Purgatory: History, Textual Basis, and Theological Merit, Pt. 3

Following Augustine, the next major figure in the development of the doctrine of purgatory is St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas’ teaching key roles in the development of the concept of purgatory in two ways. First, his view of justification (the concept of progressive justification based off his understanding of the Latin term iustificare and appropriation of Aristotelian physics to it), and second, Aquinas developed what may be the most complete and explicit doctrine of purgatory in the church prior to the council of Florence or the council of Trent. Aquinas understood justification as a cause and effect process, one which involved motion either towards sanctification and therefore towards God or away from God. For Aquinas, justification was not a once and for all piece of the salvific puzzle, but was instead much more of a journey. For those who only committed venial sins and regularly received the sacraments, the journey was shorter and easier (although still not devoid of purgatorial cleansing), while for those who perhaps committed mortal sins but received the second plank for shipwrecked souls through works of penance, the process was much longer and more arduous. Given that Aquinas believed justification involved being made righteous through a process rather than through the once for all covering of Christ, it is understandable that he would necessarily have to develop a doctrine of purgatory, lest nearly all men end up in eternal damnation because they failed to achieve moral perfection prior to their death.

Aquinas’ work is also key to understanding the doctrine of purgatory not only as the medieval precursor to Roman Catholic teaching prior to and following the reformation, but also because it is the single most detailed teaching on purgatory that came from anywhere outside of a council of the church. While other theologians in history at least had a concept of a temporary place of (painful) punishment and cleansing, they rarely offered any more detail than that. Aquinas has two significant articles in his Summa Theologica on the topic, and we can see that they are truly the ground of future developments of the doctrine of purgatory. Aquinas explains the necessity of purgatory:

For if the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life.

 

From Aquinas we gather a full understanding of Roman Catholic teaching on the necessity of purgatory. The council of Trent lacks substantial teaching in relation to the theology of purgatory, but instead defers to the doctrine “transmitted by the holy Fathers and sacred councils” as both the source and the ultimate authority on the subject. Whether this refers particularly towards the patristic fathers or not is not entirely clear, but based off what limited teaching on this doctrine we find in their works, it is fair to infer that they are referring primarily to the teachings of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine. The teaching of Aquinas, Augustine, and subsequently the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church is that the demands of justice require sinners to be truly made righteous before God before they are able to enter into paradise. Interestingly enough, the contrition of the sinner and the absolution that they receive is somehow not sufficient to justify the person and make them righteous. Why Aquinas and other Roman Catholic theologians do not consider this absolution to be a sufficient cause to make the sinner righteous is difficult to grasp. It is understood in Aquinas’ theology that the sacraments, as an infusion of grace are an efficient cause towards justification and ultimately eternal life, but the fact that (based off his doctrine of purgatory) the work of Christ and additional sacraments which have been added on are insufficient to immediately merit salvation is tough to reasonably understand.

Aquinas may not have been the first to speak of purgatory as something similar to hell with a time limit, but he was among the first to explicitly teach that the cleansing which happens in purgatory is through fire. Aquinas is even willing to allow for the possibility that purgatory and hell may be the same place, but simply used for different purposes (affliction versus cleansing) and occupied by people in different states (those who are bound eternally to hell, versus those who have received some measure of grace through baptism and the sacraments). What is surprising however is that subsequent Roman Catholic councils dealing with this doctrine did not defer to Aquinas’ traditional teaching in this area, but instead determined not to teach beyond the conciliar definitions of the church. We can clearly see that the teachings of Aquinas on purgatory were both highly influential on the Roman Catholic Church’s development of the doctrine, and simultaneously beyond the bounds of that which Rome was willing to teach on the subject as they made clear at Florence and Trent. Whether or not Rome accepted all the teachings of Aquinas in this area, it remains clear that (with the possible exception of Augustine, although it is close) St. Aquinas had the most substantial influence on the doctrine of purgatory of any theologian in the history of the church.

For part one in this series, click here. For part two, click here.

