Linggo, Hunyo 24, 2012

After Death, What?

After Death, What?

By  Feljun B. Fuentes

UNLIKE other beings God created which simply abandon their dead wherever they die, human mourn and observe complex funeral practices and rituals.  Men do not just bury their dead but bury them in a ritualistic manner.  Archaeologists and anthropologists can readily attest to this fact, for the remains of the early human beings—a major concern of these scientists—affirm the early existence of ritualistic burial practices.  These are, in some places, continually practiced up to the present.

     Though humans never neglect their dead but make sure that they are buried honorably, their rituals vary from culture to culture.  Or, more exactly, beliefs behind such practices differ among religions.

November Festival
     Roman Catholics throughout the world observe a festival for the dead or for the souls of the dead.  This feast is called All Souls’ Day.  Before the month of November comes Catholics prepare for this occasion.  The following is a clear description of the Catholic festival of All Souls:

     “All Souls’ Day,  in the Roman Catholic Church, a day for commemoration of all the faithful departed, those baptized Christians who are believed to be in purgatory because they have died with the guilt of lesser sins on their souls, celebrated on November 2, or November 3 if November 2 is Sunday ….” [The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, 15th ed., s. v. “All Souls’ Day.”]

     Officially, All Souls’ Day is observed in the Roman Catholic Church on November 2 or November 3.  The significance of this occasion lies in the fact that it is for commemoration of all the souls of the departed which, they believe are in purgatory.  (The teaching on purgatory shall be touched later.)

     In most parts of the Philippines, or possibly in other countries, too, All Souls’ Day is observed by the Roman Catholics on November 1 instead of November 2 although, officially, November 1 is All Saints’ Day.  These  must not be taken as one and the same festival.  At any rate, whatever this feast is called, or whenever it is observed, is not so important.  What is important here is the ritual practice of the Catholics with regards the dead.

     A brief historical account on the beginnings of All Souls’ Day is found in the Encyclopaedia Britannica; thus:

     “From antiquity certain days were devoted to intercession for particular groups of the dead.  The institution of a day for a general intercession on November 2 is due to Odilo, abbot of Cluny (died 1048).  The date, which became practically universal before the end of the 13th century was chosen to follow All Saints’ Day.  Having celebrated the feast of all the members of the church who are believed to be in heaven, the church on earth turns, on the nest day, to commemorate those souls believed to be suffering in purgatory.” [Ibid.]

     Long time ago, no fixed date was assigned for interceding or praying for the departed ones.  Only during the time of a certain Odilo was it set on November 2.  But the date became universal not later than the thirteenth century.  One can easily imagine how fluid or flexible the days were the intercession of the living. (Intercession is needed because of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory.)

     Old people may, from past experiences, share the ways they observed and practiced rituals during the occasion.  In the Philippines, for instance, it is hitherto observable that many go to the camposanto (cemetery) during the undas (All Soul’s Day) and clean the tombs of their loved ones by whitewashing them and weeding them of grass which had grown after the previous year’s observance.  They even light candles and put them up either on top or beside the tombs.  Tombs are also decorated with artificial flowers and wreaths.  It is likewise customary among Filipinos to cook and eat guinatan (porridge) which could well be taken as the counterpart of All Soul’s cakes in other countries (like Belgium).   Devout Catholics and even some non-Catholics do these.  The Catholic Church tolerates such activities, although some of these practices are unofficial, and recognizes them as part of folk Catholicism.

     Though people who practice such activities and rituals may maintain that they are serious about this matter, and they enjoy observing such feasts, it is evident that All Soul’s Day observance really consumes much of their time, effort, and even large sum of money.  These, they believe, nevertheless help the dead or the souls in purgatory.

Prayers For The Dead
     What is this so-called purgatory where some souls are alleged to have been stationed?  A Catholic book entitled Catholicism relates the following:

     “Purgatory is a place or state in which are detained the souls of those who die in grace, in friendship with God, but with the blemish of venial sin or with temporal debt for sin unpaid.  Here the soul is purged, cleansed, readied for eternal union with God in Heaven…” [George Brantl, ed., Catholicism. New York:  Washington Square Press, Inc., 1962, p. 252.]

