EARTHLY LIFE (Baptism and Post-Baptismal Life)• The history of the incorporation of each man to Christ and his Pasch happens in successive steps.• It already begins in the mortal life of the individual with the reception of Baptism.• Thanks to the sacramental ablution, the subject dies to sin and begins to possess a new life, experiencing in this way his first configuration with the Lord who has died and is risen.• This is what we confess with joy in the Creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”
• A new horizon is then opened before the creature, of progressive insertion into the Person and Life of Christ.• Such progress is possible, in the first place, thanks to the sacraments—especially the Eucharist—which works in the Christian a deeper configuration with the Lord; and thanks also to the progressive struggle of the believer to avoid sin and to participate more fully in the sanctity of Christ.
• Post-baptismal life then becomes Christian existence (man’s increasingly intense appropriation of supernatural life—the Life of Christ—initially infused by Baptism); or, also, Paschal existence (his deepening insertion into the death and Resurrection of the Lord, with each sacramental participation, each conversion, each act of contrition, each time he begins again).
1. The Hope of Renewal, in the Bible• The hope of a renewed existence is already found in the Old Testament, particularly in the traditions which imply faith in God who is the Liberator of the people, Creator of the world, and Fount of life.• These lines of hope converge in the New Testament in the Person of Jesus.
a) Old Testament Revelation of God who is Liberator, Creator and Giver of Life• The sacrament of Baptism—together with its mystical counterpart, the Pasch of Jesus—is prefigured in the Old Testament in many and diverse ways.• We recall here three traditions which, in a special way, serve as preparation for the New Testament mystery of renewal in Life in Christ:(1) the “Exodus” tradition;(2) the “creation” tradition; and(3) the “resurrection” tradition.
b) The Pasch of Jesus Christ, fount of new life for men• The lines of hope of the Old Testament lead to Jesus, who by himself leads the way from the darkness of the sepulcher to the light of the morning of the Resurrection.• The Pasch of Jesus appears in New Testament texts as the fount from which springs a radically new life for men, with Baptism and the Eucharist as the principal channels through which this life reaches men in history.
2. Patristic Doctrine about the Insertion of Man in the Pasch of the Lord• The first generations of Christians followed the Christological-Paschal line indicated by New Testament Revelation. In their writings forcefully appear:(1) belief in an authentic Christification which sacramental initiation works out in the subject, by which(2) a holy life is demanded of the neophyte, and(3) a glorious inheritance is promised to him.
3. Theological Reflection: Initiation of the Pasch in the Earthly Life of Man• The sacrament of Baptism inserts man into the Paschal mystery of Jesus.• This insertion into the Pasch brings with it identification with its Protagonist, who is Christ.• “To die” through Baptism means not only to die to sin, but also “to die to oneself”, to give up the “I” so that Christ may occupy the center of the person: it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me.• The baptized is led to continually “actualize” the Pasch of the Lord throughout his earthly existence.
3. Theological Reflection: Initiation of the Pasch in the Earthly Life of Man• To receive the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), to die to sin and egoism, to practice penance and mortification, to undergo conversion as many times as necessary, to progress in virtue and holiness… are other “milestones” in the eschatological-Paschal journey of the Christian.• Christian eschatology would show to man, not only the meaning of death (to-die-in-Christ; to die hopeful), but also the meaning of earthly life as spatium (time) to carve the Christological mark in his personal existence.
DEATH• The phase post mortem et ante resurrectionem of the individual is surrounded in mystery.• Revelation gives us some guiding light: 1) Although death (in a sense) is natural to man, faith teaches us that it is a consequence of sin. 2) For a Christian, death is the means to participate in the Pasch and to incorporate himself more fully in the Lord. 3) Death does not end the existence of man. But it does end the time of personal preparation for definitive communion with God.
DEATH 4) Mox post mortem (right after death), the individual enters a state of definitive soteriological character (either salvation or perdition). 5) For someone who would die in the grace of God but without possessing complete sanctity there is reserved further purification.• Affirmations (4) and (5) above have as a corollary the notion of a particular judgment.
1. The Negative Aspect of Death, in the Old Testamenta) Death, consequence of separation from the Living God• Death is contrary to the original divine plan for creation.• In fact, it also goes contrary to man’s longing.
b) The appearance of hope in spite of death• In the Old Testament: Death that awaits every man does not necessarily imply a total disaster. And this is for two reasons:(1) because personal existence continues in some way after death; and(2) because certain types of death have value before God and have a reward.
