IS IT GOD'S WORD?

CHAPTER 18

REVELATIONS OF THE HEREAFTER

HEAVEN, HELL, AND PURGATORY

SEGMENTS:

R R REVELATIONS OF THE HEREAFTER R R WHAT HEAVEN IS AND WHERE R R SO THIS IS HELL R R CAPTIVITY CAPTIVE

R R A DAMNED PLACE IS HELL R R PURGATORY -- AND PAY R R RETURN TO THE INDEX OF CHAPTERS

 

IN the twentieth century after the traditional advent of the Son of Yahveh on earth, the religion which is built around that event persists in a congeries of primitive cosmological notions, which modern knowledge has made totally obsolete. The Hebrew, and ancient primitive, notions of the architectural scheme of their very limited universe were intimately related to, and an integral part of, their scheme of theology and of eschatology, or after-life affairs as they conceived them. Their notions of God, of heaven, of hell, and of after-life, were adapted, and were adaptable only, to the narrow limits of the universe as imagined by the ancient theologians. And present-day Christian theology adopts wholly and wholly rests upon the ancient Hebrew revelation of earth and heaven and hell -- with fire later kindled in the last.

According to this ancient Hebrew revelation, the earth is flat and four-cornered; the sun moves around it as a center, and on occasion can be made to stand still in its course. No great distance above the flat surface of the earth is a solid arched "firmament," in which the sun, moon, and stars are somehow set and on which they move. Just within this firmament, which is a solid something which "divides the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament" (Gen. 1: 7 ), is heaven, where Yahveh and angels, seraphim, the "sons of the gods," and others of the "heavenly hosts" have their abode.

This heaven is so close to the earth that men could propose and attempt to build a tower which should reach into it and enable them to scale up to the gods; so close that a ladder resting on the earth actually reached into the heaven, and angels passed to and fro on it. Yahveh and his messengers can easily and quickly pass back and forth between earth and heaven; the "sons of the gods" can come to earth among the daughters of men. The voice of Yahveh can easily be heard when he cries from heaven, and from heaven he can hurl stones and thunder-bolts when he fights, like Jove, in the battles of his chosen warriors. The Spirit of Yahveh can flit dove- like from heaven to earth to accredit the Son of Yahveh to men. The living bodies of Enoch and Elijah can be "translated" into heaven, the latter in a chariot and horses of fire, before human eyes; the flesh-clothed shades of Elijah and Moses can swoop down upon the Mount of Transfiguration and back again like flashes of lightning, The human eye in ecstasy can see into heaven and behold Yahveh seated on his throne. Dives in hell can look up into heaven and see Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham and hold converse with him. Satan, King of Hell, was wont to pass readily to heaven to hold Yahveh in challenging argument and defiance and to plot evil to Job. Under the "new dispensation," the souls of the newly dead found instant lodgment in heaven or hell, according to the deeds done in the flesh.

WHAT HEAVEN IS AND WHERE

"In the beginning Elohim [gods] created the heaven and the earth," reads the ancient Hebrew revelation, and "made the firmament, and called the firmament Heaven" (Gen. 1: 7, 8 ).

About the same time, perhaps, Marduk, Babylonian sky-god and creator of heaven and earth, forged the immense dome of heaven out of the hardest metal, resting it upon a wall surrounding the earth. For the Egyptians, the heavens were an arched iron ceiling from which the stars were suspended by cables. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, the sky-father (Zeus-pater, Jupiter) had set up a great vault of crystal, to which the fixed stars were attached, the sun and planets being suspended movably by brazen chains. Olympus's high head pierced the visible sky, and on its lofty summit awful Zeus held his court. The Romans called the vaulted ceiling or covering of the earth coelum.

How do the heathen rage and the peoples imagine vain things! Fatuous notions these, of childish heathen cosmogony, of pagan superstition. Only the Hebrews in their hoary Holy Writ had the true revelation of creation by their true God (s); they only, inspired by their Yahveh, truly knew what or where heaven is, for their Yahveh himself wrought it, as is revealed: "I am Yahveh that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself" (Isa. 44: 24 ). Heaven, Job says, "is strong, and as of molten brass" (Job 37: 18 ).

This was the heaven of the Hebrew: in his consonantal language SHM, "to be high"; in Anglo-Saxon heofon, "heaved, lifted up." "And Elohim called the firmament Heaven"; a solid something which was fixed "in the midst of the waters, to divide the waters from the waters" (Gen. 1: 6 ) -- thus a sort of great vaulted bulkhead or retaining-wall for the vast celestial reservoir above, through which the upper waters poured in Noah's deluge when "the windows of heaven were opened" (Gen. 7: 11 ). The firmament (RQY) of Hebrew revelation is something" beaten or hammered out," something "made firm or solid -- hence firmamentum" in the Vulgate. How strangely alike the pagan fables and inspired revelation! The revealed Hebrew-Christian heaven so closely girded the four-cornered flat Bible earth that, as Amos says, living people might "climb up to heaven" (Amos 9: 2 ). And it is common knowledge that the departed soul "in the twinkling of an eye" flashes from earth to its home in heaven, so near is heaven to us, according to Paul.

