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has done to us!" Does not this fervent cry of grateful affection
signify: "My God, some rays are perchance wanting in the crown of our
benefactor; supply them, we beseech Thee, in consideration of our
prayer and all he has done for us?" and this is precisely the consoling
doctrine of Purgatory.


GRATITUDE OF THE HOLY SOULS.

[Rev. James Mumford, S.J., born in England in 1605, and who labored for
forty years for the cause of the Catholic Church in his native country,
wrote a remarkable work on Purgatory; and he mentions that the
following incident was written to him by William Freysson, a publisher,
of Cologne. May it move many in their difficulties to have recourse to
the Holy Souls.]

One festival day, when my place of business was closed, I was occupying
myself in reading a book which you had lent me, and which was on "The
Souls in Purgatory." I was absorbed in my subject when a messenger came
and told me that my youngest child, aged four years, showed the first
symptoms of a very grave disease. The child rapidly grew worse, and the
physicians at length declared that there was no hope. The thought then
occurred to me that perhaps I could save my child by making a vow to
assist the Suffering Souls in Purgatory. I accordingly repaired at once
to a chapel, and, with all fervor, supplicated God to have pity on me;
and I vowed I would distribute gratuitously a hundred copies of the
book that had moved me in behalf of the suffering souls, and give them
to ecclesiastics and to religious to increase devotion to the Holy
Souls. I had, I acknowledge, hardly any hope. As soon as I returned to
the house I found the child much better. He asked for food, although
for several days he had not been able to swallow anything but liquids.
The next day he was perfectly well, got up, went out for a walk, and
ate as if he had never had anything the matter with him. Filled with
gratitude, I was only anxious to fulfill my promise. I went to the
College of the Jesuit Fathers and begged them to accept as many copies
of the work as they pleased, and to distribute them amongst themselves
and other communities and ecclesiastics as they thought fit, so that
the suffering souls, my benefactors, should be assisted by further
prayers.

Three weeks had not slipped away, however, when another accident not
less serious befell me. My wife, on entering the house one day, was
suddenly seized with a trembling in all her limbs, which threw her to
the ground, and she remained insensible. Little by little the illness
increased, until she was deprived of the power of speech. Remedies
seemed to be in vain. The malady at length assumed such aggravated
proportions that every one was of opinion she had no chance of
recovery. The priest who assisted her had already addressed words of
consolation to me, exhorting me to Christian resignation. I turned
again with confidence to the souls in Purgatory, who had assisted me
once before, and I went to the same church. There, prostrate before the
Blessed Sacrament, I renewed my supplication with all the ardor with
which affection for my family inspired me. "O my God!" I exclaimed,
"Thy mercy is not exhausted: in the name of Thy infinite bounty, do not
permit that the recovery of my son should be paid by the death of his
mother." I made a vow this time, to distribute two hundred copies of
the holy book, in order that a greater number of persons might be moved
to intercede for the suffering souls. I besought those who had already
been delivered from Purgatory to unite with me on this occasion. After
this prayer, as I was returning to the house, I saw my servants running
towards me. They told me with delight that my wife had undergone a
great change for the better; that the delirium had ceased, and she had
recovered her power of speech. I at once ran on to assure myself of the
fact: all was true. Very soon my wife was so perfectly recovered that
she came with me into the holy place to make an act of thanksgiving to
God for all His mercies. - _Ave Maria_.


A STRANGE INCIDENT.

A young German lady of rank, still alive to tell the story, arriving
with her friends at one of the most noted hotels in Paris, an apartment
of unusual magnificence on the first floor was apportioned to her use.
After retiring to rest she lay awake a long while, contemplating, by
the dim light of a night-lamp, the costly ornaments in the room, when
suddenly the folding-doors opposite the bed, which she had locked, were
thrown open, and, amid a flood of unearthly light, there entered a
young man in the garb of the French navy, having his hair dressed in
the peculiar mode _à la Titus_. Taking a chair and placing it in
the middle of the room, he sat down, and drew from his pocket a pistol
of an uncommon make, which he deliberately put to his forehead, fired,
and fell back as if dead. At the moment of the explosion the room
became dark and still, and a low voice said softly: "Say an _Ave
Maria_ for his soul."

