerable antiquity, and to have exceeded, not only our reformation, but even Christianity itself for some hundreds of years. The truth is, the church of Rome is beholding for this doctrine, as well as for many other things in her religion, to her worthy ancestors the heathen poets and philosophers: and though I cannot tell how far cardinal Bellarmine's a argument will hold good, to prove it from thence to have been the dictate of right reason itself, because this might engage us to give up the
a Bellarm. de Purgat. lib. 1. cap. 11. p. 612. Colon. 1620.
cause to paganism, not only in the points of the worship of images and inferior deities, &c., which perhaps the cardinal may be content to think the voice of nature too; but even as to all the other parts of their superstition, in which they were more universally agreed than in their notion of a purgatory; yet for what concerns the thing itself, we do not deny but that many of them did certainly believe it.
Eusebius recounts it of Platob, that he divided mankind into three states; some, who having purified themselves by philosophy, and excelled in holiness of life, enjoy an eternal felicity in the islands of the blessed, without any labour or trouble, which neither is it possible for any words to express, or any thoughts to conceive. Others, that having lived exceedingly wicked, and therefore seemed incapable of cure, he supposed were at their deaths thrown down headlong into hell, there to be tormented for ever. But now, besides these, he imagined there were a middle sort, who, though they had sinned, yet had repented of it, and therefore seemed to be in a curable condition; and these he thought went down for some time into hell too, to be purged and absolved by grievous torments; but that after that, they should be delivered from it, and attain to honours according to the dignity of their benefactions.
Now that they supposed those who were in this state might receive help from the prayers and sacrificings of the living, the complaints of the ghosts of Elpenor in Homer d, and of Palinurus in Virgile, abundantly shew. And indeed the ceremonies used for their deliverance, as described by those poets, so nearly resemble the practice of the present Roman church, that were but their poems canonical, it would be in vain for the most obstinate heretic here to contend with them.
It must then be confessed that our adversaries in this point have at least four hundred years' antiquity, not only against us, but even beyond Christianity itself. And I suppose I δίκας, ἀπολύονται εἰ τίς τι ἠδίκησε. Τῶν τε εὐεργεσιῶν τιμὰς φέρονται, κατὰ τὴν ἀξίαν ἕκαστος.
b Præparat. Evangel. lib. 1. cap.38. pag. 568. ed. G. L. Paris, 1627.
c Καὶ οἱ μὲν ἂν δόξωσι μέσως βεβιωκέναι, πορευθέντες ἐπὶ τὸν ̓Αχέροντα, ἀναβάντες ἃ δὴ καὶ αὐτοῖς ὀχήματά ἐστιν, ἐπὶ τοῦτον (f. τούτων) ἀφικνοῦνται εἰς τὴν λίμνην, καὶ ἐκεῖ οἰκοῦσί τε, καὶ καθαιρόμενοι, τῶν τε ἀδικημάτων διδόντες k k
d In Odyss. lib. 12.
e In Eneid. 1. 6.
f Vid. ib. Odyss. 30. Virg. Æneid.
may, without any injury to the memories of those holy men who have been our forerunners in the faith, say, that it was the impression which these opinions of their philosophy had made upon them, that moved them, when they became Christians, to fall into conjectures concerning the state of the soul in the time of separation, not very much different from what they had believed before.
It is not necessary to recount the errors of Origen as to this matter; who turned even hell itself into a purgatory, and thought that not only wicked men, but the very devils too, might be so purged in it, as to come forth angels of light. St. Augustin tells us, that the Platonics were of an opinion not much different from this, who though they would not have any sins past unpunished, yet supposed that all punishments, whether of this life or the next, were designed to amend, and therefore that whatever pains awaited men after death, they were all purgatory. And though this conceit of Origen has been condemned by the church as heretical, yet there remained other opinions, for some centuries after, not much differing from it i. Some thought that "all men whatsoever should in the end be saved;" others, and among these St. Jerome himself, that "all Christians should be delivered:" some who restrained their charity yet more, still allowed salvation" to all that died within the pale of the catholic church;" to which others finally added this further condition, that they had not only stood firm to the faith, but also "been charitable to the poor." Which last circumstance is the very same that Virgil from the Platonics again required in those who should be translated to the Elysian fields; in which therefore he places not only them whose virtue and piety had entitled to that happiness, but also by their "alms had made others mindful of them."