But profane human knowledge points otherwise. By processes wonderful as they are precise, the primitive heaven of Hebrew revelation has been pushed back beyond the tiptop of Jacob's dreamed ladder and the storied snow-capped peaks of Olympus, and has been translated so far into fathomless sidereal space that the journeyman departed soul needs much more time to reach it.

Delicate instruments devised by the genius of man, and the divine powers of trigonometry, while not yet attaining the exact triangulation of heaven, have amazingly shown where heaven is not. The unwritten revelations of the real Creator God through astronomy have made manifest for our wonder and reverence the far-flung extent of his universe; the Sun at 93,000,000 miles from its tiny planet earth; Neptune, most distant of his planets, 2,793,000,000 miles farther into space; the nearest of the fixed stars, which "God set in the firmament," 20,000,000,000,000 miles from the base of Jacob's ladder on earth.

Not to pause at other stars which have yielded the secret of their distance to the eye of science, we plunge in thought upward and onward to "star clusters," so thick-studded and so far away that their separate bodies are mingled to the sight of the most powerful sidereal telescope so as to be in appearance almost as identical and inseparable as are in dogma the ineffable Persons in the mystery of the Three-in-One Godhead, Yahveh, Logos, and Paraclete Bel, On, and Hea; Osiris, Isis, and Horus; or Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu -- one has a liberal choice of trinities. And there is revealed, on the very frontiers of the fathomed universe a truly divine revelation -- the star cluster, known only by its number, N.G.C. 6822, which lies in profound depths of space so far distant that the blaze of light from it reaches this mundane sphere only after a flight through space of 1,000,000 years! (Int. Encyc. Year Book, 1924, p. 66 ). Those true prophets of the God Creator, astronomers, measure sidereal distances not by miles or leagues but by "light years," or units of the distance in miles that light travels through space in a year of time; and 1,000,000 such light years measure the stupendous distance from earth to somewhere this side of heaven where star group N.G.C. 6822 answered the divine flat: "Let there be light," and burst into glorious being.

But we have not yet defined this stretch of space heavenward; we will at least resolve it into its arithmetical elements. Light flashes through space at the dizzy speed of about 186,280 miles in one second of time. In one year there are 31,557,600 seconds. Thus one light year is equal to 5,879,180,880,000, or approximately six trillions, of miles of travel per year. This number of miles multiplied by the 1,000,000 years the light of this star group requires to reach our eyes gives us a number that no man can apprehend and only the mind of God can comprehend -- 5,879,180,880,000,000,000 miles! And heaven -- since we can see with uninterrupted, though telescopic, sight up to that star cluster -- is somewhere beyond, with its myriads of mansions, its jasper walls, its golden streets and pearly gates, its wondrous River of Life which flows by the throne of Yahveh; otherwise it would intercept and shut off the blaze of light from the star group N.G.C. 6822.

Nowhere by inspiration is the speed of a soul in flight revealed to man, or the time it takes to flit "from earth to heaven's immortal day." A near-revelation is near-made in one well- known scripture passage, when about the sixth hour of a memorable day One Crucified is reported as saying to one of his companions in passion: "Verily, this day shalt thou be with me in paradise." It was not until the ninth hour that that immortal Spirit gave up the ghost, leaving only three hours of the day remaining for the journey to paradise; so that this remark may be interpreted as a suggestion of very rapid ascent to the kingdom of heaven. But the data are too meagre to allow of exact computations, such as we are able to make in the calculations just submitted.

Inspiration and science have here yet another point of friendly contact, in their processes. "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God" (John 4: 1 ) is the thumb-rule of revelation. Science, applying this same principle to test its own revelations, tries out every possible hypothesis before it puts the seal of infallibility upon its really heavenly dogmas. So until it is revealed or otherwise satisfactorily shown that a departed soul has, as it were, a muzzle velocity on leaving the body and a constantly maintained flight through space far excelling the speed of light and quite equal to that of thought, our conclusions from irrefragable figures that three hours are too narrow a margin of time for a soul to span the gap from earth to heaven stand on at least as firm a foundation of truth as that of the revelation of the efficacy of priestly prayers -- at so much per -- for the relief and ultimate release of the souls in purgatory.

Scientific methods of research for truth, as well as certain precepts of inspired dogma, compel us to examine the hypotheses of purgatory and hell, against the possibility that perchance, after all, the soul of the repentant thief did not, in sad reality, bend its flight heavenward, but, in virtue of sin, original or acquired or both, was barred from that kingdom of glory, and must seek its temporary or eternal habitat in one or another of the spirit realms conveniently provided for unshriven souls by inspired revelation or equally inspired tradition. Such an inquiry is demanded by scientific candor; as the problem of the destiny of the soul, when disembodied, is both quite germane to our theme and not without a curious interest of its own, the subject justifies a brief excursus on the hypotheses of these two other Christian provinces, or providence, or properties.

SO THIS IS HELL

Hell, as it comes first in time of discovery, or revelation, or invention, claims first our fearful attention. In the genial doctrine of the gospel of love, hell is the goal of the soul which dares even to doubt, which is the unpardonable sin. Here we are not vexed with scientific or mathematical speculations of time of transit. Dogma, which so admirably complements the shortcomings of revelation, has set its fatal sanction on the assured fact of instantaneous translation, and sundry other congenial incidents.

