Thanks, Father, for your thoughtful post.
Well, I think this has devolved into the classic problem of defining 'official teaching.'
Yep, always a fun, and frustrating, problem to debate, whether within one's own Church or between Churches.
The fact that no Great Council has tackled the issue of the mystery of death should tell us something in big letters. Death is a mystery, so just about anything that you say about it is going to be wrong in some way once you abandon the firm territory of the Creed and the Scriptures.
Excellent point. Magisterial Catholic teaching on the after-life is actually quite limited--hence the proliferation of opinions and speculations.
I think we (Orthodox and Roman) can agree on some points:
1 ) in the period following earthly death, the soul/spirit of the person engages in a particular judgment of the conscience.
2 ) this process may be longer for those persons who love God but have not repented of their sins.
Yes, whatever "longer" means within this context. What does time mean for the intermediate stage? How does the time for the intermediate stage coordinate with our historical time?
3 ) those who hate God are taken quickly to a 'place' they find tormenting.
4 ) the spiritual realm cannot be defined by space or material (The RCC agreed with St. Mark of Ephesus at Florence by not insisting on material fire).
Yes. I do not know of many contemporary Catholic theologians who would speak of the purgatorial fire as a material fire, and as Pope Benedict noted in his encyclical Spe Salvi
, many Catholic theologians identify this "fire" with God himself.
5 ) the dead find benefit from prayers, acts of mercy and offerings made for them.
Yes. This, I think, is the fundamental dogmatic datum.
6 ) in certain instances, God allows the dead to manifest themselves to ask for assistance in this process.
I do not recall much, if any, discussion of this among Catholic writers. I have to plead ignorance.
7 ) demons do appear to torment the dead just as they do the living, though God permits this in various ways and at various levels just as He does for the living.
I don't know about this either. Again I have to plead ignorance. My sense, though, is that contemporary Catholic thinkers might be uncomfortable with this, at least regarding the souls in the condition of purification. But if God permits such torment, it is by way of assisting purification. According to Catholic understanding, those in purgatory are firmly settled in the love of God and thus beyond temptation. The assurance that one is now beyond the possibility of turning away from God through sin grounds the profound joy and happiness of Purgatory.
8 ) the Virgin Mary and the Saints appear to play a critical role in the judgment of the soul be means of encouragement and bearing witness to the good deeds of the person in life.
9 ) the dead can no longer pray to God for themselves, and so the Church is necessary to make this process.
Yes, that sounds right, too.
I can think of one point on which Catholics and Orthodox might disagree--namely, the possibility that a given soul might alter his orientation to God, from hostility to love, in response to the prayers of the Church. It is Catholic teaching that one's fundamental orientation toward or away from God is definitively established through one's moral decisions throughout one's life, culminating in death. In the words of Pope Benedict: "With death, our life-choice becomes definitive--our life stands before the judge." But precisely what this means no one can say. It does not mean that a Catholic cannot hope and pray for the salvation of each and every human being. We are not given to know if even one person has eternally rejected God; we do not know if any persists in mortal sin in that final eschatological encounter with the risen Christ (see Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope 'That All Men Be Saved'?
; Richard John Neuhaus, "Will All Be Saved?
"). And so Catholics, with the Orthodox, pray and hope for the salvation of all; but we do believe that if
a person definitively
chooses against God in this life, he is beyond repentance in the next. If an incorrigibly unrepentant soul can be converted back to God through the prayers of the Church, then why does not God convert all souls? Perhaps this represents a point of disagreement between the two communions, but perhaps further analysis would reveal that the disagreement is only apparent, not substantive. Any thoughts on this, Father?