Monday, December 03, 2007

Poll-Release Monday #37

Here is this week's poll question:

"Have you read the pope's new encyclical (Spe Salvi)?"

I haven't read it yet, but I certainly plan on it. What about you? Vote in the poll in my sidebar.

As for last week's poll question ("Is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus [cf. Lk 16:19-31] a reference to Purgatory?"), here are the results:
  • No: 10 (45%)
  • Yes: 8 (36%)
  • I don't know: 4 (18%)
  • Total Votes: 22
Now, let me give you my thoughts on this passage. First, here are the Scripture verses:

Lk 16:19-31 "There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz'arus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz'arus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz'arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz'arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' 27 And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' 29 But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' 30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'"

I have seen this passage used in several apologetical essays as a defense for the doctrine of Purgatory. While I most certainly believe in the reality of Purgatory, I don't think this passage is meant to present it.

One thing I've noticed about Catholic apologists is that they like to borrow each other's arguments. That's fine and all (after all, we don't have copyrights on the truth), but sometimes it can happen that one apologist uses a bad argument and then everyone picks it up and starts using it too just b/c that apologist happens to be popular or well-respected.

One example is the argument that Simon's name in Aramaic means "grain of sand." I don't see this argument so much anymore, but apologists used to use a lot it in their defense of Peter as the Rock. The disparity between "grain of sand" and "rock" was meant to show that Jesus had great things in mind for Simon when he changed his name to Peter. However, when I reasearched this argument (consulting actual experts in Aramaic) I discovered that Simon's name does not mean "grain of sand" at all. Instead, it means "listen, hearken, obedient." If I had just accepted that argument blindly, then I would have propogated a falsehood, which isn't very cool.

I'm beginning to wonder if the same thing is going on with this passage from Luke's gospel. I just don't think it refers to Purgatory. For one, whenever Jesus told the people parables, He always referred to objects, and characters, and settings with which they were familiar. He drew from their own culture and beliefs. We have to keep this in mind whenever we are interpreting His parables.

Now, what from Jewish custom or belief could Jesus be referring to when He speaks of the destinations of the rich man and Lazarus? The Jews did believe in a place of waiting in the afterlife, and they prayed for the dead. In that way their beliefs are similar to what we believe about Purgatory. But, the Jews didn't believe in Purgatory as such, or as we understand it. As far as I know, they did not believe in a place where souls destined for heaven were purged of their imperfections.

What they believed in was Hades, and the "bosom of Abraham." Hades and Purgatory are not the same place, most notably b/c Hades is a place where all souls went once they left this world, both the righteous and the wicked ones. Hades was a place of comfort for the righteous souls, who rested there in the bosom of Abraham. Hades was a place of torment for the wicked souls, who were tortured with fire.

This is exactly what Jesus describes in the parable. He even specifically mentions the bosom of Abraham and Hades.

22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz'arus in his bosom.

Jesus is using a setting with which his audience was familiar so as to stress the importance of living righteously in this life. There are no "second chances," not even in Purgatory. And, while Hades is similar in some ways to Purgatory, I think it's too great of a leap to use this parable as a Scriptural defense for Purgatory. At the most, it could be used to establish a precedent for belief in an intermediate state for the righteous. But that's about as far as it goes. The Jewish intermediate state is still quite different from the Catholic one.

I've seen some Protestants say that the torments of the rich man are those of Hell. But this doesn't work either. For one, Scripture specifically says that the rich man was in Hades (cf. vs. 23). Secondly, the rich man is able to communicate with Abraham and to show concern for his brothers. But Hell is a place of total separation from the Body of Christ and it is filled with souls who think only of themselves.

Of course, I'm open to correction on any of the points I've made in this post. But, until then, I have decided to no longer use this parable in my own defense of Purgatory. In once sense, talk of the souls in Purgatory is "SOOooooo-November," but in another sense, we can relate to these souls in a very real way during Advent and the month of December. After all, like them (and also like the righteous who were in Hades), we anxiously await the coming of the Messiah and the salvation that He brings.

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

1 comment:

Hidden One said...

I don't necessarily think it's a reference to Purgatory, but rather a handy attack against the Heaven/Hell-only brand of Protestantism, myself.

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