St. Robert Bellarmine’s treatise, De Purgatorio will soon be available for the first time in English translation. Translated from his famous Controversies, On Purgaotry is divided into two books. The first proves Purgatory exists while the treats on the circumstances of Purgatory, namely who goes there, why, how long? Where is it, etc.
In his characteristic style, Bellarmine takes the argument first to the scriptures, offering exegesis from the Old and New Testaments on passages which prove Purgatory exists, then showing a consensus of the Fathers in commenting on the same verse. Then, he looks to the general teachings of the Fathers on the need for the souls of those with venial sin or temporal punishment to be cleansed after death and then how it is witnessed by Councils. Lastly, he examines later authors and refutes not only the errors of Protestants on this doctrine, but also errors among certain Catholic theologians.
We provide here a sample from the work:
Book II, CHAPTER V
Objections made from the prayers of the Church are answered
SOME object, firstly, with certain testimonies of the Scriptures which the Church uses in the office of the dead. She desires to pray for souls that abide in Purgatory from Psalm 6:3, “My soul is exceedingly disturbed.” And in the same place, verse 2: “Cleanse my soul, because my bones have been crushed.” And Psalm 114 (115):3, “The sorrows of death surrounded me, and the dangers of hell found me.” Certainly, things such as disturbance and anxiety cannot be born from punishments alone, but from uncertainty and fear of eternal damnation. If those souls were perfect in charity, and were certain of their salvation, they would not be so afraid, seeing that it is written: “The just man will not be sorrowful, whatever happens to him” (Proverbs 12:21).
I respond: It is foolish to understand what the Church uses from some Psalm in the office for the dead as being applied literally in all its parts to the dead; for how would we understand verses of the same Psalm 6:6 to be about the dead: “I will wash my bed every night, I will water my sheets with my tears”? Therefore, the Church usually reads the whole of some passage of Scripture on account of one or another teaching which bears on the present matter, even if the greater part of that passage does not bear on it. It is thus in the dedication of a Church, where the Gospel about Zachaeus is read, only for the reason that the last words, “Today salvation has entered this house,” are suited in some mode to the dedication and consecration of a Church. In like manner, in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, the Church reads the Gospel of Martha and the Magdalene on account of these words: “Mary has chosen the best part, and it will not be taken from her.” And so (that I might omit many others) in the office of the dead on account of the words, “Have mercy on me O Lord, because I am weak.” (Psalm 6:2). And on account of that of Psalm 114 (115):9, “I will please the Lord in the land of the living.” These whole psalms are read.
Add that what is assumed in the argument is also false, that disturbance and sadness are not born from suffering but from uncertainty or despair of salvation; for the Lord himself (John 12:27) says in his regard: “Now my soul is troubled,” and in Matthew 26:37, he began to be sad and wept, and still neither uncertainty nor desperation could fall upon the Lord. But the passage of Proverbs ought not be received on any sadness you like, but on the sadness with dejection and despair, which causes death, which St. Paul calls the sadness of this age (2 Corinthians 7:10).
The second objection is taken form that prayer which is recited after the Gospel in the Mass for the dead: “O Lord, free the souls of all the faithful departed from the punishments of hell and from the deep lake; free them from the mouth of the lion lest the underworld would absorb them, lest they fall into obscurity, etc.”
Some respond that the Church prays for those who are in agony so that they will not be damned to hell. But this is opposed to the part that says: Free the souls of all the faithful departed, for they are not said to be in agony. Then, the use of the Church has that this prayer is said even on the anniversaries of the dead for those souls who had died many years ago. Others say this prayer is poured forth for those who are in hell, whom, it turns out, are freed later, as is related about Trajan. But that I might omit how improbable that history of Trajan is, those who are in hell have already fallen into obscurity and also were absorbed into the underworld. Therefore, what does the Church pray for, when she asks lest they fall into darkness or be absorbed into the underworld? Next, the Church only prays for the faithful: “Free the souls of the faithful departed.” But they are not faithful who are damned to hell.
Therefore there are to other answers that can be given. One is that the Church prays for the souls of those who abide in Purgatory so that they will not be condemned to the eternal punishment of hell, though not because it is uncertain that they are not going to be damned to those punishments, but because God wants us to pray also for those things which we will receive for certain.
But one can object against this response that even if the Church sometimes prays for those things which there is not reception for certain, nevertheless it does not pray for those things which it has already received; hence it has already received lest these souls would be damned since they have a certain sentence and are most secure. Next, the mind of the faithful, who pray for the dead, or desire it to be prayed, is certainly related by the fact that they help those souls and obtain for them relief from the present punishments of Purgatory.
But these objections are easily dealt with, for even if the souls of Purgatory had already received the first sentence in the particular judgment, and were freed from hell by that sentence, still the general judgment, wherein they are going to receive the second sentence, remains. In this regard, the Church, prays lest in the final judgment those souls would fall into obscurity or be absorbed into the underworld. It does not pray for that which the soul received but for that which it is going to receive.
But to that from the intention of the faithful, I respond that it would be enough for that intention, for in that prayer both things are asked, namely that the souls be freed from the punishments of hell, i.e. Purgatory, which are suffered at the present, and later that they would be freed from the sentence of damnation imposed in the last judgment.
There is another answer, that the Church truly prays insofar as to her intention, that souls be freed from the punishments of Purgatory, nevertheless she uses that mode of speaking as if the souls just left the body as if their eternal salvation were in danger, because it calls to mind and represents the day of deposition, or death, as in the celebration of feasts of the Incarnation, Nativity, Apparition, of the Passion and Resurrection, the Ascension of the Lord the Church so prays, and if then Christ ought either to be incarnated or born, etc., because it represents these mysteries, as present realities, still she does not intend to pray literally for this, say that the Word would become flesh, or born from a Virgin, etc., but so that the fruit of these mysteries would be applied to us; so also in the sacrifice for the dead, because the day of their death is commemorated, the Church so prays for them as if then they had died; and still intends to pray so that they would be freed from hell in the mode in which they can be freed; i.e., that they would not be detained any longer in those punishments, or that some rest would be mixed with sorrows. Then, how is it not absurd, that now after 1500 years to say for the Lord’s arrival; “Rorate caeli de super, et nubes pluant justum; aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem,” and many other kinds of things, so that it is not absurd to say for the dead, “free them from the mouth of the lion, lest they fall into oblivion,” etc.
On Purgatory will be available in a few weeks. You will be notified as soon as it ships.