Thanks to the inspired infallible decree "Unionis" (Council of Florence; Cath. Encyc., Vol. 7: p. 208 ), we now know just when and where we arrive and what to expect upon arrival: "The souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only in original sin, go down immediately into hell." And patching out this precious piece of the sacred deposit with a scrap from the creed, we learn that it is "into everlasting fire" that we go; and once landed safely in it, "the torments of the damned shall last forever and ever," as Holy Writ of the dispensation of God's love and mercy so often reassures us for our warning.

The "sacred science of Christianity," like profane knowledge, is a progressive science, and hell has evolved with the process of the suns and of revelations. In the Babylonian "Lay of Ishtah" -- from which Hebrew revelation would seem to have cribbed this and other matters of revelation -- the underworld to which the shade of the departed, sinner and saint alike, sank after death, is described in appropriately gloomy colors. It is variously and poetically called "the pit," the "house of darkness," the "land of no return" -- metaphors strangely reminiscent of "Pluto's gloomy realm" of Homer, of the "go down to the pit," of the Psalmist, of Isaiah, and of Job; of the "bottomless pit" of the Apocalypse; of the "outer darkness" and "pits of darkness" of the evangelists; of the "land of forgetfulness" of the sweet singer of Israel (Psalm 88: 12 ); of "death, and the house appointed for all living" of the man of boils and patience (Job 30: 23 ) -- of the "borne from whence no traveller returns" of another of high inspiration.

Wherever in the old Hebrew revelation the place of dim life after death is named, its name is Sheol (the cave, dug-out); it is equivalent to and often rendered as "the grave" in English versions: "O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave [Sheol]," cries Job (14: 13 ), "until thy wrath be past"; Korah and his band "went down alive into the pit [Sheol], and the earth closed upon them" (Num. 16: 33 ); "Thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol," sings the Psalmist (Psalm 30: 3 ). It is identical in every sense with the "Hades" of pagan and Christian Greek: "Thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol," sings again in Hebrew the Psalmist (Psalm 16: 10 ) -- quoted: "Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades" (Acts 2: 27 ). Good and bad alike found there their rest after life's fitful fever; it was truly "the house appointed for all living" (Job 30: 23 ). The soul of the Psalmist we have just seen there, though his hope is that it will not remain always. "Out of the belly of Sheol cried I," wails the godly Jonah (2: 2 ). In grief for Joseph reported dead, the patriarch Jacob rent his garments and cried: "I will go down into Sheol unto my son mourning" (Gen. 37: 35 ). There in the same Sheol was the shade of the holy Samuel, conjured up to earth at King Saul's behest by the uncanny witch of En-dor (1 Sam. 28 ).

Moreover, the place and locality of the Hebrew Sheol is fixed with a precision unusual to revelation: "I shall ... set thee in the low parts of the earth, in places desolate of old, with them that go down to the pit [Sheol] (Ezek. 26: 20 ). Nor is it so far down that reasonable efforts of excavation may not lay it bare: "Though they dig into Sheol" (Amos 9: 2 ); indeed there are things and places which are "deeper than Sheol" (Job 11: 8 ). And in all this not one fleck of hell fire; not one whiff of brimstone; not even the sound of "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Luke 13: 28 )! In the Old Testament, therefore, Sheol is simply "the place desolate of old," bereft morely of the "glory set in the land of the living" (Ezek. 26: 20 ). The books of the law and the prophets, major and minor, are silent as the grave on the whole Christly-apostolic-churchly doctrine of the future reward of good and punishment of evil. Their hell is on earth, in life; the nearest approximation in Hebrew revelation to the notion of heavenly reward is death and the ensuing "sinking down into Sheol," away from the awful wrath of their jealous Yahveh.

Had the repentant thief then, by luck or in providence, lived and passed from life under the post-mortem regime of the old dispensation, his spirit would have found its lasting abode in a cheerless, maybe, but not fiery habitat, where it would have enjoyed the companionship of the shades of Adam and Eve and Noah, of the patriarchs (but not of the prophets, as we shall see, except Samuel), of Kings David and Solomon, of the Queen of Sheba, and Jezebel, and the harlot of Jericho, and other worthies, good, bad, and indifferent, of Israel; of Homer, Ulysses, Socrates, Xantippe, Sappho, of unnumbered other great and good spirits of olden times. That the worthies of Israel were there their own inspired revelation indicates; a newer revelation, not indeed of the Scriptures but of equal inspiration, vouchsafes to us the real reason for their seclusion in that house of darkness, or limbo; "in which the souls of the just who died before Christ awaited their admission to heaven; for in the meantime heaven was closed against them in punishment for the sin of Adam" (Cath. Encyc., Vol. 7: p. 207 ). This proves that there was no fire in hell prior to the new dispensation, and that purgatory was not yet discovered; for it would not have been fair to broil the just along with the unjust for four thousand years, while they waited for transfer to heaven. It also proves that Mohammed spoke the truth when he said: "God is just," as the event also proves.