     The Roman Catholic Church believes that there is a place of eternal torment for the wicked or those who died with the burden of mortal sins (those which are unpardonable) and a place of everlasting rest for the righteous.  Aside from these two destinations, they also believe that there is another state or place where the souls of those who died with venial sins (those which are pardonable) shall be purged or cleansed before they enter heaven.  According to them, the soul of one who dies in the state of grace but with venial sins immediately goes to purgatory.

     It is also commonly held that the souls in purgatory can do nothing for themselves:

     “The poor souls in purgatory cannot do anything for themselves to shorten their sufferings.  But Christ, their Redeemer, is always speaking to the Father for them, Mary and the other saints are also praying through Christ and with Christ.”  [A Catholic Catechism (Bandra, Bombay-50:  Society of St. Paul, n. d.), 337.]

     Christ is said to be praying to the Father together with Mary and other saints.  But despite the great number of intercessors (for there are thousands of known Roman Catholic “saints”), the Catholic Church teaches that the living should also do something for those who are in purgatory.  In a textbook for Catholic school entitled My Catholic Faith, this is stated on p. 258:

     “We should be generous in helping the poor souls in purgatory, who long for God.  The best thing we can do for them is to have Masses offered for them.  The Church puts no limit to the time during which we may pray or offer Masses for the suffering souls in purgatory.  If we cannot have a Mass said, we should at least hear Masses for our dead departed.  If God so willed, a single Mass could release all the souls in purgatory.  We should offer Masses especially on All Soul’s Day and on the anniversary of the death of our relatives and friends.” [Louis LaRavoire Morrow, D.D., Bishop of Krishnagar, My Catholic Faith (Manila:  The Catholic Faith Society, 1941), p. 258.]

     It is expected of Catholics to be generous, i.e., through offering Masses for the dead, or, as an alternative, by hearing Masses offered for the departed.  The suitable time for  the offering of Masses or for saying prayers for the dead are, according to Bishop Morrow, on All Souls’ Day and on the anniversary of the death of one’s relatives or friends.  Take note that no limit is set for such prayers or Masses.  (How, according to Catholic doctrine, does this help the poor souls who are in purgatory?)

     Prayers which are said and Masses which are offered for the dead are the only prescribed for the souls to escape from purgatory.  When will they allegedly escape?

     “When they are sufficiently purified for the vision of God they are admitted to heaven.  And no one knows when this occurs, unless God gives a special revelation, a favor we have no right to ask.”  [Rev. Dr. Leslie Rumble, M.S.C. Radio Replies, 3 vols., ed. Rev. Charles Mortimer Carty and Rev. Dr. Leslie Rumble, M.S.C. (St. Paul 1, Minn. U.S.A.:  Radio Replies Press Society, 1938, 1:202.]

     Catholics believe that, unless purified, the souls in purgatory shall not be able to see God or be in everlasting union with Him.  But no one, they admit, can be able to know when this will be.  So, it is fair to say that those who are at present offering Masses and saying prayers for their dead do not know whether the souls of their relatives and friends had already escaped from purgatory or not.  Nor do they know where these souls are at present.  It would therefore, be possible for an individual to be praying for someone no longer in purgatory.

     “991. Then you might praying for a soul not in purgatory at all!
     That is quite possible.  Granted… that we do not know for certain whether our dear ones are emancipated from their purifications or not, we continue praying for them.  We give them, rather ourselves, the benefit of any doubt.  We argue that our prayers may possibly benefit them, not that they may possibly be wasted.  And we would certainly risk saying too many for them rather than allow them to run the risk of being deprived of help.” [Ibid.]

