Mrs. James Sadlier.

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S. J., being by him "disposed, abridged, or enlarged," from a treatise
by Father Binet, a French Jesuit, published at Paris in 1625, at Douay
in 1627, and translated soon after by Father Richard Thimbleby, an
English member of the Society of Jesus. Says Dr. Anderdon in his
preface: "The alterations ventured upon in this reprint, consist
chiefly in the mode of punctuation, which, being probably left to a
French compositor, are anomalous, and often perplexing. Some
expressions, so obsolete as to prevent the sense being clear, and in
the same degree lessening the value of the book to the general reader,
have been exchanged for others in more common use.... Let us earnestly
hope that, at this moment, on the threshold of the month specially
dedicated by the Church to devotion on behalf of the Holy Souls, the
joint work of Fathers Binet and Thimbleby may produce an abundant
harvest of intercession. If, during their own brief time of trial, they
were inspired to put together and to enforce such powerful motives to
stir up the faithful to this devotion, will they not now rejoice in the
re-production of their act of zeal and charity? During the two hundred
and fifty years which have elapsed since the first publication of the
French work, many changes and revolutions have taken place in the
histories of those spots of earth, known as France and England. But the
History of Purgatory is ever the same; "happiness and unhappiness"
combined; both unspeakably great; long detention, perhaps, or perhaps
swift release, according to the degree of faith and charity animating
the Church militant. May we now, and henceforth, realize in act, in
habitual practice, and, all the more, from the considerations given in
the following pages, the immense privilege of holding, to so great a
degree, the keys of Purgatory in our hands."]

Believe it, it is one of the first rudiments, but main principles, of a
Christian, to captivate his understanding, and so regulate all his
dictamens, that they be sure to run parallel with the sentiments of the
Church. And this I take to be the case when the question is started
about Purgatory fire, which I shall ever reckon in the class of those
truths, which cannot be contradicted without manifest temerity; as
being the doctrine generally preached and taught all over Christendom.

You must, then, conceive Purgatory to be a vast, darksome and hideous
chaos, full of fire and flames, in which the souls are kept close
prisoners, until they have fully satisfied for all their misdemeanors,
according to the estimate of Divine justice. For God has made choice of
this element of fire wherewith to punish souls, because it is the most
active, piercing, sensible, [1] and insupportable of all others. But
that which quickens it, indeed, and gives it more life, is this: that
it acts as the instrument of God's justice, who, by His omnipotent
power, heightens and reinforces its activity as He pleases, and so
makes it capable to act upon bodiless spirits. Do not, then, look only
upon this fire, though in good earnest it be dreadful enough of itself;
but consider the Arm that is stretched out, and the Hand that strikes,
and the rigor of God's infinite justice, who, through this element of
fire, vents His wrath, and pours out whole tempests of His most severe
and yet most just vengeance. So that the fire works as much mischief,
[2] as I may say, to the souls, as God commands; and He commands as
much as is due; and as much is due as the sentence bears: a sentence
irrevocably pronounced at the high tribunal of the severe and rigorous
justice of an angry God, and whose anger is so prevalent that the Holy
Scripture styles it "a day of fury." Now, you will easily believe that
this fire is a most horrible punishment in its own nature; but you may
do well to reflect also on that which I have now suggested; that the
fury of Almighty God is, as it were, the fire of this fire, and the
heat of its heat; and that He serves Himself of it as He pleases, by
doubling and redoubling its sharp pointed forces; for this is that
which makes it the more grievous and insupportable to the souls that
are thus miserably confined and imprisoned.

[Footnote 1: _i.e._, apprehended by the senses]

[Footnote 2: _i.e._, Not implying injury, far less injustice; but
simply punishment and suffering]