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Purgatory: History, Textual Basis, and Theological Merit, Pt. 2

Picking up from last week’s post on the origins of the doctrine of purgatory, the next (and perhaps easiest to point to as the father of the actual doctrine) great developer of the doctrine of purgatory was St. Augustine. Although this doctrine was by no means central to Augustine or his work, there are portions of his writings which lead us to understand how he affected and changed the church’s understanding of this doctrine. Augustine was truly the first to introduce the term purgatory to the lexicon of the church. His initial introduction of the concept of the effectiveness of prayers for the dead came in a written prayer following the death of his mother, Monica, but this was not so much a piece of doctrine as it was his emotive response to such a heart wrenching loss. Nonetheless, Augustine’s doctrine of purgatory continued to take shape even after and outside this event. In 419 A.D., we find St. Augustine’s most explicit quote on the subject here:

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment.

 

This quote may not give the entirety or the exact wording of the doctrine of purgatory as laid out in later Roman Catholic dogma, but it comes as close as any church father ever did. We also find, laced throughout his understanding the idea that prayers may be given on behalf of the dead, in order to effect their salvation. While it’s not entirely clear how long after death these prayers may remain effectual in St. Augustine’s thought, we certainly do know that this concept was a part of his understanding of life after death and personal eschatology. Augustine was very clear that those who could offer up prayers on behalf of the deceased were a select few (particularly members of the institutional clergy of the church), which, while it may not have been offered by Rome as explanation for their selling of indulgences, would certainly provide an explanation or grounding for the concept in later Roman theology.

Augustine also spent some time in his writings against the Manichaeans explaining the difference between the fires of purgation and the fires of damnation. Augustine’s views did take some time to develop but (as we’ve seen in the above quote) eventually blossomed into a fuller doctrine of purgation. These changes began to take shape in the year 413 and following, when Augustine began to espouse the idea that harsh punishments waited for those who died in grace but without yet having reached a state of perfection. These punishments were not sadistic, but were rather disciplinary in Augustine’s view, that is, they served to teach and purify sinners, as a father teaches and chastises his children whom he loves. This view is substantially more developed (and stands in sharp contrast to) the earlier views of Origen in relation to purgation and damnation. While Origen seemed to believe that even the worst of sinners could ultimately be made righteous through time after death, Augustine’s view is one in which only those who have previously been granted new life by grace may eventually reach paradise after a time of purification. What is interesting, however, is that Augustine’s cleansing fire is not all necessarily situated between death and the final judgement. He isn’t entirely clear on the subject, but there seems to be a thread throughout his work not only of the concept of purgation, but also that some (or perhaps in some cases all) of this purification may come in the form of tribulation in the present life.

It is also clear in the writings of Augustine that he believes in actual places for those in the intermediate state. For those who have already been made righteous, they rest in the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16). For those must still make penance for their sins or crimes, they remain in Gehenna. Augustine was also influential in his views of suffrage for the dead, in that his beliefs that alms and the practice of the eucharist could aid those in purgatory helped in the establishment of the great multiplication of masses for the dead as was practiced in Rome, particularly in the medieval period prior to the reformation. The suffrages practiced for the dead were effectual, in Augustine’s thought, but only for those who had previously received salvific grace. Ultimately we see in Augustine’s doctrine of purgatory that this purification applies to a select few sinners, that it is painful for them, and that it is a sort of temporary hell reserved for the impure within the church, which is the groundwork for the full development of purgatorial theology in later Rome.

This post is the second part of a seven part series. To read part one, click here.

How To Survive Finals Week At Reformation Bible College

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As I prepare to graduate from RBC in a couple of months, I’m looking back on my time at school, and thinking about all the things that I’ve learned and all the good times that I’ve had here. In this process I brought to mind some of the more practical things I’ve learned, including how to handle exam preparations and exams week at the end of each semester. I thought it might be wise to share this information with others for the sake of the rest of RBC’s student body, as well as any future or potential incoming freshmen.

1. Before reading week even begins, resign yourself to the fact that you will not end the semester with a 4.0. Temper those expectations early.

2. Take regular breaks during exam prep to stretch, drink some water, and cry in fear of your upcoming exams.

3. Take regular breaks during your exams to cry now that you realize your fears were correct and are coming to full fruition.

4. If you have an exam in one of the languages, just quit now. Just leave. Go build a hut on an island somewhere and live off of the island vegetation while enjoying your already translated ESV. It’s for your own good.