     It is, therefore, safe to assume that many Catholics are not certain whether they are praying for someone or for no one.  One might be offering Masses or saying prayers for years or even for decades without being certain where his dead is.  It is also possible that he practices all these activities and rituals (out of belief) when no souls are in purgatory at all. 

    The root of all these activities and practices is the Catholic teaching on the existence of purgatory.  This must not be taken for granted since this belief entails the practice of such activities.

     The word purgatory was derived from the word purgation:

     “The word purgatory is derived from purgation, which means purification as well as penance.  It is consequently a state which purifies and cleanses the soul as with fire.” [Dr. N.G.M. Van Doornik, Rev. S. Jelsma, and Rev. A Van De Lisdonk, A Handbook of the Catholic Faith, ed. Rev. John Greenwood (Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Co., 19560, p. 460.]

    This idea of purgatory was not found in early Christianity.  Nowhere in the Scriptures can we find a single teaching on purgatory.  The idea just found its way in the Church decades after the death of the Apostles, and was introduced only in the third and fourth centuries.

     “THE IDEA OF PURGATORY finds its roots in Buddhism and other ancient religious systems, long before the existence of the Roman Catholic Church.  Evidences of its introduction into Christian thought are found in some of the writings of the early church fathers, as far back as the third and fourth centuries of the Christians era, but it had no officially recognized place until the time of Gregory I.  He added the concept of purifying fires to the already current belief that there was a place somewhere between Heaven and Hell,…  These purifying fires would gradually consume all defilement, until the soul was fit to see God.” [F.C.H. Dreyer and E. Weller, Roman Catholicism in the Light of Scripture (Chicago:  The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1960), p. 107.]

     Indeed, it was at the time of Pope Gregory I (590-604) that the idea of purgatory was officially recognized.  It is believed to have come from Buddhist influences although the Buddhists have a different concept of purification.  The truth is that the origins of purgatory is up to now hidden in obscurity.

An Entirely Different Institution
     It is a historical fact that the Church of Christ in the first century was apostatized and became the Roman Catholic Church.  The original Church of Christ was strikingly different from that which came to be known as the Roman Catholic Church:

     “At first the history of the Catholic Church is identical with the history of Christian truth.  But unhappily there came a time when streams of poison began to flow from the once pure fountain.” [The World’s Great Events, 10 vols. (New York:  P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1948, 2:163-164.]

     The Church of Christ, once the pure fountain, gradually evolved to become the Roman Catholic Church.

     The Roman Catholic Church has changed from its original stature, that is, the Church of Christ, through the changing of the pristine teachings of Christ and His Apostles:

     “It is necessary that we should recall the reader’s attention to the profound differences between the fully developed Christianity of Nicaea and the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth….  What is clearly apparent is that the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth is a prophetic teaching of the new type that began with the Hebrew prophets.  It was not priestly, it had no consecrated temple, and no altar.  It had no rites and ceremonies.  Its sacrifice was “a broken and a contrite heart.” … [H. G. Wells, The Outline of History (Garden City, N. Y.:  Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1931, p. 552.]

     The Roman Catholic Church is indeed a product of an evolutionary process. So the Church, through the centuries after the Apostles, became an entirely different institution.  It developed for itself elaborate ceremonies, rituals, and practices which are foreign to the concept of pure Christianity during the time of Christ.  The teaching on purgatory is a glaring example of changes which altered the Holy Church:

     “This is not to say that the Christian Doctrine has always been controlled by Christian cultic and devotional practice.  There have indeed been periods in the wake of the fancies of the devout.  The medieval doctrine of Purgatory was partly built up by this process….” [R.P.C. Hanson, gen. ed., The Pelican Guide to Modern Theology by William Nicholls; vol. 2:  Historical Theology by Jean Danielo, A. H. Couratin, and John Kent, Ph. D.; vol. 3:  Biblical Criticism by Robert Davidson and A.R.C. Leany; 3 vols. (Middlesex, England:  Penguin Books Ltd., 1969), 2:17-18.]