The young lady, though not insensible, became paralyzed with horror,
and remained in a kind of cataleptic trance, fully conscious, but
unable to move or speak, until, at nine o'clock next day, no answer
having been given to repeated calls of her maid, the doors were forced
open. At the same moment the power of speech returned, and the poor
young lady shrieked out to her attendants that a man had shot himself
in the night, and was lying dead on the floor. Nothing, however, was to
be seen, and they concluded that she was suffering from the effects of
a dream. Not being a Catholic, she could not, of course, understand the
meaning of the mysterious command.

A short time afterwards, however, the proprietor of the hotel informed
a gentleman of the party that the terrible scene witnessed by the young
lady had in reality been enacted only three nights previously in that
very room, when a young French officer put an end to his life with a
pistol of a peculiar description, which, together with the body, was
then lying at the Morgue awaiting identification. The gentleman
examined them both, and found them to correspond exactly with the
description of the man and the pistol seen in the apparition.

Whether the young officer was insane, or lived long enough to repent of
his crime, is not known; however, the then Archbishop of Paris,
Monseigneur Sibour, was exceedingly impressed by the incident. He
called upon the young lady, and directing her attention to the words
spoken by the mysterious voice, urged her to embrace the Catholic
faith, to whose teaching it pointed so clearly. - _Ave Maria_,
August 15, 1885.




PART III.

HISTORICAL

All the ages, every clime
Strike the silver harp of time,
Chant the endless, holy story,
Souls retained in Purgatory.
Freed by Mass and holy rite,
Requiem, dirge and wondrous might,
A prayer which hut and palace send,
Where king and serf, where lord and hireling blend.
The vast cathedral and the village shrine
Unite in mercy's choral strain divine.


HISTORICAL.


THE DOCTRINE OF PURGATORY, OR A MIDDLE STATE, AMONG THE PAGAN NATIONS
OF ANTIQUITY.

BY THE REV. A. A LAMBING, A.M.

[This very interesting article was originally published in the "Ave
Maria."]

The attentive student of the mythology of the nations of antiquity
cannot fail to discover many vestiges of a primitive revelation of some
of the principal truths of religion, although in the lapse of time they
have been so distorted and mingled with fiction that it requires
careful study to sift the few remaining grains of truth from the great
mass of superstition and error in which they are all but lost. Among
these truths may be reckoned monotheism, or the belief in, and the
worship of, one only God, which the learned Jesuit, the Rev. Aug.
Thebaud, in his "Gentilism," has proved to have been the primitive
belief of all nations. It may not, however, be so generally known that
the doctrine of Purgatory, or a future state of purification, was also
held and taught in all the religious systems in the beginning. While a
knowledge of this fact cannot add anything to the grounds of our faith
as Catholics, it will not be wholly without interest, and it will,
besides, better enable us to give a reason for the faith that is in us.
It was left to Martin Luther to found an ephemeral religious system
that should deny this dogma, founded no less on revelation than on
right reason; but, then, logic has never been one of the strong points
of Protestants.

Before turning my attention to the nations of the pagan world, I shall
briefly give the Jewish belief on this point. It may not generally be
known that the doctrine of a middle state is not explicitly proposed to
the belief of the Jews in any of the writings of the Old Testament,
although it was firmly held by the people. We depend for our knowledge
of this fact mainly on the celebrated passage of the Second Book of
Machabees (xii. 43-46). The occasion on which the doctrine was stated
was this: Some of the soldiers of Judas Machabeus, the leader of the
Jewish armies, fell in a certain battle; and when their fellow-soldiers
came to bury them, they discovered secreted in the folds of their
garments some parts of the spoils of one of the pagan shrines, which it
was not permitted them to keep. After praying devoutly, the sacred
writer goes on to say that Judas, "Making a gathering, sent twelve
thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifices to be offered
for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the
resurrection [for if he had not hoped that they who were slain should
rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the
dead]. And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with
godliness had great grace laid up for them. It is, therefore, a holy
and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed
from sins."

