Sunday, January 28, 2007

Purgatory Not Anglican

An excerpt from my sermon on Purgatory today:

But how did some Anglicans start to believe in it, even though the Anglican Church flatly denies it? It seems to have started with John Henry Newman in the 1800’s. He explained that Purgatory was not the place of hellish suffering, so typically believed by Roman Catholics, but rather more like the Eastern view – a place where the purging away of sin was more like a healing process than a suffering process. It was similar to the idea of Purgatory in Dante’s Divine Comedy. This is also the idea of Purgatory that C. S. Lewis wound up holding. Now, notice this: since Newman’s idea was of a different kind of Purgatory than that of the Roman Church, he did not think that he was contradicting the Articles of the Church of England, for Article XXII states: "The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, … is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God." (emphasis mine) Since Newman’s idea was not technically the "Romish" idea, then it was all right.
But here’s the problem with this kind of thing. The objection of the Reformers to Purgatory was not merely against the kind of Purgatory of the Romish Church. It was against any idea of an intermediate place for purging at all.
Here’s what the Second Book of Homilies says about it: “…as the Scripture teacheth vs, let vs thinke that the soule of man passing out of the body, goeth straight wayes either to heauen, or else to hell, whereof the one needeth no prayer, and the other is without redemption. The only Purgatory wherein we must trust to be saued, is the death and bloud of Christ, which if we apprehend with a true and stedfast faith, it purgeth and cleanseth vs from all our sinnes (1 John 1.7), euen as well as if hee were now hanging vpon the Crosse.”
Thus we learn that the concern of the Reformers of our Church was not the kind of intermediate state called Purgatory but that there would be any intermediate purgation at all. By “The Romish doctrine,” they meant Purgatory as taught in that Church at that time as an intermediate place of purgation. It is not a reference to the particular type of purgation suffered in such a place. It is therefore wrong for Anglicans, such as Newman or Lewis, to try to get around the XXII Article by arguing that the Reformers did not mean to exclude any kind of intermediate purgation at all.


Michael said...

A technical point, first of all, sir: I would have to call you on your use of the term "Anglican", which simply refers to the church in England, and was used much earlier than the English Reformation. The Anglican Church has a heritage much broader and deeper than the sixteenth century.

More importantly: even the Articles themselves would tell you that ultimate authority for the Church of England is Holy Scripture - not the Articles of Religion! And, the broad consensus of the Anglican reformers is that Scripture is interpreted by the consensus of the early fathers and councils. There is a source that sixteenth century sources, such as the homilies, are evaluated on the basis of, and they stand as an ultimate judge. If the Reformation can say that many centuries of dogma were wrong, how can we then set up every single Reformed position as somehow infallible.

I'm not saying whether there is a purgatory or not, or whether belief in such can be reconciled to the reformed Anglican position, but I am forced to question your logic (with all respect, of course!)

Rev. Beckmann said...


Thank you for your comments. First of all, I am aware of the fact that the term Anglican is not limited to the post-16th century Church of England. In fact, I once had another person complain to me that I called Stephen Langton an Anglican in another of my posts.

My use of the Articles of Religion or the Homilies is not to set them up as the basis of faith and practice, but as a reference to how the Church of England has interpreted Scripture. It is true that the Reformers of the Anglican Church referred to the Church Fathers. I understand the result of their study of Scripture and the Fathers to be published in the Articles. The Homilies were authorised as an interpretation of that system of doctrine found in the Articles. I am not moving away from a sola Scriptura position.

As for the post in question, my point is that the Reformers of the Church of England have expressed their understanding of Scripture regarding Purgatory in the Articles and Homilies, not to mention elsewhere. Their interpretation is consistent with all the Reformed Churches. It is simply observation of historical fact in an attempt to better understand where the Anglican Church has stood on the issue in contradiction to those who would have us believe otherwise.