(i) The notion of subsistence• Gradually, the hope for total victory over death appears.• Victory over death is expressed in two forms. – The more important form is the resurrection of the dead. – The second speaks of a spiritual principle of man, the soul (psyche), which, after separating from the body upon death, is capable of subsisting.
(ii) Value of the death of the just man• Early Jewish thinking considered early death as a punishment from God.• But in the second part of the book of Isaias, the death of the Servant of Yahweh which Chapter 53 narrates has an eminently positive value: It is a holocaust of expiation and reconciliation that makes the Servant deserve eternal glory.• To offer one’s own life in sacrifice means to transport one’s own death to the level of God, in some way removing it from its old association with sin.
2. The Change of Sign of Death, Worked Out by Christa) Old and new doctrine about death, in the Synoptics• There are in the Synoptics texts that echo the old association of death with sin. – For example, the use of the term nekros to refer to the sinner is noteworthy.• Nevertheless, the key idea is one of victory: Jesus conquers both sin and death. He forgives sins, works resurrections, and above all himself resurrects after dying. His Paschal mystery is the fulfillment of the hope of the Old Testament: – On one hand, his death is pleasing to God and useful to men. – On the other, it is a death which ends in glorious resurrection. It can be affirmed that Christ, with his Pasch, liberates death itself from the somber dominion of sin.
b) The triumph of Christ over sin and death, according to St Paul• St Paul offers a deep teaching regarding the mysterious connection between sin and death which ends up in a joyous note: Christ has already triumphed over both powers.
c) The Life brought by Christ, according to St John• In St John we find, in the first place, statements regarding the lordship of Christ over death.• The ultimate reason of such lordship is this: As divine Word, he has the fullness of Life; he has it always in the bosom of the Father.• In this context, the death of Jesus is understood as exaltation, for it serves as a launching pad for his definitive victory.• His passage through death on his way to the Resurrection is part of the manifestation of his absolute sovereignty.• The disciple of the Lord can, in his turn, follow the same steps of the One who was dead and is now alive.
Death as Passage to the Retribution and Union with Christ, in Tradition and the Magisterium• The first generation of Christians centered much of their thought around the Parousia and the end of the world, since there was no experience yet of the long waiting for the Return of the Lord.• However, as time went by and the first disciples died, the question of the destiny of the dead naturally started to occupy their minds.• Christian reflection then followed two preferential lines: one which developed especially during times of persecution that considers death—above all death through martyrdom—as a new link with Christ and a participation in his Paschal mystery; and the other which also had a long development that sees a mystery of subsistence and retribution beyond death.
a) Death as a means for union with Christ• In the eyes of Christians, this identification with Christ converts martyrs into valid intercessors before God.• The prayers and liturgical practices related to the martyrs that we have since the earliest times reveal a faith that there are saints definitively incorporated into Christ, who lovingly watch over those who still live on earth.
b) Death as the beginning of definitive retribution• The great majority of ancient writers refer to retribution in one way or another immediately after death for all men.• The reasoning of these ancient writers reveals something important: Even though they use the idea of the subsistence of the soul after death, they do not accept the Hellenic approaches.• Confronted with the Platonic ideal of eudaimonia (adopted by the Gnostics), of a soul totally liberated from matter, Christian thinkers prefer to maintain the unfinished character of retribution which affects only the spiritual part of man.
b) Death as the beginning of definitive retribution• Already in modern times, Vatican II offers in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium a picture of post mortem retribution with notable “relational” characteristics. Chapter 7, no. 48 reminds us that judgment and retribution for each man occurs right after death; no. 49 deals with the present union between the Church triumphant, Church suffering and Church militant, and describes the blessedness of the saints even before the resurrection.
The teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) about death can be summarized as follows:— Death is a mystery.— It is a mystery rooted in the mysterium iniquitatis.— Christ, upon assuming death itself, changed its (negative) sign.— For the Christian, to die has a positive value: physical death completes Baptism’s “dying with Christ”.— Death opens up to Life.— It is also possible for death to lead to a negative destiny: hell.— It can be said, therefore, that retribution starts after death.— Death closes the time that the individual disposes to decide his definitive destiny.— Only at the end of time will retribution acquire its complete form.