The Catholic doctrine is thus briefly laid down in the Catechism:
"Purgatory is a place of punishment in the other life where some souls
suffer for a time before they can go to heaven;" or, in the words of
the Catechism of the Council of Trent, there is "the fire of Purgatory,
in which the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary punishment
in order to be admitted into their eternal country, 'into which nothing
defiled entereth.'"

How far the pagan notions of a middle state harmonize with the
Christian doctrine the reader will be able to determine as we proceed.

I must premise by stating that almost all, if not all, the forms of
paganism were two-fold, containing a popular form of religion, believed
and practiced by the mass of the people, and a more recondite form that
was known only to the initiated, whether this was the priestly caste,
as was generally the case, or whether they were designated by some
other name. It should also be observed that the forms of religion were
constantly undergoing changes of greater or less importance. Nor must
we lose sight of the fact that different nations embodied the same idea
under different terms. The conception of the phlegmatic Norseman would
be different from that of the imaginative Oriental, and the language of
the refined Greek would be far other than that of the rude American
savage. But yet the same truth may be found to underlie all, the
outward garb alone differing.

Turning first to Egypt, which is, rightly or wrongly, commonly
considered the cradle of civilization, we may sum up its teaching with
regard to the lot of the dead, and the middle state, in these
interesting remarks of a learned author: "The continuance of the soul
after its death, its judgment in another world, and its sentence
according to its deserts, either to happiness or suffering, were
undoubted parts both of the popular and of the more recondite religion.
It was the universal belief that immediately after death the soul
descended into a lower world, and was conducted to the Hall of Truth
(or, 'of the Two Truths'), where it was judged in the presence of
Osiris and the forty-two demons, the 'Lords of Truth' and judges of the
dead. Anubis, 'the director of the weight,' brought forth a pair of
scales, and, placing on one scale a figure or emblem of Truth, set on
the other a vase containing the good actions of the deceased; Thoth
standing by the while, with a tablet in his hand, whereon to record the
result. According to the side on which the balance inclined, Osiris
delivered the sentence. If the good deeds preponderated, the blessed
soul was allowed to enter the 'boat of the sun,' and was conducted by
good spirits to Aahlu (Elysium), to the 'pools of peace,' and the
dwelling place of Osiris.... The good soul, having first been freed
from its infirmities by passing through the basin of purgatorial fire,
guarded by the four ape-faced genii, and then made the companion of
Osiris three thousand years, returned from Amenti, re-entered its
former body, rose from the dead, and lived once more a human life upon
earth. This process was reiterated until a certain mystic cycle of
years became complete, when finally the good and blessed attained the
crowning joy of union with God, being absorbed into the Divine Essence,
and thus attaining the true end and full perfection of their being."
[1]

[Footnote 1: "History of Ancient Egypt," George Rawlinson, Vol. I., pp.
327-329.]

It may be remarked that all systems of religion which held the doctrine
of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, should be considered
as believing in a middle state of purgation, since they maintained the
necessity of the soul's further purification, after death, before it
was permitted to enter into its final rest.

In the ever-varying phases through which Buddhism, the religion of all
South-eastern Asia, has passed in its protracted existence, it is
difficult to determine with any degree of certainty, precisely what its
disciples hold; but the belief in metempsychosis, which is one of its
fundamental doctrines, must permit us to range it on the side of those
who hold to the idea of a middle state. Certain it is, they believe
that the soul, by a series of new births, becomes, in process of time,
better fitted for the final state in which it is destined for ever to
remain. The same may be said of the religion of the great body of the
Chinese; for, although they have their law-giver Confucius, their
religion at present, as far as it merits the name, appears to be no
more than a certain form of Buddhism.

Coming to the more western nations of Asia, we may remark that, as
their religions were evidently a corruption of primitive revelation,
less removed in point of time, they must, although they had already
become idolatrous, have embodied the idea of a future state of
purgation, notwithstanding that it is impossible to determine at this
distant day, the exact nature of their doctrines. If, however, we turn
from these to the doctrine of Zoroaster, our means of forming an
opinion are more ample.

