Friday, September 02, 2005

No Purgatory: A Patristic Tradition

Purgatory is another example of an untraditional Roman Catholic tradition. The concept is absent and widely contradicted in the scriptures and the earliest church fathers. In addition to the apostles themselves having always referred to believers being in Heaven at the end of this life, disciples of the apostles like Clement of Rome (First Clement, 5-6, 44, 50) and Polycarp (Epistle to the Philippians, 9) did the same.

We know that Jesus went to Paradise on the day of His crucifixion (Luke 23:43), and Irenaeus refers to all believers going to the same place until the time of resurrection. He also identifies this place as the place where Paul went in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. Irenaeus refers to all believers going to Paradise, which he distinguishes from Heaven, until the time of the resurrection. This Paradise is just another region of what Evangelicals refer to as "Heaven". Irenaeus' terminology is different from that of Evangelicals, but his definitions are basically the same, as is proven by his references to Jesus going to this place and his reference to 2 Corinthians 12. Roman Catholicism tells us to pray that deceased Christians can be taken out of a place of suffering prior to the resurrection. Irenaeus, on the other hand, refers to all deceased Christians being in Paradise, not a place of suffering, until the resurrection:

"Wherefore also the elders who were disciples of the apostles tell us that those who were translated were transferred to that place (for paradise has been prepared for righteous men, such as have the Spirit; in which place also Paul the apostle, when he was caught up, heard words which are unspeakable as regards us in our present condition), and that there shall they who have been translated remain until the consummation of all things, as a prelude to immortality....For as the Lord 'went away in the midst of the shadow of death,' where the souls of the dead were, yet afterwards arose in the body, and after the resurrection was taken up into heaven, it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event; then receiving their bodies, and rising in their entirety, that is bodily, just as the Lord arose, they shall come thus into the presence of God. 'For no disciple is above the Master, but every one that is perfect shall be as his Master.' As our Master, therefore, did not at once depart, taking flight to heaven, but awaited the time of His resurrection prescribed by the Father, which had been also shown forth through Jonas, and rising again after three days was taken up to heaven; so ought we also to await the time of our resurrection prescribed by God and foretold by the prophets, and so, rising, be taken up, as many as the Lord shall account worthy of this privilege." (Against Heresies, 5:5:1, 5:31:2)

Notice that Irenaeus refers to how he got information from "the elders who were disciples of the apostles". Elsewhere, Irenaeus once again refers to "the disciples of the apostles" (Against Heresies, 5:36:2) teaching such a view of the afterlife.

Why is it that when Clement of Rome advocates justification through faith alone, Papias advocates premillennialism, or the elders of Irenaeus contradict the concept of Purgatory, Roman Catholics don't seem to have much concern for patristic tradition? Yet, if a fourth century apocryphal and heretical document refers to a bodily assumption of Mary, or if some fifth century church father agrees with a Catholic doctrine, they act as if it carries a high degree of evidential weight?