If the ghost of our repentant thief had been immured in Sheol- Hades, it would undoubtedly have been an interested spectator, if not a beneficiary, of the remarkable act of justice, however tardy, rendered to these poor imprisoned spirits by the unparalleled deliverance from hell which inspiration, at first rather hazily, afterwards with the most soul-satisfying assurance, relates. To St. Paul we are indebted for the first glimmer of inspired light on this affair, in the lucid passage where he is said to say, in substance and effect, that in the three days -- or one and a half -- between the Crucifixion and the resurrection, the redeemer of mankind occupied his time in a trip to hell (Eph. 4: 10 ). This valuable information is illumined further by St. Peter, who relates that while there, the Master "preached unto the spirits in prison" (I Peter 3: 19 ). Between the two, supplemented and made intelligible by more positive revelation out of the inexhaustible sacred deposit, we have the assurance that as the result of this infernal excursion "Christ conducted to heaven the patriarchs who had been in limbo."

CAPTIVITY CAPTIVE

The inspired history of all this is deserving our profound ponderation; the logic which demonstrates it is as unique as it is faith-compelling. The great logician of the faith, St. Paul, speaking to the Ephesians, springs upon them without warning this inspired syllogism:

"But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended.)" (Eph. 4: 7-10 )

This is almost as convincing of his conclusion as the ditty-axiom:

"Whatever goes up is bound to come down, On somebody's head or on the ground."

And this sententious surplusage mixed in with the statement about "leading captivity captive," by every postulate of reason, as of faith, means that the spirits of the patriarchs and worthies which were in the captivity" of Sheol four thousand years were now led "Captive" into heaven! The wonders of inspired logic, as of grace, are beyond comprehension.

To the Ephesians, who were only new-hatched pagan-Christians, unread in the Hebrew Scriptures, the foregoing probably sounded familiarly like an Orphic oracle, and therefore worthy of all acceptation. But in the memory of one better read in the Hebrew Scriptures "captivity captive" jingles like a half-forgotten quotation, like an ill-remembered "old odd end stolen out of Holy Writ." Pricked by curiosity, let us then "search the Scriptures" for this alluring alliteration. Our reward is as great as our surprise; there is naught of "ascending on high" nor of saying anything on the ascent; but we capture the captivity, in the jubilation song of Deborah and Barak over Sisera, him against whom the "stars fought in their courses":

"Awake, awake, Deborah: Awake, awake, utter a song: Arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive!" (Judges 5: 12 )

The incident of the sermon to the spirits is revealed by equally cogent and inspired St. Peter (1 Peter 3: 17-20 ): "It is better ... that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered. ... being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water."

After this preachment, addressed clearly only to the disobedient pre-Noachians, the whole of "captivity captive" was led, like the rats by the Pied Piper, out of hell into heaven; for this truth, if not entirely deducible from the two inspired passages quoted, is vouched for by the inspired source above cited: "Christ conducted to heaven the patriarchs who had been in limbo." But how this trip to Hades during the day and a half between crucifixion and resurrection was possible does not appear, in view of the assurance of the Crucified One to the repentant thief: "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise," which shows that they "ascended" together, and did not "descend" into hell at all.

Just here we seem to strike a snag in inspiration. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob certainly were patriarchs of the patriarchs; but unfortunately they were not in Sheol to share in this patriarchal deliverance, which happened just after the Crucifixion. For some time before this event Christ himself speaks positively of "Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8: 11 ). Beggar Lazarus "died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16: 23 ). Dives in hell, "lift up his eyes, ... and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom"; and Dives cried to Father Abraham to please send Lazarus with a drop of water, "for I am tormented in this flame" (Luke 16: 24 ) -- which proves that the fire had been kindled in Hades, which was now the Christian hell. Abraham called back that there was a great gulf fixed between heaven and hell, "so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence" (16: 26 ); though evidently it was no trick for people in either place to see well into the other and talk, as if by wireless telephony, across the gulf of space. There was no thoroughfare however nor corporeal passing back and forth; which causes wonder how Christ managed to "conduct to heaven the patriarchs [except Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] who were in limbo" -- though Satan fell from heaven into hell, and often used to go back to heaven to talk with Yahveh regarding Job.

Nor were these the only absentees from the roster of patriarchs in limbo. The godly Enoch was not there, for he had been "translated" from the original Hebrew into heaven alive; nor was Elijah in hell, for he had been whirled alive in the fiery chariot right into heaven; nor was Moses, for he and Elijah appeared there to Peter and his companions on the Mount of Transfiguration. They must have come down from heaven together, not one down from heaven and the other up from hell. Moreover, "all the prophets" were on the absence-list of hell, for they were "with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob. ... in the kingdom of god" (Luke 13: 28 ).

A DAMNED PLACE IS HELL

All these wonders and this good and godly company our repentant thief must have missed. His departure from life was under the new dispensation of love and mercy, after the fires of brimstone had been kindled by Christ himself in Sheol, and, in providence, it had become the Christian hell. If, according to the hypothesis which we are examining, having missed heaven, the repentant thief's soul was doomed to the Christian hell, what a hell of a doom awaited it! We know so much about it already from the hell-reeking pages of the gospels of love, and from the blood- curdling Inferno of the "man who has been in hell" on a personally conducted tour with a good old pagan guide, there resident, and also by the glimpse of Dives "in anguish in this flame" -- that we turn away with a shudder of soul from the spectacle, and will not look for even a thief in such a damned place or "place of the damned," if that sounds less profane, as it is more scriptural and theological. And surely the gentle reader would not endure the apocalyptic vision revealing the genial repentant soul among poor sinners (either of original or of mortal sin), who are there "tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb," who all look on complacent while "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night" from the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God (Rev. 14: 10, 11 ). This is the inspired revelation of the God of all love.