2. Theological Reflection: Death, Anthropologic Mystery Illuminated by Christa) Relational, Christological and Paschal dimension of death• Eschatology sees the final fullness as a consummation of the potency of relation between the divine Persons and created persons.• Very significantly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to death as “The Christian’s Last Passover”.• With this Christological-Paschal view, the believer sees the opportunity that is offered him to personally face death as Christ did—filially and confidently—to thus convert his own dying into a definitive seal of his Christiformation, the sure
b) The particular judgment(i) The particular judgment as a corollary of the doctrine of retribution mox post mortem• The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.• The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second Coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith.” (no. 1021)
• In recent times the theory of the final option has been proposed (cf. L. Boros, 1962) which affirms that with death (release from the limitations inherent in earthly existence) there would be the possibility for the first totally personal act of man.• It errs in undervaluing the equally decisive character of the accumulation of free decisions taken throughout one’s earthly life.
(ii) Towards a Christological and Trinitarian concept of the particular judgment• The only real assessment that can be made of a mortal life is with reference to Christ. – Did the individual cultivate or not his union with the Lord? – Did he obey or place obstacles to the motions of the Spirit of the Son? – Did he shape his personal life as a filial Amen, or as a Non serviam to the Father?
c) One single life; definite character of earthly life, versus reincarnation theories• The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny.• When ‘the single course of our earthly life’ is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: ‘It is appointed for men to die once.’• There is no ‘reincarnation’ after death.” (no. 1013)
PURIFICATION BEYOND THIS WORLD• “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1054)• The doctrine of “Purgatory” contains two dogmatic affirmations: (1) the existence of a purification stage through which all those who die in the grace of God but without being fully ripe for divine communion have to go; and (2) the usefulness of the prayer of the living for the dead who are in their purification stage.
1. Scriptural Basis of the Doctrine of Purification after Deatha) The necessity for purification before Holy God, in the Old Testament (i) Divine Sanctity, human purification• In the Old Testament, we find an insistence on three ideas which underlie the notion of post mortem purification: 1) Only Yahweh is holy, and only holy ones can get close to Him: Due to this truth, man feels and suffers a need for purification. 2) It is Yahweh who purifies; but man should desire purification and ask for it with the help or mediation of others. 3) Man reaches salvation not only individually, but forming part of a community.
(ii) Prayer for the dead in 2Machabees• In 2Machabees, we notice an important development in Old Testament Revelation. – It tells us how, after a battle, Judas and his soldiers find little idols in the clothes of the fallen Jews. – Judas prays with his soldiers “asking that their sin be completely pardoned.”• We can therefore affirm that by the end of the Old Testament period we already find formulated the belief that the living, fulfilling a role of solidarity and intercession, could somehow make up for the purification which the dead failed to do in life.
b) Progressive and communitarian character of human sanctity, in the New Testament• Jesus takes up again the primordial reasoning of the law of sanctity: “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)• Only the clean of heart shall see God (cf. Matthew 5:8).• The writings of the New Testament also deepen our understanding of the communitarian aspect of salvation:• Christ, the hagios, clean, without stain of sin, offers himself as the Lamb to take away the sin of mankind, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaias of the suffering Servant and Savior.
b) Progressive and communitarian character of human sanctity, in the New Testament• Christians, as members of a priestly people, participate in the priestly action of Christ, offering their persons in union with the Lord as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.• The more one is united to Jesus and becomes a son of the Father, the more he participates in the intercessory power of Christ before the Father, and—as intimate friend of God—is able to intercede for others.
2. History of the Dogma of Purification Beyond This Worlda) The ancient tradition of praying for the dead• The Patristic idea of post mortem purification is born, not so much out of speculation, as from the real perception of different degrees of sanctity in Christians.• From here arise spontaneously, since the earliest times, two different practices: the invocation of the martyrs and other great saints; and intercessory prayer for the other dead.• At the beginning of the 3rd century, Tertullian speaks of the practice of praying for the dead as something received by Tradition (and, therefore, very old).
b) Development of the doctrine of post mortem purification in the Fathers• The thinkers of the school of Alexandria propose the peculiar theory of a fire which is applied to dead sinners to obtain their regeneration, converting even the impenitent (theory of the apokatastasis).• Clement of Alexandria believes that this fire is applied only to sinful souls, “applying it to the unrepentant against his will”.• In the final analysis, this would imply that hell is temporal.
