If folks here want to debate purgatory, then I suggest that you use this passage as your starting point and the basis of discussion. Theologians may quibble here and there, but I'll make this claim: no serious disagreement exists today between Orthodoxy and Catholicism on the question of post-mortem purification.
That is quite a strong statement, Father Kimel.
It can only be true if you can assure us that the Roman Catholic Church has rejected its belief that there such a thing as temporal punishment accruing to sin which must be expiated in purgatory.
If the Catholic Church has not rejected this belief then there remains very serious disagreement between us.
In 1967, which is a mere 43 years ago, the Catholic Church had not rejected its previous teaching. It was officially proclaimed by Pope Paul VI.
1.2. It is a divinely revealed truth that sins bring punishments inflicted by God's sanctity and justice. These must be expiated either on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and calamities of this life and above all through death, or else in the life beyond through fire and torments or "purifying" punishments.
The sufferings of purgatory are simultaneously
expiatory. How could it be otherwise? If it were not the case, then the suffering endured by the redeemed after death would be unjust and God would be guilty of acting unjustly in permitting and imposing such suffering. The purgatorial "punishment" ends precisely at that point when the individual is personally liberated from all selfishness and prepared to love and enjoy God perfectly.
Father, if I may be blunt, this is the critical point that you have been unable to see throughout these long discussions. By Latin understanding, the punishments of purgatory are not inflicted upon the sinner from the outside; they are not a form of extrinsic retribution: the punishments are simply that inevitable suffering that comes when God treats our sickness and liberates us from remaining attachment to sin. Or as the Catholic Catechism puts it: "On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the ‘temporal punishment’ of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin." The suffering of purgatory always has as its purpose the healing of the sinner and the restoration of harmony, peace, and justice. It is not punishment for punishment's sake, as if God enjoys inflicting pain, despite the repentance and conversion of the guilty party. The temporal punishment of sin is identical
to the divine act that liberates us from sin and heals our souls; it is identical to that divine forgiveness that makes us capable of perfect communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Is this absent from the Eastern tradition? It certainly isn't if at the Council of Florence Bessarion accurately presented the then prevalent Eastern view. At Florence the Eastern participants certainly acknowledged the reality of divine punishment in Hades, but insisted that this punishment ends when forgiveness occurs. In the words of Ostroumoff:
To all this the Orthodox party gave a clear and satisfactory answer. They remarked, that the words quoted from the book of Maccabees, and our Saviour's words, can only prove that some sins will be forgiven after death; but whether by means of punishment by fire, or by other means, nothing was known for certain. Besides, what has forgiveness of sins to do with punishment by fire and tortures? Only one of these two things can happen: either punishment or forgiveness, and not both at once.
This is a slightly different way of conceptualizing the matter, but it need not be seen as contradicting the Latin approach. We would need to unpack further what it means for God to forgive sins after death. We certainly do not want to think of God as only forgiving until we repent fully and completely, as if God's infinite love is conditional upon our behavior and attitudes. Would it not be better to think of forgiveness as identical to that divine act whereby the sinner is perfectly conformed to the image of Christ. In the most fundamental sense of the word, we are forgiven at that moment in which we are finally prepared to enter into the fullness of eternal joy.
The Latin notion of "temporal punishment of sin," is not an easy notion for us today to grasp; and it is certainly the case that it has been grossly misrepresented in popular Catholic presentations. It may also be said that Pope Paul VI's presentation of temporal punishment of sin is one-sided and very close to misrepresenting the complete truth of the matter. If you want a truly "traditional" Catholic presentation, I suggest that you revisit Thomas Aquinas and his discussion of penance and satisfaction. In her essay on Aquinas and Atonement
, Eleonore Stump explains the nature of satisfaction: "So the function of satisfaction for Aquinas is not to placate a wrathful God or in some other way remove the constraints which compel God to damn sinners. Instead, the function of satisfaction is to restore a sinner to a state of harmony with God by repairing or restoring in the sinner what sin has damaged." (Aquinas, p. 432).
Now this way of thinking about things may be alien to contemporary Orthodox, but I doubt it was completely alien to Orthodox of earlier generations, as the Confession of Dositheus, approved by the 1672 Synod of Jerusalem, attests:
And the souls of those involved in mortal sins, who have not departed in despair but while still living in the body, though without bringing forth any fruits of repentance, have repented — by pouring forth tears, by kneeling while watching in prayers, by afflicting themselves, by relieving the poor, and finally by showing forth by their works their love towards God and their neighbor, and which the Catholic Church has from the beginning rightly called satisfaction — [their souls] depart into Hades, and there endure the punishment due to the sins they have committed. But they are aware of their future release from there, and are delivered by the Supreme Goodness, through the prayers of the Priests, and the good works which the relatives of each do for their Departed; especially the unbloody Sacrifice benefiting the most; which each offers particularly for his relatives that have fallen asleep, and which the Catholic and Apostolic Church offers daily for all alike. Of course, it is understood that we do not know the time of their release. We know and believe that there is deliverance for such from their direful condition, and that before the common resurrection and judgment, but when we know not.
I have asked two Orthodox theologians, Fr Patrick Reardon and Fr Andrew Louth, whether the contemporary Catholic construal of purgatory poses any serious problems for Orthodoxy. Both have assured me that it does not. No doubt the Orthodox had sound and compelling reasons in the past to reject Latin formulations of purgatory; but those reasons simply do not obtain in the present. Instead of fighting old battles, why not rejoice in this ecumenical convergence in the catholic faith?