5. As you prepare for one of Dr. Dunson’s New Testament exams, take heart. Nobody can really remember all the information he’s asked you to memorize, and maybe he’ll forget it too while he grades your exam. Probably not, but it’s your only chance, really.

6. When you take Dr. Sproul’s philosophy exams, make Arrested Development references in your essays. They might distract him from how little you actually know.

7. When you hand in one of Dr. Denlinger’s exams back to him, the stack of paper will probably be taller than he is. That’s okay, he expects it to be that way.

These seven tips will help any student to get through the difficult and nearly impossible week that is exams week at Reformation Bible College. If you can think of any other good ones, feel free to leave them in the comments section and we can add them to the list.

 

Purgatory: History, Textual Basis, and Theological Merit, Pt. 1

**Author’s note: This is the first post in a seven part series on the doctrine of purgatory. This series was originally one single paper, but for the sake of ease of reading I am breaking it up into seven smaller chunks to be published one per week each Wednesday**

 

Soteriology and eschatology are two areas of systematic theology which are inextricably bound together. Without a developed understanding of soteriology, one has little hope of developing any sort of eschatology. Without a developed eschatology, one has a limited understanding of the purpose and end of salvation. Thus, the subject of the intermediate state is an important part of both of these studies. In the historic Christian faith, most of the focus on this area has been spent on understanding the various aspects of heaven and hell. However, Roman Catholic teaching adds two additional layers to this study, with the subjects of limbo (both limbus patrum and limbus infantum) and purgatory. Unfortunately this series will not have sufficient space to offer a proper treatment of the subject of limbo, but it will be instead primarily focused on the doctrine of purgatory, particularly its origins and development, as well as taking some time to examine arguments for and against this dogma of the Roman Catholic church.

The doctrine (as we will see) has some rather sketchy origins, shaky evidence in favor of it, and an overwhelming amount of biblical backing against it. However, it is a substantial enough part of (very broadly speaking) Christian theology today, that it still must necessarily be reckoned with. While the doctrine of purgatory remains a substantial part of the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church (both in relation to soteriology and eschatology), it is not a doctrine that we will find in scripture, nor in the historic traditions (that is, the traditions which remain true to the testament of scripture) of the Christian church. In our study of this subject, we will find that the historical teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the subject of the intermediate state, and particularly purgatory stands in stark opposition to the plain teachings of scripture and the gospel, all the while downplaying the significance of the atoning work of Christ.

The exact origins of the doctrine of purgatory are, unfortunately, somewhat dubious. There are some vague references to some sort of temporal punishment or purification in the intermediate state made by Tertullian in his works The Soul and Monagomy but these are not substantial enough to assure us that this doctrine originated with him. There are some other vague references to punishment after death which do not necessarily speak of purgatory in the works of St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, but none of these are substantial enough to confirm the origins of the doctrine with them either. The most likely fathers of this doctrine are Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Origen’s conception of purgatory and hell are closely associated, given that he believed every sinner, no matter how wicked, could ultimately be sufficiently purified in the afterlife to enter into the rewards of heaven. Origen’s purgatory (and if his theology on hell and salvation were drawn to their logical conclusions) was ultimately hell with a time limit, whereby the sinner would be purified both from his association with his sinful body, and any sinfulness remaining in his soul. Clement’s purgatory is somewhat less heretical, although still problematic, in that he believed that all sinners who die in repentance but have not had the opportunity to do sufficient penance for their sins in this life would spend time being purified through post-mortem works of penance and reception of correction. Both the ideas of Clement and Origen may provide a root or source for the doctrine of purgatory, as well as a rough outline of the process of purification after death, but they do not fully present purgatory as it is understood both in modernity, and at the time in which it was made dogma at the council of Florence.

In the next post in this series, I will examine Augustine’s contribution to the doctrine of purgatory.

Busting Myths: Will Universal Basic Income Help Everyone?