     This official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on purgatory is indeed a part of the Church’s apostasy and was defined in three councils of the Catholic Church, namely, The Council of Lyons (1274), the Council of Florence (1438-45), and the Council of Trent (1545-63).  Notice that is was only at the end of the thirteenth century that this doctrine or teaching was clarified.  There was no such teaching from Christ nor from the Apostles.

All In Harmony
     The belief in purgatory is not held by the people of God.  For Christian-professing organizations to be of God, their teaching must be identical with those handed down through the prophets and messengers of God.  These teachings are found in the Holy Scriptures.

     The belief of David, then king of Israel, is contrary to the belief of many supposed-to-be Christians.  David believed that the dead are in the grave.  This he said in Psalms 88:5:

     “Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom thou dost remember no more, And they are cut off from Thy hand.” [NASB]

     The dead who were buried are naturally in their graves.  Meaning, their bodies are there in their tombs.  Whether they died with mortal sins or with venial sins, as the Catholics call them, they are still in their graves.  There is no such thing as purgatory for David.

     Even Solomon who succeeded David as king of Israel handed down the same belief.  He also disagreed with the possibility of extending any help to the dead through saying prayers or offering masses for them.  What did he say?  In Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, Solomon stated:

     “For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten.  Indeed their love, their hate, and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.” [Ibid.]

     Only the living know that they shall die, but the dead do not know that they have died.  Everything for the dead is lost.  Most important, the dead “no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.”  Whatever the living might do for the dead are all in vain.

     Isaiah, the Prophet, asserted that the dead can never pray to God anymore.  This is stated in Isaiah 38:18-19; thus:

     “For Sheol cannot thank Thee, Death cannot praise Thee; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Thy faithfulness.  It is the living who give thanks to Thee, as I do today; A father tells to his sons about Thy faithfulness.” [Ibid.]

     But shall the dead remain in the grave forever?  They will not, for this is stated in the Book of Job:

     “But  man dies, and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he?... so man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake, or be roused out of his sleep.” [Job 14;10, 12, RSV]

     The dead shall rise from their graves.  This shall be on the time when the heavens are no more, that is, on the Day of Judgment (II Pt. 37, 10).

     Jesus Christ Himself did preach the same.  In John 5:28-29, Christ said:

     “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” [Ibid.]

     The dead in the tombs shall hear the voice of Christ and rise.  Those who have done good shall inherit God’s promise and those who did evil shall suffer God’s damnation.  Definitely there is no middle state.  No purgatory.  Such is the teaching of Christ.

     When shall the dead in the grave hear the voice of Christ, and rise?  When shall they be judged?  Christ Himself teaches us in Matthew 25:31-33; thus:

     “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.” [Ibid.]

     The Day of Judgment will be on the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is not immediately after one’s death.  Did the Apostle Paul teach the same?  Yes.  This is written in I Thessalonians 4:16, 17:

     “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with God.” [NASB]

     Those who shall be judged shall rise when Christ descends from heaven.  Those who shall be saved shall rise first.  But those who shall not be saved shall rise after one thousand years:

     “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed….” [Rev. 20:5, Ibid.]

     This is also the teaching embraced by the Church of Christ, Iglesia ni Cristo, which emerged in the Philippines in 1914.  The harmony of its teachings with those of the people of God from the earliest times is apparent.

     To summarize, there is no purgatory or a middle state between Heaven and Hell; the dead shall rise only on Judgment Day, and the dead are up to this day—and until the second coming of Christ—in their respective tombs or graves.

     What should the Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory signify, but a mere human invention handed down to man at his own expense?  Instead of contemplating, therefore to pray for your dead loved ones on November 1 or November 2, how about assigning a time for a second thought?*****

Pasugo God’s Message, September-October 1980, pages 17-21.

Bible Study Suggestion: If you have further questions, please feel free to visit the Iglesia ni Cristo congregation nearest you. A minister or an evangelical worker would be happy to answer any biblical question you have in mind.