What a horrid caricature of the Christian Yahveh's mercy is that of the abominable Koran of the infidel, with its crude brutal bullying fate of the unbeliever: "Verily, those who disbelieve our signs, we will surely cast to be broiled in hell fire; so often as their skins shall be well burned, we will give them other skins in exchange, that they may taste the sharper torment; for Allah is mighty and wise" (Sutra iv)! Oh, the holy mercies of the Christian faith, wherein no such fiendish skin-grafting is practiced for our greater torment! Turning away in holy horror and godly fear from such a hell, we would fervently utter in spirit the prayer: "God have mercy on the souls in hell"; but are checked by the remembrance that this our prayer would not do them any good, for it is revealed that "the wrath of God abideth on the damned" -- and "the torments of the damned shall last for ever and ever." without even any such graft of new skin as the brutish Mohammedan god provides. Besides, equally inspired revelation warns us that the souls of the Christian damned in the Christian hell, "are never released, notwithstanding the mass for dead souls" (probably meaning souls of the dead) -- no, "the soul that sinneth it shall surely die." Why then torment dead souls? This brings us up with a sudden jerk in purgatory, whither we have been steering our course for some pages back. Let us look around for our crucified thief here.

PURGATORY -- AND PAY

Purgatory is surely the strangest Place this side of hell. Curiously in the Bible there is no jot nor tittle of remotest hint of it from "In the beginning" of Genesis to the final "Amen" of the Apocalypse, search for it who will; and positive proof of its non- existence is in the two passages from Peter and Paul that we have just reviewed and in the revelation quoted, that "the souls of the just who died before Christ awaited in hell their admission to heaven," there being evidently no purgatory open for occupation at that time. This omission of purgatory from the earlier Christian "properties" is the more curious because we have admirable and elaborately defined purgatories in a number of contemporary heathen systems of the hereafter; as, for example, in the twelve cycles of purgation of Zoroaster, the seven of the very near-Christian Mithraism, and the refined "empyrosis" of the Stoics; from which ancient but diabolic religions, and from several others, the Hebrew-Christian sacred science had apparently borrowed so many revelations that the holy Fathers, to explain away the identities of the pagan and Christian rituals, said that "the Devil had blasphemously imitated the Christian rites and doctrines." This would be very persuasive, if not conclusive, but for the fact that all of these plagiarized pagan systems antedated Christianity by many centuries.

It is curious, too, that not for several centuries after the close of the canon was this serious omission ever officially noticed by the inspired guardians of the sacred deposit. When it was, they held a hasty council session at Lyons in the year 1274 -- confirmed (on the well-known principle that by frequently repeating a thing one often comes himself to believe it) at Florence in 1439, and in the famous Council of Trent, in the 1540's -- and resolved:

"Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures [chapter and verse not cited] and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in councils [unspecified] and very recently in this ecumenical synod, that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein detained are helped by the suffrages [i.e., paid prayers] of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar; the holy synod enjoins on the bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful" -- (Cath Encyc., Vol. 12:p. 575 ). This proves that the faithful did not very much believe it, so that Tetzel & Co.'s famous bargain sales of indulgences from purgatorial pains were not so remunerative as in greater faith they really should have been.

In honor of truth, however, it must be admitted that much earlier efforts to "graft" purgatory on the true faith had often been made, though not with such plenary instruction of the Holy Ghost as could be invoked by the holy councils referred to. For instance, the Holy Father Pope Gregory the Great, about A.D. 604, was the first to formulate the hitherto vacuous doctrine into good Latin and to "call a spade a spade," as it were, by naming the place purgatory, though its latitude and longitude in ecclesiastical cosmogony have never been satisfactorily defined.

Here we may pause in honor of the memory and spiritual illumination of this great man, Pope Gregory, to note an amusing incident for which he vouches with the same infallible inspiration as that which attests his discovery and definition of purgatory. When elected pope in A.D. 590, Rome was threatened by a dreadful pestilence sent by the Hebrew God Yahveh, who had supplanted Jupiter in the Roman theogony. The pious new Pontifex Maximus (another heathen institution appropriated by the Christians) at once determined to propitiate (a euphemism for "bribe") the angry God, who was flinging fiery darts into the devoted city. Yahveh's inspired vicar-general Gregory headed a monkish parade through the unclean streets (maybe an indirect adjunct of the pestilence). Suddenly he saw (he tells it himself, just as he told about the nun swallowing the devil on a lettuce leaf) the Arch-angel Michael hovering over the great pagan mausoleum of Hadrian, just in the act of sheathing his flaming sword, while three angels with him chanted the Regina Caeli, a monkish hymn to the "Queen of heaven." The great pope made the sign of the cross and broke into hallelujahs (Heb., "Praise Yahveh"), whereupon the plague promptly ceased. In commemoration of this notable event, the pope built a Christian chapel dedicated to St. Michael on the top of the pagan monument, and over it erected the colossal statue of the destroying archangel in the act of sheathing his bloody sword; thus the pagan mausoleum became the Christian Castle Saint' Angelo, which stands to this day in proof of the infallibility of papal narratives, and thus corroborative of Pope Gregory's dogma of purgatory.