 

The idea of adopting a universal basic income has become progressively more popular over the last few years. The idea is utterly simple (though models vary): Have the government send every adult citizen a check for a pre-set amount each month. The stated goal of adopting a universal basic income is to eliminate poverty, the assumption being that if the government sends every adult $10,000/year that everyone who was formerly made total yearly earnings below the poverty line would now be above it. While this system seems like it would be beneficial in theory, it would be an unmitigated disaster, like any other wealth redistribution system.

While a universal basic income program sounds to be both helpful and humanitarian on its face, it would lead to serious problems, first and foremost because it would disincentivize labor. Some view this as a good thing, holding that it will both allow for people to survive as jobs are phased out by technological advancements, and also that it will allow more entrepreneurial types to take bigger risks thanks to this assured basic income. This thinking has two major flaws: Firstly, jobs are not eliminated by technology, but instead the needs for labor are simply changed by new technology. When the automobile first began to be produced, the market demand for buggy repair certainly fell, but no market opportunities were eliminated, instead new demand arose for both the production and maintenance of automobiles. This has been the same throughout history, and always will be, technological advances do not harm the market, they simply change it (and often allow for greater productivity, and higher standards of living). Second, the money required to fund such a program which could have been used to invest in entrepreneurial endeavors will have been funneled out of the market and redistributed in such a way as to limit the investment capital available to reward good ideas. Good ideas are wonderful, but they require capital (in the form of labor, time, and currency) to be brought to fruition no matter how good they may be.

Proponents of the universal basic income argue that not only would it allow for more entrepreneurial endeavors, but that it would also eliminate poverty altogether. The idea goes like this: “The poverty line is $11,000. If we give everyone a total of $11,001.00 each year, nobody will live below the poverty line anymore.” This argument, either ignorantly or intentionally, ignores the fact that whether or not someone is wealthy or poor is always relative. There’s a joke about an economist who was asked “How’s your wife?”. He responded “Compared to what?. It’s a silly, terrible pun, but it gets the point across. The people with the smallest income in any given economy will always have a hard time, and raising the floor of the economy artificially by giving everyone a check doesn’t bring anyone out of poverty, it simply adds a few zeroes to everyone’s income.

Raising the floor of an economy doesn’t lead to greater wealth, either in the short-term or the long-term, it simply puts more people at floor level. The laws of supply and demand still rule supreme over economics, so when you add a few thousand dollars to everyone’s income, prices for goods and services will rise in response, since demand will either remain steady or even rise while supply remains the same. Economic improvement is always a product of raising the ceiling of the economy, rather than raising the floor. Prosperity is caused by advances in production, and through those advances raising the total supply of a given good or service relative to the demand, making it more readily available to everyone. Just as you can’t make a blanket longer by cutting a chunk off one end and sewing it onto the other, you can’t make everyone wealthier simply by ensuring they all receive the same minimum amount.

Another argument goes that a universal basic income program would “pay for itself”, which is  plainly silly.  The claim is that if a universal basic income were put in place, that every other government welfare program could be eliminated because people would no longer need or want them. As has been shown earlier though, universal basic income would not provide the kind of prosperity to ensure nobody would rely on other government programs. On top of that issue, it would cost at least $2 trillion to give each working age adult in America a basic income that would put them over the current poverty line. Governments do not have anything which they did not first take, and thus any government program must be funded by plundered wealth. This is both ineffective and immoral. It is inefficient because it interferes with the regular forces of the market and private charity by adding in an additional layer of government bureaucracy, an unnecessary and unhelpful middle man. It is immoral because it violates the property rights of individuals. The right to life is the most basic of all human rights, but the right to use and dispose of one’s property in any manner he sees fit is the necessary corollary to that right, and without this right it becomes impossible to sustain one’s life. Though a universal basic income may have a good end in mind (eliminating poverty) to achieve that end through immoral means is thoroughly unacceptable.

The universal basic income is a nice idea in theory, but if applied in the real world, it would be a complete and utter failure. Universal basic income would disincentivize labor across the board by eliminating a certain portion of the felt need to work for everyone. It would do nothing to eliminate poverty because it would only raise the floor of the economy rather than raising the ceiling, and it would need to be funded through immoral means, depriving people of the rights to use their property however they may see fit. Though this program sounds to be helpful on its face, when examined further we find that it lacks the ability to accomplish what it sets out to do, and does so in a less than desirable way. The only way for prosperity to be advanced for everyone  is through the means of free trade, which motivates inventiveness, labor, and service for one another. Attempts to get around this simple fact will come and go, and take many different forms, but ultimately universal basic income will fail like all the rest if it is implemented.