They were not much out of the way, that styled Purgatory a transitory
kind of hell, because the principal pains of the damned are to be found
there; with this only difference, that in hell they are eternal, and in
Purgatory they are only transitory and fleeting: for, otherwise, it is
probably the very same fire that burns both the Holy Souls and the
damned spirits; and the pain of loss is, in both places, the chief
torment.... Now, does not your hair stand on end? does not your heart
tremble, when you hear that the poor souls in Purgatory are tormented
with the same, or the like flames to those of the damned? Can you
refrain from crying out, with the Prophet Isaias: "Who can dwell with
such devouring fire, and unquenchable burnings?" Heavens! what a
lamentable case is this! Those miserable souls, who of late, when they
were wedded to their bodies, were so nice and dainty, forsooth, that
they durst scarce venture to enjoy the comfortable heat of a fire, but
under the protection of their screens and their fans, for fear of
spoiling their complexions, and if, by chance, a spark had been so rude
as to light upon them, or a little smoke, it was not to be endured:...
- Alas! how will it fare with them, when they shall see themselves tied
to unmerciful firebrands, or imbodied, as it were, with flames of fire,
surrounded with frightful darkness, broiled and consumed without
intermission, and perhaps condemned to the same fire with which the
devils are unspeakably tormented? (Pages 4-7.)

* * * * *

Good God! how the great Saints and Doctors astonish me when they treat
of this fire, and of the pain of sense, as they call it! For they
peremptorily pronounce that the fire that purges those souls, those
both happy and unhappy souls, surpasses all the torments that are to be
found in this miserable life of man, or are possible to be invented,
for so far they go... Thus they discourse: The fire and the pains of
the other world are of another nature from those of this life, because
God elevates them above their nature to be instruments of His severity.
Now, say they, things of an inferior degree can never reach the power
of such things as are of a higher rank. For example, the air, let it be
ever so inflated, unless it be converted into fire, can never be so hot
as fire. Besides, God bridles His rigor in this world; but, in the
next, He lets the reins loose and punishes almost equally to the
desert. And, since those souls have preferred creatures before their
Creator, He seems to be put upon a necessity of punishing them beyond
the ordinary strength of creatures; and hence it is that the fire of
Purgatory burns more, torments and inflicts more, than all the
creatures of this life are able to do. But is it really true that the
least pain in Purgatory exceeds the greatest here upon earth? O God!
the very statement makes me tremble for fear, and my very heart freezes
into ice with astonishment. And yet, who dare oppose St. Augustine, St.
Thomas, St. Anselm, St. Gregory the Great? Is there any hope of
carrying the negative assertion against such a stream of Doctors, who
all maintain the affirmative, and bring so strong reasons for it?...

* * * * *

But for Thy comfort, there are Doctors in the Catholic Church that
cannot agree with so much severity; and, namely, St. Bonaventure, who
is very peremptory in denying it. "For, what way is there," says this
holy Doctor, "to verify so great a paradox, without sounding reason,
and destroying the infinite mercy of God? I am easily persuaded there
are torments in Purgatory far exceeding any in this mortal life; this
is most certain, and it is but reasonable it should be so; but that the
least there should be more terrible than the most terrible in the world
cannot enter into my belief. May it not often fall out that a man comes
to die in a most eminent state of perfection, save only, that in his
last agony, out of mere frailty, he commits a venial sin, or carries
along with him some relic of his former failings, which might have been
easily blotted out with a _Pater Noster_, or washed away with a
little holy water; for I am supposing it to be some very small matter.
Now, what likelihood is there, I will not say, that the infinite mercy
of God, but that the very rigor of His justice, though you conceive it
to be ever so severe, should inflict so horrible a punishment upon this
holy soul, as not to be equalled by the greatest torments in this life;
and all this for some petty fault scarce worth the speaking of? How!
would you have God, for a kind of trifle, to punish a soul full of
grace and virtue, and so severely to punish her as to exceed all the
racks, cauldrons, furnaces, and other hellish inventions, which are
scarce inflicted upon the most execrable criminals in the world?" (Pp.
9-11.)