The holy Council of Trent, for the better ensuring that its doctrine of purgatory, and the superior efficacy of paid prayers, should be believed by the faithful, who might be curious to know just where their money went in this direction, and what good it did, solemnly warned and commanded the bishops "to exclude from their preaching difficult and subtle questions which tend not to edification, and from the discussion of which there is no increase either of piety or devotion" -- though there might thereby be a decrease of churchly revenues. Some of these unedifying questions might, to some of the inquisitive faithful, be, for instance -- but why should there be any "difficult and subtle questions" about so interesting and important a revelation of faith, especially when the Holy Ghost was present in person in at least three councils, and could be called into any other at a moment's notice, to "instruct" them on these very points? Besides, it is idle to ask questions as to what good paid prayers do for the souls of the dead when the answer to such questions is always the silencing retort of "the angelic doctor" St. Thomas: "Unless they [i.e., the souls of the dead] know that they are to be delivered, they would not ask for the prayers" (Cath. Encyc., Vol. 12:p. 578 ) -- which clinches it; though the source or means of the dead souls' knowledge is not revealed, nor are their messages of request, in spirit handwriting, ever exhibited for confirmation of faith in them, to the interested or curious public, in proof of their pious petitions.

But the real question for a faith up a tree, as it were, is how there can be any purgatory, in which slightly soiled and faded souls may be burnt free from earthly dross and renovated for heaven -- even if the Holy Ghost did very tardily instruct the holy councils that there is such a place -- when the same Holy Ghost had in effect assured councils, including these same councils of Lyons and Florence, that there was no such place, for "the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only in original sin [which defiles even the souls of just-born babes and of ecclesiastical persons], go down immediately into hell, to be visited, however, with unequal punishments" (Cath. Encyc., Vol. 7: p. 207 )? From the latter place, as Abraham told Dives, there was no return. Such a clash of inspirations -- or rather slip in promulgating the last before repealing, or concealing, the former -- illustrates the convenience of keeping a well regulated card-index system as an adjunct to the depository of faith, to assist in keeping a ready check on revelations, and thus avoiding possible future embarrassments of faith, due to their conflicts.

Here we must confess an error in our quest, induced by friendly zeal for the comfort of our ex-thief's soul, in suggesting the possibility of finding it in this purgatory of the orthodox (i.e., "right-believing") faith. For in life he was either a Jew or a pagan, bence a heretic, who could have no part in the orthodox Christian pangs of purgatory; and he would no doubt have added to his heresy by sharing with Luther, the great faith-splitter, the doctrine of the twenty-seventh of his ninety-five theses nailed up on the Wittenberg church door: "They preach man who say that the soul flies out of purgatory as soon as the money thrown into the chest rattles"; or, in poetic version:

"As soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued soul to heaven springs"!

The phrase "as soon as" is unorthodox; for the orthodox rule of payment is that the suffering soul "is not released until the last farthing be paid" -- which suggests an instalment plan of payments. This is just and as it should be. For if the well-to-do heirs of a just-dead Christian sinner were to make an immediate lump-sum payment for prompt prayers, the soul might escape from purgatory into heaven before the penitential flames had done their work of preparatory purification, the great idea being, according to Father Origen, that "the purgatorial fire burns away the lighter materials of faults, and prepares the soul for the kingdom of God, where nothing defiled may enter"; and all the celibate Fathers agree.

The instalment plan of payments is distinctly recognized and enjoined by the Father Tertullian, who advises a widow "to pray for the soul of her husband, begging repose for him, and participation in the first resurrection"; he commands her also to make oblations (a euphemism for priestly "tips") for him on the anniversary of his demise, and charges her with infidelity (whether spiritual or corporal is not explicit) if she neglect to succor his soul (Cath. Encyc., Vol. 12:p. 577 ). Evidently this good Father, and the great Father St. Augustine, pinned no faith on the efficacy of such paid prayers to hurry the escape of the soul from the fires of purgatory; for the former suggests such escape only at the "first resurrection," and the latter postpones it till the last (whenever either of these should be) -- declaring that "the punishment of purgatory is temporary and will cease at least at the last judgment" (De Cir.. Dei, lib. 21: cap. 13: 16 ). That is a long time to wait, writhing in terrible torment; for we are assured by the holy Pope Gregory the Great, taking the cue from St. Augustine if not from the Holy Ghost, that "the pain of those who after this life expiate their faults by purgatorial flames will be more intolerable than any one can suffer in this life." It must certainly be considerable, judging by the excruciating tortures which Holy Church, by rack and wheel, by flaying alive, by slow burning at the stake, and other like pious practices, inflicted upon the sensitive bodies of thousands who dared to disbelieve her inspired dogmas, and despise the source, and defy her prostituted powers.

