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Geralt wrote:

Hi, guys —

Good day.

I am Geralt from the Philippines. I chanced upon your web site and find it interesting. It helps me understand the rationality of the Catholic faith.

I would like to ask about the biblical evidence for Purgatory from the following passages:

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:25-26 (See also Luke 12:58-59)

In Dave Armstrong's blog, he cited the explanation for these passages. With

  • St. Francis de Sales
  • Origen
  • St. Cyprian
  • St. Hilary
  • St Ambrose
  • St. Jerome, and
  • St. Augustine

all saying the way being referred to in [while you are still together on the way] is no other than the passage of the present life: and the adversary will be our own conscience, as St. Ambrose, Bede, St. Augustine, St. Gregory [the Great], and St. Bernard expound.

Lastly, the judge is without doubt Our Lord . . . The prison, again, is . . . the place of punishment in the other world, in which, as in a large jail, there are many buildings;

  • one for those who are damned, which is as it were for criminals,
  • the other for those in Purgatory, which is for debt.

The farthing, [penny] . . . are little sins and infirmities, as the farthing is the smallest money one can owe.

The Protestant web site [web address hidden] interprets the passages as follows:

Matthew 5:26,18:34; Luke 12:58-59:

Jesus teaches us, "Come to terms with your opponent or you will be handed over to the judge and thrown into prison. You will not get out until you have paid the last penny." The word "opponent" (antidiko) is likely a reference to the devil.

(See the same word for devil in 1 Peter 5:8) who is an accuser against man.
(cf. Job 1.6-12; Zechariah 3.1; Revelation 12.10), and God is the judge.

If we have not adequately dealt with satan and sin in this life, we will be held in a temporary state called a prison, and we won't get out until we have satisfied our entire debt to God. This "prison" is Purgatory where we will not get out until the last penny is paid.

  • What does the word "accuser" or "opponent" actually refer to?
    • our conscience, or
    • the devil?

In Dave's blog, it was cited that the prison consists of one place for the damned and another place for Purgatory while at [web address hidden], the prison is Purgatory itself.

  • Which one is true?

I really hope you could reply soon to my question. Thank you very much, God bless you all, and more power to your apologetic work!!!

Regards,

Geralt

  { Can you help me understand these verses related to Purgatory and what these words mean? }

Mike replied:

Hi Geralt,

You said:
Matthew 5:26,18:34; Luke 12:58-59:

Jesus teaches us, "Come to terms with your opponent or you will be handed over to the judge and thrown into prison. You will not get out until you have paid the last penny." The word "opponent" (antidiko) is likely a reference to the devil.

(See the same word for devil in 1 Peter 5:8) who is an accuser against man. (cf. Job 1.6-12; Zechariah 3.1; Revelation 12.10), and God is the judge.

  • What does the word "accuser" or "opponent" actually refer to?
    • our conscience, or
    • the devil?

I'm not strong on Biblical Greek so I'll let one of my other colleagues comment.

That bastard Satan or the devil can't accuse us of anything because he has no authority to accuse us of anything. I would agree with the explanation's of the Church Fathers that Dave cited; our conscience accuses us.

One cannot be guilt of sin if they did not know something is a sin, but once we are conscientious that certain actions are sinful, our conscience knows that they we have to repent and make amends for future sins we now know are sinful.

A well-formed Catholic Christian conscience has no problems accepting Purgatory because the saved soul appreciates that nothing impure can enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27), and that any remaining self-love or attachments to earthly habits has to be burned away first.

St. Paul assume this in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 as does Judas Maccabeus. Read 2 Maccabees 12:39-46, a book of the bible disputed by Protestants but still a valid record of historical Judaism.

You said:
In Dave's blog, it was cited that the prison consists of one place for the damned and another place for Purgatory while at [web address hidden], the prison is Purgatory itself.

However you see it, Purgatory has nothing to do at all with Hell, the place for the damned. Purgatory is like the Holy Hospital of Heaven. It's the entrance into Heaven. Souls in Purgatory are saved by the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus, Our Lord.

Those in Hell, the place of the damned, have freely chosen Hell by their actions and chosen not to be saved.

One final note: You'll never find the word Purgatory in the Bible because Purgatory is a Latin word and for the first three centuries of the Church everyone spoke either Aramaic or Greek, so Greeks weren't going to give us a Latin word.

Also the Scriptures, as we have them today, weren't canonized until A.D. 382 at the Council of Rome.

