Thursday, 24 August 2017

** FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant Number 738 23 August 17 WHAT LIES BEYOND?


‘Where will you be after you die?’ Most believers would answer: ‘In Heaven’. Fewer: ‘In Hell’. (‘I am so bad!’ confessed a tormented French youth to me: ‘Satan wants me!’) There is third possible location, however: Purgatory. Or Barzakh. An intermediate state. Both Catholics and Muslims believe in it. The priest does, too.

Who will be in Purgatory? Consult Dante’s Divine Comedy. All types of interesting sinners are there. From the proud to the lustful, through the wrathful and the slothful. Folks high and low. Such as the Roman statesman Cato, who killed himself rather than live on under a dictatorship. And Pia de Tolomei, a lady from Siena murdered by her husband out of jealousy. Who would Dante pick today, I wonder? President Putin? Hillary Clinton? Melania Trump? Or even…Princess Diana?

‘There is a Purgatory’, proclaimed the Council of Trent, also imposing a curse on disbelievers. Logical. All Catholic teaching is summed up in the doctrine of Purgatory. Because it is about the salvation of your soul and the means to it. Catholics must subscribe to it, as it is a dogma of faith. Hence essential to salvation. Protestants denied it but even John Calvin admitted the faithful had always believed it. The Church of England also rejected it as ‘a vain doctrine’ but that is bound up with obsolete diatribes. The High Church party held it OK. Devout Anglican parishioners assured me they believed in Purgatory. I agreed with them. It makes good theological sense.

Muslims affirms a similar concept. Barzakh means a realm in between. A boundary, limit or barrier separating Heaven and Hell. The virtuous inhabit it. In the Barzakh they await resurrection, in a quiescent state, with confidence in their final reward. One Qur’an passage refers to it: ‘…Before them is a partition, till the day they are raised up’ (Surah al Muminun, 100). Ghazali, the famous mystic, also speaks about it. So does Ibn Arabi. However, in Islam Barzakh is not as clearly drawn and as doctrinally made out as the Christian Purgatory.

Purgatory implies two divine mysteries: Justice and Mercy. Justice demands that sinners should pay some penalty. That is why souls who have died not having fully atoned for their sins on earth should be purified before reaching Paradise. Divine mercy guarantees that, once the temporal punishment has been performed, the way to eternal glory is assured. Yes, Purgatory entails some spiritual suffering, or frustration of the will, but that is what purification is all about. An impure consciousness has to be cleansed. The Masses, prayers and oblations of the faithful on earth can help the soul in the intermediate state to get to his eternal goal.

Church dogma apart, is there evidence for Purgatory? Plenty. That learned and pious English historian, the Venerable Bede, tells the touching story of Drithelm, a man from Northumbria. To admonish the living, after Drithelm died, God permitted him to come back and reveal what he had seen in the next world – a vision of the cleansing flames of Purgatory. And Bede is not alone. St Monica, St Catherine of Genoa, St Robert Bellarmine, St Gregory the Great, St Theresa of Avila, St Maddalena de Pazzi, St Stanislaus Kostka, St Bernardin of Siena, St Catherine of Sweden, St Hugh of Cluny, St Lidwina, St Catherine de Ricci, St Bridget, St Gertrude, Blessed Henry Suso, St Odilo, St Nicholas of Tolentino, St Alphonse Liguori…and many more. A cloud of witnesses attesting to the truth of that intervenient state.

The Reformers thought Purgatory unbiblical. Yet even the valiant Hebrew hero Judas Maccabeus prayed that the sins of his fallen, fellow fighters might be blotted out (2 Mach. 12:39) – a prayer clearly importing the possibility of post-mortem purification. And St Paul himself alludes to the fact of a cleansing fire in I Corinthians, 3:15.

The testimony of the saints is all very well but, short of divine revelation, how could you know that someone like, say, Princess Diana, is in Purgatory? No, it cannot be a strict matter of empirical knowledge, natural or supernatural. Yet Dante as a poet could quite wonderfully fill the unseen world he sang with all sort of people. His ‘proofs’ were theological. Church teaching laid out clearly what sin was, as well as the attendant penalties. Sufi master Ibn Arabi’s profound concept of the ‘Creative Imagination’ is like that. Not mere phantasy but a spiritual faculty that gives access to a’alam al-Mithal: the intermediate dimension.

In my e-book on Princess Diana, available here:
I, who knew her, give her a voice, allow her to speak. She did much good, yet she was flawed. Lack of lawful marital love drove her to seek satisfaction elsewhere. One thing is clear: her ghost keeps haunting the universal imagination. As the twentieth anniversary of her death approaches, the media overflow with Diana stories and memories. Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Shakespeare’s play, she will not go away until…what? Guess!

Conspiracy theories about Diana’s death aside, her spirit appears restless. The ‘Queen of People’s Hearts’ refuses to leave the hearts of her people alone. Indeed, as she intimated in a famous interview, she would not ‘go quietly’. Thus, it seems plausible to me that in the Beyond the Princess’ soul is now being purified, as she ascends the Seven-Storey Mountain between Heaven and Earth. Higher she goes, yearning for Eternal Peace.

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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