Here we may digress a moment to do tribute to that ancient and cherished precept of Mosaic law, generously observed through the ages, and become the chief stone of the corner of the Church universal: "They shall not appear before Yahveh empty" (Deut. 16: 16 ) -- "when they give an offering unto Yahveh, to make an atonement for your souls" (Ex. 30: 15 ) -- but shall pay, rich and poor alike, to "buy atonement"; and this pious work is to the churchman, like faith to Father Abraham, accounted for righteousness. Curiously, while the new dispensation quite overthrew and repealed the whole code of laws and ceremonies of the old, this one thrifty exception escaped, and the Holy Church of the dispensation of free grace, with a wisdom of this world worldly, preserved it and diligently taught that in the article of tithes the Mosaic law is still "of divine obligation and cannot be abrogated" (Cath. Encyc., Vol. 16:pp. 741, 742 ). Further yet it went, inciting the faithful to outdo even the quota of the tenth commandeered by the ancient law, by yet more liberal donatives exhorted by the Master, who commanded to "give all that ye have" (Mark 10: 21 ) in order to be his true disciples.

This inspired retention by divine command of the "pay" precept of the law is expounded with his usual naive and cogent logic by the dogmatic second founder of the faith:

"Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." (i Cor. 9: 13, 14 )

Among the devotional gems of the sacred litany of Holy Church a foremost place is held by the doggerel Latin chant celebrating this mystic union of the law and the gospel:

"Cum summa cura est fratribus,

(Ut sermo testatur loquax)

Offere, fundis venditis

Sestertiorum millia.

Addicta avorum praedia

Foedis sub auctionibus,

Successor exheres gemit,

Sanctis egens parentibus.

Haec occulantur abditis

Ecelesiarum in angulis,

Et summa pietas creditur

Nudare dulces liberos!"

(Prudentius, Hymn II)

This is the poetry of the scriptural injunction to "sell and give all," with the added prosaic truth that the denuded children and disinherited heirs of the giver groan as naked beggars so that their prodigal parents may have the odor of pious saints. O temporal O mores! Thus a goodly portion of their heirs' expectations our churchmen often obediently spend in this pious form of mundane vanity, leaving their families fewer worldly goods, but buying their soul's atonement in truly churchly fashion, and earning incidentally the plaudits of the clergy, who hold up before their flocks for emulation this godly example -- of giving.

How striking and faith-compelling is the system of types and symbols of the oriental scriptures, wherein everything typifies or symbolizes something else -- which the inspired scrivener nine times in ten never really thought or heard of in his life, but which all perplexed delvers into the "hidden things of scripture" assure us is implied in the plain and ordinary Hebrew or Greek words. But for once in scripture, type and typified are here readily identified, even to unimaginative occidental minds. In the new dispensation the groups of true believers are figured forth as "flocks"; the older, dyed-in-the-wool bell-wethers of the flocks are dubbed "sheep"; the tender ones wholly innocent of sense are affectionately termed "lambs"; and all are herded and driven by venerable "pastors" (postors, or in some later readings im-postors) called "shepherds," always allegorically pictured as going about armed with "crooks," to hook the stragglers into the "fold," and to keep them there when once hooked in. The imagery of the oriental mind is singularly appealing at times and persuasive of a sure- enough inspiration of ironic truth under its symbols!

Even in a prosaic standard lexicon of the twentieth century we may discover the persistence of this bit of oriental imagery in the accepted definition of "sheep," in the figurative sense: "The flock of the Good Shepherd; simple-minded and silly persons"; while to be "sheepish" is to "resemble a sheep in silliness or dullness!" The sheep is to this day the symbol of the vacuous herd, all blindly following some equally stupid old bellwether which heads the flock this way or that as his inner lights lead, or the crook of the shepherd pulls.

The diminution of patrimonial expectations occasioned by such contributions to the "Lord's treasury was once, we blush to say, measurably retrieved by the excellent income which the good and generous givers derived from the rental of some of their best corner buildings down town for saloons, and in some exceptional instances of houses owned by them in the "restricted districts" for uses which are as well understood as need be without being specified. True, the fine sense of churchmanly propriety and of Christian riglitmindedness often does not allow our good churchmen to make these leases directly to the degraded occupants. They piously salve their consciences by giving their agents carte blanche and asking them no inconvenient questions. We all know that "Yahveh loveth a cheerful giver"; and Yahveh commands his people: "Thou shalt remember Yahveh thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deut. 8: 18 ), which we must acknowledge is a potent appeal.

This scrupulous delicacy on the part of some good churchmen, which does them honor, and which is a refinement upon the scriptural injunction not to let the right hand know what is left- handedly done (a sanctimonious injunction much invoked by the godly of these cultured times), is one of the most eloquent testimonies to the cultural influence of our professed religion in refining the grosser practices of earlier forms of worship. Everyone who is not blinded by prejudice against the Christian faith and is not a chronic scoffer at its cherished practices must recognize the (relative) purity of thus replenishing by discreet indirectness the Lord's treasury from the toll of sin, as compared with the unblushing system of temple harlotry of ancient pagan-Hebrew worship, and with the quasi-gross but lucrative scheme of relatively recent times when brothels of pious prostitution were recognized adjuncts of holy nunneries, and the virgins of Christ hallowed as pious alms the wages of sin earned for them by their sisters, whose virginity was a welcome sacrifice on the altar, not of Cupid, but of churchly cupidity. So all praise to those worthy churchmen who, in returning a pittance of their gifts from Yahveh, reject such unrefined practices, and find ready means to obey the divine command to "Give to the Lord," without openly offending the more refined feelings of modern churchianity, though the productive source is the same.