Zoroaster, or, more correctly, Zarathustra, the founder of the Persian
religion, was born, according to some accounts, in the sixth century
before our era, while others claim for him an antiquity dating at least
from the thirteenth century before Christ. Be that as it may - and it
does not concern us to inquire into it - this much is certain: he was a
firm believer in a middle state, and he transmitted the same to his
followers. But, going a step further than some, he taught that the
souls undergoing purification are helped by the prayers of their
friends upon earth. "The Zoroastrians," says Mr. Rawlinson, "were
devout believers in the immortality of the soul and a conscious future
existence. They taught that immediately after death the souls of men,
both good and bad, proceeded together along an appointed path, to 'the
bridge of the gatherer.' This was a narrow road conducting to heaven or
paradise, over which the souls of the pious alone could pass, while the
wicked fell from it into the gulf below, where they found themselves in
the place of punishment. The good soul was assisted across the bridge
by the Angel Serosh - 'the happy, well-formed, swift, tall Serosh' - who
met the weary wayfarer, and sustained his steps as he effected the
difficult passage. The prayers of his friends in this world were of
much avail to the deceased, and greatly helped him on his journey." [1]

[Footnote 1: "Ancient Monarchies." Vol. II, p 339.]

With regard to the opinions held by the Greeks, - and the same may, in
general terms, be applied to the Romans, whose religious views
coincided more or less closely with those of their more polished
neighbors, - it is difficult to form a correct idea. Not that the
classic writers and philosophers have permitted the subject to sink
into oblivion, - on the contrary, they have treated it at considerable
length, as all classic scholars well know, - but while, on the one hand,
as I remarked above, there is a difference between the popular ideas
and those of the learned, there is also here a great difference of
opinion between the various schools of philosophy. Not only so, but it
is difficult to determine how far the philosophers themselves were in
earnest in the opinions they expressed; and how far, too, we understand
them. The opinions of the people, and much more, those of the learned,
vary with the principal periods of Grecian and Roman history. This
much, however, may be safely held, that, while they drew their origin
from Central or Western Asia, their religion must, in the beginning,
have been that of the countries from which they came. But truth only is
immutable; error is ever changing.

I shall not tax the patience of the reader by asking him to pass in
review the more striking periods of the history of these famous
nations, but shall content myself with giving the views of a celebrated
writer on a part, at least, of the question. Speaking of the opinions
held by the Greek philosophers regarding the future state of the soul,
Dr. Dollinger says, "The old and universal tradition admitted, in
general, that man continued to exist after death; but the Greeks of the
Homeric age did not dream of a retribution appointed to all after
death, or of purifying and penitential punishments. It is only some
conspicuous offenders against the gods who, in Homer, are tormented in
distant Erebus. In Hesiod, the earlier races of man continue to live
on, sometimes as good demons, sometimes as souls of men in bliss, or as
heroes; yet, though inculcating moral obligations, he does not point to
a reward to be looked for beyond the grave, but only to the justice
that dominates in this economy.... Plato expressly ascribes to the
Orphic writers the dogma of the soul's finding herself in the body as
in a sepulchre or prison, on the score of previously contracted guilt;
a dogma indubitably ascending to a very high antiquity.

