Monday, July 10, 2006

Aidan Nichols, O.P.: On Purgatory and Prayers for the Dead


Here are some thoughts from my favorite Roman Catholic author and theologian, Aidan Nichols, O.P. The "money statement" is in the last paragraph in bold print (emphasis mine).

In her dogmatic teaching, the Catholic Church speaks with discretion of the intermediate state. In 1979 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its Letter on Certain Questions concerning Eschatology declared: "The Church believers there may be purification of the elect previous to the vision of God, which is nevertheless totally different from the pains of the damned." About the "place" of this purification, its duration, and its manner the teaching office of the Church falls silent, leaving the question to spiritual tradition. In that tradition we find a number of images: in the Alexandrian Fathers, Athanasius and the Cappadocians, purification by fire (where "fire" may represent the intensity of desire for God); in the Cappadocians and Ambrose of Milan, an opening of the paradise gates guarded as these are by the cherubim and the flaming sword; in Athanasius and the Desert Fathers, stages along the roads leading to heaven.

The crucial thing to note is that, in the Church's vision, the "holy souls" deserve our prayers because of their goodness. Their presence in purgatory is proof of their faith, hope, and charity. The alms Christian bestow in the cultus of the dead is par excellence charity to the poor: the holy dead are the most deserving poor of all. The souls in Thomas More's Supplycacyon put it simply: "Remember, friends, how nature and Christendom [=baptism] bindeth you to remember us." The Gaelic tradition of the western isles of Scotland calls purgatory the "Hell of the Holy Fathers," and sees Christ's people purified there

Till they are whiter the the swan of songs,
Till they are whiter than the seagull of the waves,
Till they are whiter than the snow of the peaks,
And whiter than the white love of the heroes.

The Protestant rejection of purgatory (and prayer for the dead) is seen by Catholicism as based on a mistaken interpretation of the mediation of Christ. Christ's mediation of human salvation is indeed unique and all-sufficient, but it is not separated from the prayer of his Church. The head and the body are one, and the head's glory as Savior is the greater in that he encourages the body to share in the communication to the whole human mass of the effects of his redeeming work. What the Lord has done for us in his mighty salvation he grants to us to do ourselves. The continuum of life in Christ is more primary than the biological continuum. As sharers, in via, of the life of Christ who called himself "the way," we (super)naturally wish both to pray for the holy souls and to seek their prayers.

--Aidan Nichols, Epiphany: A Theological Introduction to Catholicism (Liturgical Press, 1996), pp. 197-8.

Until next time.

P.S. That I describe Nichols, a Dominican, as "my favorite Roman Catholic author and theologian," demonstrates that, yes, I do think one can occasionally learn something from a Thomist.

5 comments:

jbrim said...

Dan,

You write:

"P.S. That I describe Nichols, a Dominican, as "my favorite Roman Catholic author and theologian," demonstrates that, yes, I do think one can occasionally learn something from a Thomist."

While your comment is meant in jest, as is often the case with jokes, it nevertheless contains an element of real opinion.

I have neither the intellect or the will to interact with other posters on this blog concerning the various pros and cons of Thomism and/or Palamism or, to put it another way, the truth or falsity of western and eastern Christian modes of thought.

Yet your post script quoted above prompted me to ask a question. If Thomism is so manifestly in error then why has it served the Roman Church so well?

I personally am not a Thomist though I remain Roman Catholic. My personal leanings and sympathies almost all lie with the east. Yet I take the idea of the 'two lungs' very seriously. Another way of looking at it, which is more to the point, in my opinion, is comparing East and West to the left and right brain. It is considered to be true that the left brain is the seat of the rational and the right brain is the seat of the aesthetic. (Gosh I hope i've got this right! lol)

For my illustration, St. Thomas would be an expression of the Left brain or Western mode of thinking and St. Gregory would be an expression of the Right brain and the Eastern mode of thinking. While I, as an individual, may feel more comfortable or at home with one or the other, maybe even wishing I could get away from the other, the reality of the thing is that both sides support, in a profoundly organic way, each other. Which lobe would you like to have removed so that you can be a better person?

Jason

lexorandi2 said...

Jason,

I meant it in jest in light of recent discussions on this blog. It is actually quite an understatement in that not only is Aidan Nichols one of my favorite "Roman Catholic" theologians, he ranks up there as one of my favorite theologians of any tradition.

Thanks for dropping by.
Dan

Steve Blakemore said...

Dna,

Great post! I find myself exulting over lines such as

Christ's mediation of human salvation is indeed unique and all-sufficient, but it is not separated from the prayer of his Church. The head and the body are one, and the head's glory as Savior is the greater in that he encourages the body to share in the communication to the whole human mass of the effects of his redeeming work. What the Lord has done for us in his mighty salvation he grants to us to do ourselves.

Thanks

Mark said...

Dna?

anOther Jeff said...

...as in Dsylxeia?

;>

JJH