To return from this sympathetic digression on the theme of pious paying enjoined by Holy Writ to the post-mortem purgatorial payment plan of Holy Church. A revelation which would make possible some commutation of penitential torment and final escape therefrom some time this side of the first resurrection or final judgment, even at considerable cost to the harrowed and terrified survivors,

would be regarded as a good thing for the tormented soul, its family, and friends, and incidentally net a handsome revenue. However it may have been, the Holy Ghost is said to have instructed the holy Council of Trent as to the instalment-pay-plan, revealing that "indulgences [at so much per] are most salutary for Christian people, and may be applied to the souls in purgatory" (Cath. Encyc., Vol. 12:p. 578 ).

It betrays a darkened understanding, or a malevolent wit, of course, to imagine that this pay-as-you-enter plan of priestly prayers for the souls in purgatory smacks even remotely of buying Yahveh's grace or of bribing Holy Church. The distinction, if not difference, is acutely indicated by an approved theological apologist, thus: "The celebration of the mass for money would be sinful; but it is perfectly legitimate to accept a stipend offered on such occasion for the support of the celebrant. The amount of the stipend varying for different times and countries, is usually fixed [in advance, you see] by ecclesiastical authority" (Cath. Encyc., Vol. 14:p. 1 ). It is thus the stipend which must be paid, and not the prayers; though the corollary -- "No stipend, no prayers" -- deprives the soul of the prayers and of any benefit they might do it. But the scheme testifies to the refining influence of the Holy Ghost working upon greedy humanity. Simon the Magician, the earliest Christian exponent of the offence stigmatized with his name, simony, grossly offered money outright for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and was justly rebuked by St. Peter, "because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money" (Acts 8: 20 ). The successors of St. Peter, being more practical, piously shun such gross venality and take the money, but do not sell the gift. With the utmost delicacy of discriminating propriety, they simply withhold the free gift until the stipulated stipend is paid. This, when paid, on the analogy of the coin in the slot, loosens the mechanism of the mass, and the prayers begin to ascend for the writhing tenants of purgatory. Only in this roundabout, de-Simonized, and legitimatized left-handed sense should the reasonable mind understand the otherwise ribald gibe of Father Luther that only "when the money thrown into the chest rattles," does the tortured soul begin to shake loose its singed wings for flight from the flames, being thereunto "aided by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar," prepaid according to the schedule of stipends prescribed by Holy Church. Honi soit qui mal y pense after so adroit an explanation.

This near-hell-fiery habitat of the near-blessed being exclusively a resort of the orthodox Christian, we are precluded -- not by doubt (which is damnable), but by dogma (which is infallible) -- from the possibility of encountering our repentant thief's soul there. And our compassion is already seen in revolt against the doctrine of hell fire, common alike to orthodoxy and to heterodoxy (signifying my "doxy," or "right-think," and your "doxy," or "wrong-think," according as one is the speaker or the spoken to or of). Being evidently in neither of these places, and not yet arrived at heaven, the soul of our crucified thief, we have thus an added reason in concluding, is still wending its way heavenward through the fathomless reaches of sidereal space, and may yet confidently be expected to present itself and its credentials to the celestial concierge, St. Peter.

If someone should be disposed to question this, on the faith- founded theory above indicated that no soul clogged with the material dross of earthy fault may be suffered to enter in at the golden gates, but that the fault must first be purged away by the purgatorial fires, we oppose a very reasonable, and equally effective, counter-theory, suggested by more modern science: that the upper interstellar regions are infested with inconceivably intense cold, a degree of cold even greater maybe than the fires of purgatory are hot; that heat and cold, in intense degree, have often a similar effect, particularly in point of drying up substances, rendering them brittle; therefore, that the earthly dross of venial faults yet clinging to the departed soul, being subjected for the 1,000,000 light years of its trajectory heavenward to such extreme cold, may thus be either frozen quite off, or at least rendered so crumbly that the simple violent swish of the air caused by the rapidity of flight would flip it off en route, or at any rate enable it to be very easily scraped off just outside the pearly gates of heaven upon arrival, and the soul thus present itself as freed from such dross as if it had done its penance amid the flames of purgatory.

Thus the same result is attained, and by a process quite as uncomfortable -- which is a very great desideratum in theology; and an enormous amount of time would be saved, as the soul could begin its purging flight heavenward immediately on its corporeal release, instead of first doing infinite time until the "first resurrection" or the "last judgment" in purgatory before beginning its million- light-year flight heavenward. Moreover, sidereal spatial cold is a scientific fact, while purgatorial fire is only a theological "speculation," though a highly successful one as the source of a fine church revenue. As it doesn't cost anybody anything to accept our new "cold storage" revelation, and as we vouch for its being as good as any on the market, we trust that it may have ready credence, and in time even supplant some of the ancient and more costly nostrums of credulity.

In the long meanwhile, let us bid good-speed to the fleeting soul on its heavenward flight, with the classic ex voto: "Let it R.I.P."!

 

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