"... It is from this source that Pindar drew, who, of the old Greeks,
generally has expressed notions the most precise and minutely distinct
of trial and tribulation after death, and the circuits and lustrations
of the soul. He assigns the island of the blest as for the everlasting
enjoyment of those who, in a triple existence in the upper and lower
world, have been able to keep their souls perfectly pure from all sin.
On the other hand, the souls of sinners appear after death before the
judgment seat of a judge of the nether world, by whom they are
sentenced to a heavy doom, and are ceaselessly dragged the world over,
suffering bloody torments. But as for those whom Persephone has
released from the old guilt of sin, their souls she sends in the ninth
year back again to the upper sun; of them are born mighty kings, and
men of power and wisdom, who come to be styled saintly heroes by their
posterity." And, again: "Plato was the first of the Greeks to throw
himself, in all sincerity, and with the whole depth of his intellect,
upon the solution of the great question of immortality.... He was, in
truth, the prophet of the doctrine of immortality for his time, and for
the Greek nation.... The metempsychosis which he taught under Orphic
and Pythagorean inspiration is an essential ingredient of his theory of
the world, and is, therefore, perpetually recurring in his more
important works. He connects it with an idea sifted and taken from
popular belief of a state of penance in Hades, though it can hardly be
ascertained how large a portion of mystical ornament or poetical
conjecture he throws into the particular delineation of 'the last
things,' and of transmigration. He adopts ten grades of migration, each
of a thousand years; so that the soul, in each migration, makes a
selection of its life-destiny, and renews its penance ten times, until
it is enabled to return to an incorporeal existence with God, and to
the pure contemplation of Him and the ideal world. Philosophic souls
only escape after a three-fold migration, in each of which they choose
again their first mode of life. All other souls are judged in the
nether world after their first life, and there do penance for their
guilt in different quarters; the incurable only are thrust down forever
into Tartarus. He attaches eternal punishment to certain particularly
abominable sins, while such as have lived justly repose blissfully in
the dwelling of a kindred star until their entrance into a second life.
Plato was clearly acquainted with the fact of the necessity of an
intermediate state between eternal happiness and misery, a state of
penance and purification after death." [1]

[Footnote 1: "The Gentile and the Jew," Vol. I. pp. 301-320.]

The popular notion of Charon, the ferryman of the lower world, refusing
to carry over the river Acheron the souls of such as had not been
buried, but leaving them to wander on the shores for a century before
he would consent, or rather before he was permitted by the rulers of
the Hades to do so, contains a vestige of the belief in a middle state,
where some souls had to suffer for a time before they could enter into
the abode of the blest. But when it is said that the friends of the
deceased could, by interring his remains, secure his entry into the
desired repose, we see a more striking resemblance to the doctrine that
friends on earth are able to assist the souls undergoing purgation. A
remarkable instance of the popular belief in this doctrine is furnished
in Grecian history, where the soldiers were encouraged on a certain
occasion to risk their lives in the service of their country by their
being told to write their names on their arms, so that if any fell his
friends could have him properly interred, and thus secure him against
all fear of having to wander for a century on the bleak shores of the
dividing river. Nothing could better show the hold which this idea had
on the minds of the people.

Roman mythological ideas were, as has been said, nearly related to
those of Greece; they underwent as great modifications, while the
opinions of her philosophers were equally abstruse, varied, and
difficult to understand. The author above quoted, treating of the
notion of the soul and a future state entertained by the Roman
philosophers, proves their ideas to have been extremely vague and ill-
defined. Still, there were not wanting those who held to the belief of
an existence after this life. Plutarch, a Greek, "has left us a view of
the state of the departed. The souls of the dead, ascending through the
air, and in part reaching the highest heaven, are either luminous and
transparent or dark and spotted, on account of sins adhering to them,
and some have even scars upon them. The soul of man, he says elsewhere,
comes from the moon; his mind, intellect, - from the sun; the separation
of the two is only completely effected after death. The soul wanders
awhile between the moon and earth for purposes of punishment - or, if it
be good, of purification, until it rises to the moon, where the
_vouç_ [1] leaves it and returns to its home, the sun; while the
soul is buried in the moon. Lucian, on the other hand, whose writings
for the most part are a pretty faithful mirror of the notions in vogue
among his contemporaries, bears testimony to a continuance of the old
tradition of the good reaching the Elysian fields, and the great
transgressors finding themselves given up to the Erinnys in a place of
torment, where they are torn by vultures, crushed on the wheel, or
otherwise tormented; while such as are neither great sinners nor
distinguished by their virtues stray about in meadows as bodiless
shadows, and are fed on the libations and mortuary sacrifices offered
at their sepulchres. An obolus for Charon was still placed in the mouth



Online LibraryMrs. James SadlierPurgatory → online text (page 14 of 35)