Purgatory requires dualism

You can only believe in purgatory if you hold a substance dualist view of human beings.

Purgatory is a place that exists according Roman Catholic Theology, and a number of people who are not Roman Catholic believe in it, too. In Catholic theology, it is a place where you go after death if you are not yet ready for heaven, so that you can receive punishments for the venial sins (the less serious sins, as opposed to mortal sins) that have not yet been dealt with in this life. As Thomas Aquinas put it,

[I]f 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. Wherefore those who deny Purgatory speak against the justice of God: for which reason such a statement is erroneous and contrary to faith.

Outside of this historical Catholic understanding of purgatory, others have suggested, not that people need to be punished, but rather that they simply need to be fully sanctified (made holy) before reaching their final state in heaven. Jerry Walls defends this view in his book Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. In public conversations, Dr Walls has remarked that while no doubt the sinful human desire is to have total transformation all at once, the reality is that sanctification is a process that takes time, hence purgatory.

I do not believe in purgatory, but I will not here argue that purgatory does not exist. Instead, I will just make one observation: To believe in purgatory presupposes mind-body substance dualism.

I am taking it as given that Christians who believe in purgatory, as well as those who do not, regard the teaching of the New Testament as authoritative. When Christ returns and the dead are raised, according to St Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, both those who were dead and the saints who are still alive will be transformed immediately.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body…
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

The transformation to glory, honour, power, imperishability etc that is envisioned here is said to happen “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” which I take to mean very quickly, more or less straight away. So a gradual process of transformation to glory seems out of the picture after the resurrection of the dead.

But this does not trouble traditional Catholic theology, since Purgatory is believed to be a place that exists now, and right now the souls of those who will eventually see glory are being purified. This is why Catholics are urged to pray for those in purgatory, and why masses have been said for them, so that their time in purgatory might be made shorter. Similarly, neo-purgatory (as I am wont to call Jerry Walls’ view) can accommodate a period to transformation as one approaches glory prior to the resurrection, when transformation to glory and power etc will occur “in a moment,” provided it locates such transformation in an intermediate state between death and resurrection, as does Roman Catholic theology.

What any such view presupposes, obviously, is that I can exist, I can think, I can be held responsible, I can be punished, I can undergo moral and spiritual improvement, etc, while my body is no more. That won’t come as a shock to people who believe in purgatory, because this is exactly what they believe about themselves. This view is mind-body substance dualism (since the “I,” the mind or soul, is a thing that can exist without any physical substance).

But anyone making a case for purgatory (and anyone considering that case) should consider this fact. In order to believe in purgatory without tension with your other beliefs, you must hold (or adopt, if you do not yet hold) mind-body substance dualism. To the extent that you have a reason to reject that view of human persons, you have a reason to not believe in purgatory.

Or so it currently seems to me.

Calvin and the Marian Doctrines

Calvin did not accept the Marian doctrines. Without wanting to sound too rancorous, I have to say that anti-Protestant polemics can be the worst.

I’m sorry. I know that’s a very one-sided thing to say, but I encounter anti-Protestant polemics more than anti-Catholic polemics, because I’m not Roman Catholic. Sometimes the phenomenon goes by the name “Catholic apologetics,” as though it’s really a pro-Catholic thing, but that’s not how some of these warriors-for-Rome present themselves. They’re about claiming scalps in arguments.

I love some Catholic theologians and philosophers – and Catholic people in general. So I’m not going to refer to these people as just “Catholic scholars.” It would be unfair to Catholic scholars in general to lump them all together, which is why I keep open a category for anti-Protestant polemics, separate from Catholic scholarship. It’s a let-down for me, because some of the finest work in philosophical theology today has been produced by Roman Catholic Scholars (think Brian Leftow, Brian Davies, Edward Feser – EDIT: My mistake, Brian Leftow is not Catholic. He’s Anglican. But he sure writes like the best Catholic philosophers), so to turn from such fine minds and work to online blunt-axe-swinging warriors is a bit like swallowing the cheapest bourbon and cola money can buy after sampling a fine port.

That somewhat frustrated preamble aside, here’s what moved me to write this post. The other day I saw yet another anti-Protestant polemicist make the familiar claim: “Most Protestants would be surprised to learn that all the early Reformers accepted the Marian doctrines.” That’s not a direct quote, but it’s close (the part about all the early Reformers was central to the claim), and I’ve seen the claim made numerous times.

Continue reading “Calvin and the Marian Doctrines”

Pope Francis is an annihilationist

Based on the evidence currently available, we should view Pope Francis as an annihilationist, and attempts from within the Vatican to downplay this fact are unconvincing. The current Pope does not believe the doctrine of eternal torment, affirming instead the biblical doctrine of conditional immortality: That the saved will have eternal life, but the lost will not live forever – not in hell or anywhere else. Continue reading “Pope Francis is an annihilationist”

How are Anglicans Different from Catholics?

No, Anglicans are not basically Catholics. So what’s the difference?

Some time ago when I publicly commented that I could easily consider “going Anglican,” one of the comments I got was from a Catholic, telling me that I would have come “half-way home.” Since then as many of you know, I have gone Anglican and when I have told people about it, I’ve heard remarks suggesting that some people really aren’t sure if there’s a difference between Catholics and Anglicans. I’ve had people ask me things like: Don’t Anglicans venerate statues of Mary? Don’t they have confessionals? Don’t they believe in Purgatory? The answer to these questions is no, but I know that there are people out there asking these and similar questions. Continue reading “How are Anglicans Different from Catholics?”

This Is My Body: Using discernment when reading the Church Fathers on the Lord’s Supper

I’ve gotten tired of apologetics efforts against Protestants that offer “A million bazillion scattered quotes from the Church Fathers that clearly, obviously prove that they thought X.” Proof-text warfare is easy, but generally worthless, and the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the issue of what the Fathers believed about the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. No more, please. That is not a respectful way to treat the Fathers on this or any subject. Continue reading “This Is My Body: Using discernment when reading the Church Fathers on the Lord’s Supper”

A Plea for Honesty about the Canon of the Bible

Please stop saying that Protestants engaged in a novelty by tossing out seven books of the Bible that until then Christians had always treated as part of it. That is neither true nor fair.

Recently a friend of mine posed the question of whether or not it might be acceptable for any reason to add to the sixty-six books of the Bible. As you will likely be aware, the canon (i.e. the list of books that belong to the Bible) used by Protestants contains sixty-six books, but the canon used by Catholics contains seventy-three books. It didn’t take long for a Catholic friend of my friend to arrive on the scene and to reject the presupposition that the Bible contains sixty-six books: Continue reading “A Plea for Honesty about the Canon of the Bible”

James, the brother of Jesus and son of Joseph

Call me slow, but until today I had never heard of the ossuary of James. The what? It’s an ornate box that contains pieces of bone from deceased love ones. This one dates to around AD sixty something, and features the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

It’s fairly obvious why this ruffles some Catholic feathers. Mary, Joseph’s wife, is said to have been a virgin her whole life by the Catholic Church, and James, one of Jesus’ “brothers,” is said to have been a cousin. Some Catholics have chimed in with anyone who says that it is a forgery, but the evidence doesn’t look good for them here, and here the claim of a forgery is debunked. I guess Mary’s first name isn’t “The Virgin” after all. But then, a lot of people have been saying that for a while. They’re called Protestants.