* * * * *

It is not the fire, nor all the brimstone and tortures they endure,
which murders them alive. No, no; it is the domestical cause of all
these mischiefs that racks their consciences and is their crudest
executioner. This, this is the greatest of their evils; for a soul that
has shaken off the fetters of flesh and blood, and is full of the love
of God, no more disordered with unruly passions, nor blinded with the
night of ignorance, sees clearly the vast injury she has done to
herself to have offended so good a God, and to have deserved to be thus
banished out of His sight and deprived of that Divine fruition. She
sees how easily she might have flown up straight to heaven at her first
parting with her body, and what trifle it was that impeded her. A
moment lost of those inebriating joys, seems to her now worthy to be
redeemed with an eternity of pains. Then, reflecting with herself that
she was created only for God, and cannot be truly satisfied but by
enjoying God, and that, out of Him, all this goodly machine of the
world is no better than a direct hell and an abyss of evils. Alas! what
worms, what martyrdoms, and what nipping pincers are such pinching
thoughts as these. The fire is to her but as smoke in comparison to
this vexing remembrance of her own follies, which betrayed her to this
disgraceful and unavoidable misfortune. There was a king who, in a
humor gave away his crown and his whole estate, for the present
refreshment of a cup of cold water; but, returning a little to himself
and soberly reflecting what he had done, had like to have run stark mad
to see the strange, irreparable folly he had committed. To lose a year,
or two years (to say no more), of the beatifical vision for a glass of
water, for a handful of earth, for the love of a fading beauty, for a
little air of worldly praise, a mere puff of honor - ah! it is the hell
of Purgatory to a soul that truly loves God and frames a right conceit
of things. (Pp. 14, 15.)

* * * * *

Confusion is one of the most intolerable evils that can befall a soul;
and, therefore, St. Paul, speaking of Our blessed Saviour, insists much
upon this, that He had the courage and the love for us all to overcome
the pain of a horrible confusion, which doubtless is an insupportable
evil to a man of intelligence and courage. Tell me, then, if you can,
what a burning shame and what a terrible confusion it must be to those
noble and generous souls, to behold themselves overwhelmed with a
confused chaos of fire, and such a base fire which affords no other
light but a sullen glimmering, choked up with a sulphureous and
stinking smoke; and in the interim to know that the souls of many
country clowns, mere idiots, poor women and simple religious persons,
go straight up to heaven, whilst they lie there burning - they that were
so knowing, so rich and so wise; they that were counsellors to kings,
eminent preachers of God's word, and renowned oracles in the world;
they that were so great divines, so great statesmen, so capable of high
employments. This confusion is much heightened by their further knowing
how easily they might have avoided all this and would not. Sometimes
they would have given whole mountains of gold to be rid of a stone in
the kidneys or a fit of the gout, colic or burning fever, and for a
handful of silver they might have redeemed many years' torments in that
fiery furnace; and, alas! they chose rather to give it to their dogs
and their horses, and sometimes to men more beasts than they and much
more unworthy. Methinks this thought must be more vexing than the fire
itself, though never so grievous.

And yet there remains one thought more, which certainly has a great
share in completing their martyrdom; and that is the remembrance of
their children or heirs which they left behind them; who swim in nectar
and live jollily on the goods which they purchased with the sweat of
their brows, and yet are so ungrateful, so brutish, and so barbarous
that they will scarce vouchsafe to say a Pater Noster in a whole month
for their souls who brought them into the world, and who, to place them
in a terrestrial paradise of all worldly delights, made a hard venture
of their own souls and had like to have exchanged a temporal punishment
for an eternal. The leavings and superfluities of their lackeys, a
throw of dice, and yet less than that, might have set them free from
these hellish torments; and these wicked, ungrateful wretches would not
so much as think on it. (Pp. 31-33.)

* * * * *

Before I leave off finishing this picture, or put a period to the
representation of the pains of Purgatory, I cannot but relate a very
remarkable history which will be as a living picture before your eyes.
But be sure you take it not to be of the number of those idle stories
which pass for old wives' tales, or mere imaginations of cracked brains
and simple souls. No; I will tell you nothing but what Venerable Bede,
so grave an author, witnesses to have happened in his time, and to have
been generally believed all over England without contradiction, and to
have been the cause of wonderful effects; and which is so authenticated
that Cardinal Bellarmine, a man of such judgment as the world knows,
having related it himself, concludes thus: "For my part I firmly
believe this history, as very conformable to the Holy Scripture, and
whereof I can have no doubt without wronging truth and wounding my own
conscience, which ought readily to yield assent unto that which is
attested by so many and so credible witnesses and confirmed by such
holy and admirable events."