b) Development of the doctrine of post mortem purification in the Fathers• Origen, successor of Clement in the school of Alexandria, speaks also of a “fuego sabio” (wise fire) which produces varied effects: depending on the cases, it can burn, cleanse, or delight.
c) The divergent perspectives of the East and the West• Both the Greek Church and the Latin Church coincide in the basic idea of a possible stage of purification beyond this world.• Divergences did not arise until the 13th century, when the Greeks start to show discomfort regarding certain aspects in the development of Latin theology.
c) The divergent perspectives of the East and the West• Among them is the linguistic transition (since the 12th century), from the adjective purgatorius (purgatorius ignis), to the subject purgatorium which connotes a place (since the Greeks would rather speak of a state or situation).• Still, Pope Innocent IV in a 1254 letter believes that the Greeks coincide with the Latin Church in the substance of the doctrine.
d) Luther’s rejection of Purgatory, and the response of Trent• The basic ideas of Luther that lead him to finally reject the doctrine of Purgatory are:(1) sola Scriptura (Luther declares that there is no mention of the doctrine of Purgatory in Sacred Scripture); and(2) sola gratia, sola fide (If the justice of the Son imputed to us is more than enough to save us, if we sinful men have no capacity to obtain salvation for ourselves and for others, what is the point of speaking of imperfect sanctity in the believer? And what is the point of speaking of the value of any action of the living in behalf of the dead?)
d) Luther’s rejection of Purgatory, and the response of Trent• The Council of Trent reaffirms the existence of Purgatory and deals with the practice of offering suffrages for the dead.• If we see this in the context of a global defense of the Church as “mystery-in-the- institution”, we would understand that the defense of indulgences is a defense of “solidarity in salvation”, the solidarity of the saints with the imperfect, of the living with the dead.
• In this way, the question of indulgences (a tragic divisive point for Christians in the 16th century) becomes linked to an immense mystery: the salvation by God of men, with men.
e) Purification beyond this world and the communion of saints, in the contemporary Magisterium• The experience of real imperfection of sanctity in the life of particular Christians, together with the conviction that nothing imperfect can be admitted to the divine company, leads naturally to the practice of imploring God to admit the deceased to his presence.• Such a pious activity is, basically, the expression of a filial desire—in union with Jesus—addressed to the Father. Simply, the children of God dare to ask, and they know they are heard.
3. Theological Reflection: Purgatory as Mystery of Final Maturationa) The gradual character of sanctity, a process which can remain unfinished during earthly life• Given that no one with the shadow of moral imperfection can be united to Holy God, the question spontaneously arises: What happens to the imperfect who die? Church Tradition formulates the answer in terms of a purifying stage after mortal life.
• The doctrine of Purgatory simply means that the process of perfection, if it is not completely fulfilled in this life, can be continued and consummated after death for those who die as friends of God.• The purgatory state, understood as a mystery of final maturation, is very consistent with the holiness, justice and mercy of God.
b) Theological and personal dimension of purification beyond this world• Charity infused in the creature by the Holy Spirit produces the ardent desire to be pleasing to the Father, like the Son.• A suffering of love arises in the individual who dies united to Christ but who sees himself still imperfectly configured to him and therefore unfit to stand before the Father.• We are dealing, then, with a pain of delay, analogous to the nostalgia of Christians for the Parousia.
c) Communitarian dimension of the mystery, solidarity in salvation: the mystery of the communion of saints• The Kingdom, still in its incipient state, is a united community of salvation.• It begins with the Incarnation, and grows throughout history with the incorporation of more and more men.• The Person of Jesus is like an anchor fixed inside the Trinity which permits all men to access the divine intimacy: first during earthly life through Baptism; and after death which for the just is a dying-in-Christ.
c) Communitarian dimension of the mystery, solidarity in salvation: the mystery of the communion of saints• From his seat at the right hand of the Father, Jesus intercedes for the living and the dead.• And those who are associated with him pray together with him: The members who are still on earth pray with him for the dead, while the saints who are already definitively incorporated to him pray for the living, in an organic mystery of charity.• We find ourselves immersed in a great transpersonal and supra-temporal network of charity.