Monday, February 23, 2009

Defending Purgatory With All Your Cards On The Table

There's a chapter in this book by a Roman Catholic named Zachary J. Hayes. He defends "The Purgatorial view" of the afterlife. While disagreeing with Hayes throughout, I did appreciate the candor by which he expressed himself. It was quite refreshing to read an articulate honest defense of purgatory, minus the typical ignoring of presuppositions that's so characteristic of Rome's defenders. Here are a few snippets that jumped out.

Hayes states,

"Thus, Roman Catholic exegetes and theologians at the present time would be inclined to say that although there is no clear textual basis in Scripture for the later doctrine of purgatory, neither is there anything that is clearly contrary to that doctrine. In this they differ from those Protestant theologians who hold not only that the doctrine of purgatory has no scriptural basis but that, in fact, it is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture" [Four Views On Hell (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996), p.107]

"Is there some basis in the Scriptures for the doctrine of purgatory, or is there not? If we are looking for clear and unambiguous statements of the doctrine, we will look in vain... we might better ask if anything in Scripture initiated the development that eventually led to the doctrine of purgatory" (p.104).

As to Rome's popular prooftext 2 Maccabees 12:41-46, Hayes notes, The Council of Trent maintained this passage provides a scriptural basis, but they were reading the passage with "the mindset of late medieval people" (p. 103). He contrasts this with contemporary Roman Catholic exegetes, and these see these verses differently, as "evidence for the existence of a tradition of piety which is at least intertestamental and apparently served as the basis for what later became the Christian practice of praying for the dead and performing good works, with the expectation that this might be of some help to the dead" (pp. 104-105). Modern Catholic exegetes conclude:

"Since the text seems to be more concerned with helping the fallen soldiers to participate in the resurrection of the dead, it is not a direct statement of the later doctrine of purgatory" (p. 105).

These statements must not be construed to imply Hayes denies the relevance of these passages for purgatory. He argues for purgatory from tradition, and uses the classic acorn and oak tree analogy.

"If Roman Catholic theologians find the evidence of Scripture ambiguous, what follows after that is unavoidably a matter of tradition and the development of church doctrine" (p.108).

"So for Roman Catholic theology, it is not surprising that we cannot find a clear textual 'proof' of the doctrine of purgatory in the Scriptures. But we are inclined to ask whether there are issues that lie at the heart of the biblical revelation that find a form of legitimate expression in this doctrine. One way or the other, the issue of purgatory is clearly an issue of development of doctrine" (p.109).

There are many other fascinating statements from Hayes. I appreciate these honest admissions. Think of how much time and energy could be saved in discussion with Catholics if they would simply admit that proving purgatory has more to do with finding biblical passages that seem to be in harmony with the development, rather than actually clearly proving purgatory? For Catholics, the issue of Purgatory does not begin with the Bible, it begins outside the Bible, and is read back in. For Protestants, the issue of Purgatory begins with the Bible, and ends when no clear text can be produced to warrant a Biblical pedigree.

Interestingly, a person on the CARM boards was asking recently, "I need specific scriptures that the Catholic Church uses to prove purgatory." The question should really be, “What are the specific passages the Roman Catholic Church uses that coincide with their development of the doctrine of purgatory?” I agree with Hayes and his honesty. No Biblical passage clearly teaches Purgatory. The doctrine developed, and Catholics in each time period have had to go back into the Biblical text to find passages that seem to allude to it as it develops.


Carrie said...

Don't forget fiery fingerprints.

James Swan said...

That's worthy of an X Files post.

EA said...

No footprints, though. Never any footprints. I'm telling you, that means something.

James Swan said...

One very interesting aspect of Hayes which I left out:

Hayes appears to argue Catholics understand Biblical texts differently in each time period. For instance:

Trent clearly saw 2 Maccabees 12:41-46 as a direct prooftext for purgatory.

Modern Catholic scholars though don't view it as direct prooftext for purgatory. Rather, they see it as proof for the existence of a tradition of piety. That is, Purgatory developed in tradition.

If I'm understanding Hayes correctly, for Roman Catholics, the verse means different things during different time periods.

EA said...

"If I'm understanding Hayes correctly, for Roman Catholics, the verse means different things during different time periods."

Which has interesting implications for the claim that the Church provides a reliable (never mind infallible) teaching office with respect to the interpretation of Scripture. Does 2 Macc. 12:41-46 provide a prooftext for Purgatory or not?

steve said...

We wouldn't expect to see footprints. Old Horny doesn't have footprints. He has hoofprints!

EA said...

"We wouldn't expect to see footprints. Old Horny doesn't have footprints. He has hoofprints!"

{slaps forehead} Of course! That explains it.