About the year of our Lord 690, a certain Englishman, in the county of
Northumberland, by name Brithelmus, being dead for a time, was
conducted to the place of Purgatory by a guide, whose countenance and
apparel was full of light; you may imagine it was his good Angel. Here
he was shown two broad valleys of a vast and infinite length, one full
of glowing firebrands and terrible flames, the other as full of hail,
ice, and snow; and in both these were innumerable souls, who, as with a
whirlwind, were tossed up and down out of the intolerable scorching
flames, into the insufferable rigors of cold, and out of these into
those again, without a moment of repose or respite. This he took to be
hell, so frightful were those torments; but his good Angel told him no,
it was Purgatory, where the souls did penance for their sins, and
especially such as had deferred their conversion until the hour of
death; and that many of them were set free before the Day of Judgment
for the good prayers, alms, and fasts of the living, and chiefly by the
holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Now this holy man, being raised again from
death to life by the power of God, first made a faithful relation of
all that he had seen, to the great amazement of the hearers, then
retired him self into the church and spent the whole night in prayer;
and soon after, gave away his whole estate, partly to his wife and
children, partly to the poor, and taking upon him the habit and
profession of a monk, led so austere a life that even if his tongue had
been silent, yet his life and conversation spake aloud what wonders he
had seen in the other world. Sometimes they would see him, old as he
was, in freezing water up to his ears, praying and singing with much
sweetness and incredible fervor; and if they asked him, "Brother, alas!
how can you suffer such sharp and biting cold?" "O my friends," would
he say, "I have seen other manner of cold than this." Thus, when he
even groaned under the voluntary burden of a world of most cruel
mortifications, and was questioned how it was possible for a weak and
broken body like his to undergo such austerities, "Alas! my dear
brethren," would he still say, "I have seen far greater austerities
than these: they are but roses and perfumes in comparison of what I
have seen in the subterraneous lakes of Purgatory." And in these kinds
of austerities he spent the remainder of his life and made a holy end,
and purchased an eternal paradise, for having had but a sight of the
pains of Purgatory. And we, dear Christians, if we believed in good
earnest, or could but once procure to have a true sight or apprehension
of them, should certainly have other thoughts and live in another
fashion than we do. (Pp. 44-46.)

* * * * *

Now, would you clearly see how the souls can at the same instant swim
in a paradise of delights and yet be overwhelmed with the hellish
torments of Purgatory? Cast your eyes upon the holy martyrs of God's
Church, and observe their behavior. They were torn, mangled,
dismembered, flayed alive, racked, broiled, burnt - and tell me, was not
this to live in a kind of hell? And yet, in the very height of their
torments their hearts and souls were ready to leap for joy; you would
have taken them to be already transported into heaven. Hear them but
speak for themselves. "O lovely cross," cried out St. Andrew, "made
beautiful by the precious Body of Christ, how long have I desired thee,
and with what care have I sought thee! and now, that I have found thee,
receive me into thine arms, and lift me up to my dear Redeemer! O
death, [1] how amiable art thou in my eyes, and how sweet is thy
cruelty!" "Your coals," said St. Cecily, "your flaming firebrands, and
all the terrors of death, are to me but as so many fragrant roses and
lilies, sent from heaven." "Shower down upon me," cried St. Stephen,
"whole deluges of stones, whilst I see the heavens open and Jesus
Christ standing at the right side of His Eternal Father, to behold the
fidelity of His champion." "Turn," exclaimed St. Lawrence, "oh! turn,
the other side, thou cruel tyrant, this is already broiled, and cooked
fit for thy palate. Oh, how well am I pleased to suffer this little
Purgatory for the love of my Saviour!" "Make haste, O my soul," cried
St. Agnes, "to cast thyself upon the bed of flames which thy dear
Spouse has prepared for thee!" "Oh," cried St. Felicitas, and the
mother of the Machabees, "Oh, that I had a thousand children, or a
thousand lives, to sacrifice them all to my God. What a pleasure it is
to suffer for so good a cause!" "Welcome tyrants, tigers, lions,"
writes St. Ignatius the Martyr; "let all the torments that the devils
can invent come upon me, so I may enjoy my Saviour. I am the wheat of
Christ; oh, let me be ground with the lions' teeth. Now I begin indeed
to be the disciple of Christ." "Oh, the happy stroke of a sword," might
St. Paul well exclaim, "that no sooner cuts off my head, but it makes a
breach for my soul to enter into heaven. Let it be far from me to glory
in anything, but in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let all evils
band against me, and let my body be never so overloaded with
afflictions, the joy of my heart will be sure to have the mastery, and
my soul will be still replenished with such heavenly consolations that
no words, nor even thoughts, are able to express it."

