I probably should confess my own confusion about one specific aspect of Catholic teaching on Baptism, purgatory, and the temporal punishment of sin. As someone above has pointed out, traditional Catholic teaching claims that Baptism remits all temporal punishment of sin (see, e.g., Thomas Aquinas
). Now perhaps I have misunderstood this teaching, but this seems to imply that if an adult gets baptized and then immediately dies, he is immediately admitted to Heaven without any kind of purification or purgation. I honestly do not understand this. This logically follow only if one is interpreting the temporal punishment of sin through a juridical prism. The matter looks differently, however, when one reflects on these matters in more personalist and existential terms. The experience of Christians down through the ages would seem to suggest that Holy Baptism does not immediately heal us of all the personal damage done to us by years of sinful behavior. It does not immediately and completely liberate us from our egotism and sinful inclinations. Yet the classical teaching says that if an adult immediately dies after Baptism he is brought immediately into Heaven, bypassing all post-mortem purification, whereas if the baptized Christian dies after a life-time of penitence and participation in the sacramental life of the Church, he may still need to go through eschatological purification. Why does the Sacrament of Baptism allow one to bypass eschatological purification but the Sacrament of Confession does not? I honestly do not understand this, nor have I found the usual explanations convincing.
This is not just a problem with the Catholic schema, however. One also finds something similar, e.g., in St Mark of Ephesus. In his first homily on purgatory, Mark distinguishes three remissions of sin: (1) during Baptism, (2) after Baptism, through conversion and good works, and (3) after death, through the prayers and good deeds of the Church. The first remission, Mark tells us, is not bound up with any labor. It is "grace alone and of us is asked nothing else but faith." The second remission is painful, involving contrition, repentance, and weeping. The third remission is also painful, "for it is bound up with repentance and a conscience that is contrite and suffers from insufficiency of good." "Moreover," says St Mark, "in the first and last remission of sins the grace of God has the larger part, with the cooperation of prayers, and very little is brought in by us. The middle remission, on the other hand, has little from grace, while the greater part is owing to our labor." Quite honestly, I find this presentation as unsatisfactory as the classical Roman position. It too seems to suffer from a juridical construal of post-baptismal sin and seems to suggest that God has to be persuaded by our ascetical works to forgive. The unconditionality of God's love and mercy seems to get pushed aside. No wonder some folks in the early centuries inferred that it would be best to postpone Holy Baptism until later in life. Yet surely such an inference is wrong--and not just because death can come to us at any time, without warning.
IMHO, this is an area that requires more reflection by both Catholics and Orthodox.