Nevertheless, the concept of Purgatory was believed as my new web site on the Early Church Fathers attests to:

BibleBeltCatholics: The Early Church on Purgatory

I hope this helps,

Mike

John replied:

Geralt —

This is not a case where we go looking to the Greek to find out who the opponent is. There is no reference to Satan here. Look at the context.

Jesus is instructing the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount and telling them to live in harmony. Look at the preceding verses. If you are about to give an offering at the altar and realize your brother has something against you, go settle with your brother and then come back and make your offering.

John

Geralt replied:

Dear AskACatholic team,

Thank you very much. I have also tried to e-mail other Catholic web sites about this verse but only your team took some time to reply.

Your explanation helped me understand Matthew 5:26;18:34. However, I did some research about this verse which proves that interpretations by [web address hidden] and the one cited by Dave Armstrong can be equally correct.

I found St Ambrose's interpretation about the 'adversary' stated in Matthew 5:26;18:34 from Catena Aurea Commentary with Douay Rheims bible.

Ambrose: Or our adversary is the devil, who lays his baits for sin, that he may have those his partners in punishment who were his accomplices in crime; our adversary is also every vicious practice. Lastly, our adversary is an evil conscience which affects us both in this world, and will accuse and betray us in the next. Let us then give heed, while we are in this life's course, that we may be delivered from every bad act as from an evil enemy. Nay, while we are going with our adversary to the magistrate, as we are in the way, we should condemn our fault. But who is the magistrate, but He in whose hands is all power? But the Magistrate delivers the guilty to the Judge, that is, to Him, to whom He gives the power over the quick and dead, namely, Jesus Christ, through Whom the secrets are made manifest, and the punishment of wicked works awarded. He delivers to the officer, and the officer casts into prison, for He says, Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness. And he shows that His officers are the angels, of whom he says, The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; but it is added, I tell you, you shall not depart thence till you have paid the very last mite. For as they who pay money on interest do not get rid of the debt of interest before that the amount of the whole principal is paid even up to the least sum in every kind of payment, so by the compensation of love and the other acts, or by each particular kind of satisfaction the punishment of sin is canceled.

So according to St. Ambrose, the adversary referred to in this verse can be:

  • the devil
  • our evil conscience, or
  • any vicious practice.

Actually, I also asked Dave Armstrong about the different interpretations cited by his blog and [web address hidden] but he told me that he doesn't know which one is true. According to Dave, it is a classic case of commentators having different opinions, and sometimes a Bible verse can have multiple applications.

I think St. Ambrose's interpretation gives multiple applications to Matthew 5:26;18:34 and justifies interpretations cited by Dave.

I hope you'll find this interesting and worth sharing to your followers.

Thank you very much and God bless.

In Him,

Geralt

John replied:

Geralt —

Dave Armstrong is an excellent apologist. I've had the pleasure of meeting him at couple of different conferences. We've communicated many times via e-mail so I respect what he has to say.

I think we are confusing application and interpretation. When we look at the text we, first and foremost, want to look at the context and see what the author or the passage is saying.

Now in terms of using this as a "proof text" for Purgatory, I can tell you as former Protestant Minister, it's not going to fly. You or I might be able to see the layers of meaning in the text but it's not going to convince any Protestant. They pretty much reject allegorical interpretations. They pretty much stick to a strict contextual hermeneutic.

Ambrose is applying the text in moral exhortation. He's not interpreting or performing exegesis. As Catholics, we are more open to hearing this sort of thing but it's not really going to work with Protestants unless you lay down quite a bit of other ground work.

Moreover, using this text for Purgatory tends to reinforce the juridical paradigm used to explain Purgatory. That paradigm or model (the juridical) has caused as much confusion about what Purgatory is, as it has in explaining the mystery.

Purgatory is a place of purification, not punishment in the strict sense of the word. If we want to talk in terms of punishment, it's not about paying debt so much as it is rehabilitation. In the Middle Ages, the Church embraced the juridical paradigm over the "Healing" or "Purification" paradigm and in doing so, it led to all kinds of misunderstandings.

Yes, we suffer in Purgatory, but the pain is healing pain. If we want to talk in terms of punishment:

  • It is the punishment of a father towards a son; so that son learns how to behave.
  • It's not the punishment of a judge who is extracting justice. That punishment was born by Christ on the Cross.

John

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