[Footnote 1: From the author's text, it seems doubtful whether this
sentence is to be attributed to St. Andrew or St. Cecilia.]

You may imagine, then, that the souls, once unfettered from the body,
may, together with their torments, be capable of great comforts and
divine favors, and break forth into resolute, heroical, and even
supercelestial acts.

* * * * *

But there is yet something of a higher nature to be said.... We have
all the reason in the world to believe that God, of His infinite
goodness, inspires these holy souls with a thousand heavenly lights,
and such ravishing thoughts, that they cannot but take themselves to be
extremely happy: so happy that St. Catherine of Genoa professed she had
learnt of Almighty God that, excepting only the blessed Saints in
heaven, there were no joys comparable to those of the souls in
Purgatory. "For," said she, "when they consider that they are in the
hands of God, in a place deputed for them by His holy providence, and
just where God would have them, it is not to be expressed what a
sweetness they find in so loving a thought: and certainly they had
infinitely rather be in Purgatory, to comply with His divine pleasure,
than be in Paradise, with violence to His justice, and a manifest
breach of the ordinary laws of the house of God. I will say more,"
continued she: "it cannot so much as steal into their thoughts to
desire to be anywhere else than where they are. Seeing that God has so
placed them, they are not at all troubled that others get out before
them; and they are so absorbed in this profound meditation, of being at
God's disposal, in the bosom of His sweet providence, that they cannot
so much as dream of being anywhere else. So that, methinks, those kind
expressions of Almighty God, by His prophets, to His chosen people, may
be fitly applied to the unhappy and yet happy condition of these holy
souls. 'Rejoice, my people,' says the loving God; 'for I swear unto you
by Myself, that when you shall pass through flames of fire, they shall
not hurt you: I shall be there with you; I shall take off the edge, and
blunt the points, of those piercing flames. I will raise the bright
Aurora in your darkness; and the darkness of your nights shall outshine
the midday. I will pour out My peace into the midst of your hearts, and
replenish your souls with the bright shining lights of heaven. You
shall be as a paradise of delights, bedewed with a living fountain of
heavenly waters. You shall rejoice in your Creator, and I will raise
you above the height of mountains, and nourish you with manna and the
sweet inheritance of Jacob; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it:
and it cannot fail, but shall be sure to fall out so, because He hath
spoken it'" (Pp. 61, 62).

* * * * *

But let not this discourse cool your charity; lest, seeing the souls
enjoy so much comfort in Purgatory, your compassion for them grow
slack, and so continue not equal to their desert. Remember, then, that
notwithstanding all these comforts here rehearsed, the poor creatures
cease not to be grievously tormented; and consequently have extreme
need of all your favorable assistance and pious endeavors. When Christ
Jesus was in His bitter agony, sweating blood and water, the superior
part of His soul enjoyed God and His glory, and yet His body was so
oppressed with sorrow, that He was ready to die, and was content to be
comforted by an Angel. In like manner, these holy souls have indeed
great joys; but feel withal such bitter torments, that they stand in
great need of our help. So that you will much wrong them, and me, too,
to stand musing so long upon their joys, as not to afford them succor.
(P. 80.)

* * * * *

In the history of the incomparable order of the great St. Dominic, it
is authentically related that one of the first of those holy, religious
men was wont to say, that he found himself not so much concerned to
pray for the souls in Purgatory, because they are certain of their
salvation; and that, upon this account, we ought not, in his judgment,
to be very solicitous for them, but ought rather to bend our whole care
to help sinner, to convert the wicked, and to secure such souls as are
uncertain of their salvation, and probably certain of their damnation,
as leading very evil lives. Here it is, said he, that I willingly



Online LibraryMrs. James SadlierPurgatory → online text (page 5 of 35)