Quique sui memores alios fecere merendo m.
But not to insist more particularly on these things; three opinions there seem to have been among the ancient Fathers,
g Bellarmine, 1. 1. de Purgat. c. 2. P. 573.
h De Civitat. Dei, l. 21. c. 13. p. 793. t. 5. Lugd. 1664.
i See for all those, St. Austin de Ci
vit. Dei, l. 21. c. 18—22.
1 August. Enchirid. ad Laurent. c. 67. p. 64. tom. 3.
m Virgil, Eneid, 1. 6. v. 664.
concerning the state of men after death, more generally received.
n1. That the souls departed do not straightway go to heaven, but remain in a quiet and pleasing state, free of all troubles and pains, yet earnestly expecting their final consummation in glory.
2. Another opinion there was, which from the credulity of Papias became almost the universal belief of the first ages of Christianity, concerning the millenary kingdom of Christ P; that our blessed Saviour, before the final judgment, should come down from heaven, and raise from the dead those of the faithful whose piety had been most eminent and approved; and with them reign a thousand years at Jerusalem, in great plenty, and with extraordinary splendour; and that this was that which St. John meant by the first resurrection, and at the end whereof the other was to follow.
3. A third opinion, and that too embraced by many of the most ancient Fathers 1, was, that all men being raised up at the last day, should pass through a certain probatory fire1, in which every man should be scorched and purified; and some be tormented more, others less, according as they had lived better or worser lives here upon earth.
Such were the opinions of the primitive Fathers as to this matter. It is evident to any one that shall please to compare these with the account I shall hereafter give of the present Roman purgatory, how vastly different they were from what is now proposed to us as an article of faith. But yet from these opinions it is, that those of that communion impose upon the unwary their pretence of antiquity for this doctrine; whilst whatever those holy men have written of a third place, meaning the place of sequesters before mentioned, but especially of the purgatory fire at the end of the world t, they presently
n Bellarmine, de Sanct. Beat. 1. 1. c. 5. p.713, owns it to have been the opinion of Tertullian, Lactantius, and Victorinus Martyr: but Sixtus Senensis more fairly confesses it of many others. Bibl. lib. 6. annot. 345. p. 714. edit. 1626. Colon. 4to. Irenæus, Justin Martyr, Clemens, Origen, Prudentius, Ambrose, S. Chrysostom, S. Augustin, Theodoret, &c.
o See Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 1. 3.
apply it all to their own fancy, and which in those first ages found no manner of entertainment.
It is, I know, generally pretended by those of the other communion, that St. Augustin at least began to favour their opinion. And indeed I will not deny but that he does sometimes speak of a purgatory after this life; but yet so, as that it refers either to the same purgation we before spake of, at the end of the world, or else to that grief which he imagined those souls who had been passionately tied to the things of this world might still retain in their place of sequester: and which he therefore thought to be the meaning of that obscure place of St. Paul, 1 Cor. iii. 12, so confidently produced by our adversaries on all occasions in favour of their doctrine. But all this he proposes with so much doubt and uncertainty, as plainly shews it to have been in this Father's time so far from an article of faith, that he durst not affirm any thing at all concerning it.
Thus then had the Roman doctrine of purgatory no manner of foundation in the primitive church. About 600 years after Christ, pope Gregory the Great first began to give countenance to it. The public practice of praying for the dead continuing still in force in the church, and those opinions of the primitive Fathers upon which that was first established, being now no longer received with that universal belief they had heretofore been, it was but natural to seek out some other grounds for a practice which they saw so generally received, and yet could not well tell what account to give of the reason of it. Let us add this, that about that time a sad barbarity began every where almost to overspread the world: the Goths and Lombards in Italy, the Franks and Burgundians in France, the Vandals and West-Goths in Spain, the Saxons in Britain, destroying almost all learning out of the world. From henceforth miracles and visions governed the church: the flames of Etna and Vesuvius were thought, on purpose to have been kindled to torment departed souls. Some were seen broiling upon gridirons, others roasting upon spits, some burning before a fire, others shivering in the water, or smoking in a chimney. The very ways to purgatory were now discovered; one in Sicily, another in Pozzueto, a third nearer home, in Ireland: one found out by the help of an angel, another of t Vid. August. loc. supr. citat. Enchirid. cap. 67. ad Dulcit. quæst. 1. &c.