I have not condemned the RCC to utter darkness, and am disappointed that Fr. Alvin thinks the conversation is over when I have not yet figured out how the RCC makes such decisions. The fact is I raised reasonable questions, and you accuse me of cult-like behavior.
Fr Giryus, I certainly do not want to disappoint you, but may I suggest that discussion of the Catholic understanding of authority and the way Catholicism develops, refines, and corrects its doctrinal teaching would be best done in a thread dedicated to that topic.
Catholic theologians vigorously debate all matters relating to doctrine and authority. Perhaps they have always done so, but that debate has become acute since Vatican II. At one end of the spectrum one has progressive Catholics who see Vatican II as authorizing radical departure from the doctrinal tradition; at the other end one has the SSPX (and apparently Fr Ambrose) who see Vatican II and the teachings of JPII and Benedict as representing a radical rupture with the past. And in the middle one finds John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and the Catholic Catechism interpreting Vatican II in continuity with the past, even while inaugurating a reform of Catholic theology and practice. The Catholic Church is a theological debating society. The boundaries are fairly easy to identify--and there are boundaries--but within those boundaries opinions on theological issues can vary greatly. There is both stability and fluidity. That may be frustrating to outsiders (as well as converts to Catholicism who are looking for doctrinal uniformity), but that's simply the way things are in the Catholic Church as it really is. Just ask the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits--as the Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas has quipped, only the Pope could have kept them in the same Church.
Two Catholics, three opinions.
The Catholic Church does believe that doctrine can develop. This means, therefore, that it is never quite sufficient to quote texts from the past, as if that settles everything. Cardinal Manning (no progressive he!) powerfully asserted the Catholic understanding:
It was the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity. But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine.
As soon as I perceived … that the Holy Spirit … has united himself indissolubly to the … Church of Jesus Christ, I saw at once that the interpretations or doctrines of the living Church are true because Divine…. I then saw that all appeals to … Scripture and antiquity, whether by individuals or by local churches, are no more than appeals from the Divine voice of the living Church, and therefore essentially rationalistic.
The appeal from the living voice of the Church to any tribunal whatsoever, human history included, is an act of private judgment and a treason because that living voice is supreme; and to appeal from that supreme voice is also a heresy because that voice by divine assistance is infallible.
This quote might provide a good starting point for discussion (in another thread!). Not all Catholics would agree with it, yet it does capture something of Catholic self-understanding. Most Catholics would disagree with Manning's Ultramontanism and would propose a more diffuse understanding of ecclesial authority, yet Catholics are confident that overtime the Spirit guides the Church in the truth. Thus Newman:
“Doctrine cannot but develop as time proceeds and need arises…. [These] developments are parts of the Divine system, and … therefore it is lawful, or rather necessary, to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier Church by the determinate teaching of the latter” (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine I.4.3.
Or as Richard John Neuhaus expressed the matter:
Councils can err, said the Reformers. No, says the Catholic Church, but the Church's teaching lives forward, and no definition, including that of councils, is entirely adequate to the whole of the truth. The Catholic Church has always taught with St. Paul that now, as he says in 1 Corinthians 13, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall understand fully, even as we have been fully understood. Along the way to that eschatological fullness—which is a frequently jagged, confusing, and conflicted way—it is promised to the Church that she will not, she will not irretrievably, lose the way. It is not everything that we might want, but it is enough; it is more than enough.
As I said earlier, you are on safe grounds relying on the Catholic Catechism and Popes John Paul and Benedict as faithful interpreters of Catholic doctrine. Regarding the topic at hand, namely, Purgatory, begin with the papal encyclical Spe Salvi
. Papal encyclicals enjoy a fairly high level of authority within the Catholic doctrinal system. There is nothing novel about Benedict's presentation--at least it's not novel to anyone who is acquainted with Catholic theological reflection during the fifty years.
Anyway, if you (not you specifically, Fr Giryus, but the Orthodox members of this forum) want to discuss the Catholic understanding of authority and the development of doctrine, then let's do so in another thread. If you want to discuss Purgatory, then take the teachings of the Catholic Catechism, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI as your authoritative beginning point. I'm not going to argue with folks who want to insist that the SSPX represents real Catholicism. That really is an intra-Catholic debate, and it should not be played out on an Orthodox forum. Just as Catholics should not tell Orthodox what they believe, or should believe, about toll-houses, so Orthodox should not tell Catholics what they believe, or should believe, about Purgatory.