 

Busting Myths: Do Women Earn 23% Less Than Men For The Same Work?

Recently at the 2015 Oscars, Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech for best supporting actress to explain the need for “wage equality” for women. She based her speech off the entirely too often quoted statistic that women earn 77% as much as men for the same work. There’s a funny thing about statistics though, if you remove all the variables and qualifying information, you can make them say anything you want, even something that is patently false.

There are a wide variety of factors contributing to the perceived gap in pay between men and women, and it would be worthwhile to look at a few. The first one has to do with occupational choice. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:

“Men are more likely to be lawyers, doctors and business executives, while women are more likely to be teachers, nurses and office clerks. This gender occupational segregation might be a primary factor behind the [gender] wage gap.”

While there’s nothing wrong with being a teacher, a nurse, or an office clerk (in fact these jobs are good, important, and helpful), the simple fact is that there are a great deal many more people qualified to work as a nurse or a school teacher than there are qualified to work as a doctor, a lawyer, or a high level executive. Given the higher demand relative to the available supply for these jobs, they tend to pay higher wages.

Another major factor contributing to the perceived gap in pay between men and women is the choices made by men and women when it comes to the option of payment either in cash, or in cash plus non-cash benefits. Research shows that women prefer a higher percentage of their compensation in non-cash benefits (like health insurance, paid parental-leave, etc.), which the people railing against a perceived gender wage gap totally ignore. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis explains:

“Some researchers believe that it is not enough to compare wages of similar men and women. They argue that total compensation (wages together with benefits) must be compared. Women of child-bearing age may prefer jobs with a lower wage but with employer-paid parental leave, sick leave and child care to jobs with a higher wage but without such benefits… Economists Eric Solberg and Teresa Laughlin applied an index of total compensation, which accounts for both wages and benefits, to analyze how these benefits would affect the gender gap. They found a gender gap in wages of approximately 13 percent. But when they considered total compensation, the gender gap dropped to 3.6 percent.”

From this we can gather that any measure of earnings that excludes fringe and other non-cash benefits will produce misleading results as to the existence of any sort of wage gap caused by gender discrimination.

So, we can see that two major factors in compensation are occupational choice and qualification, and additionally the choice in type of compensation. Another major factor in total compensation, (even in cases where men and women work in the same general occupation) is the total number of hours worked. For any variety of reasons, women tend to prefer more flexible hours, and tend to work shorter hours than men. Flexible hours are a wonderful thing, however they do come at an economic cost, since hours of work in most occupations will be more valuable to the employer if they are worked on a more consistent and linear basis. A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush to most people, and so one can expect a higher rate of compensation if they are able to offer more labor, and more importantly, more consistent labor.

Ultimately the complaints of those rest not in economic statistics or an understanding of supply and demand, but rather in (whether consciously or not) Karl Marx’s labor theory of value. This heterodox theory has bled into the discussion of wages far too much, when the discussion should instead be focused on human choice. We all want what we want, when we want it. We all want to get what we want at the lowest cost possible for us, and we all make choices based off of our desires. Because of this truth, economic value is always ultimately subjective and dependent on personal preference of individuals. The economic value of work is always subjective, and dependent on a complex series of decisions of a larger mass of individuals, making it clear that myths such as “women earn 77% of the money men do for the same work” are silly, and not based in any honest economic analysis.

Once variables such as hours worked, occupational choice, and varying types of compensation are accounted for, there is no discernible gap in the wages which men and women earn for similar work. The difference in overall wages earned between men and women reflects a different series of choices and preferences when looking at each sex more broadly, and there is nothing wrong with people making these choices free of coercion. However, there is something very wrong with presenting half-truths and lies about complex economic issues, and there is something far worse in asking the state to fix the perceived problem with the use of violence. Trade is about using your given set of skills to improve your own station along with the station of others by means of free exchange, and when the state interferes, it ends up harming everyone, men and women alike.