Council of Trent (1545-1563)

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-by Steve Weikenkopf

“Nearly a quarter century after Pope Leo X condemned the teachings of the revolutionary Augustinian monk Martin Luther and after years of political and religious turmoil, Alessandro Farnese was elected to the papacy, taking the name Paul III (r. 1534–1549).

The Protestant Revolution was in full force and a universal response was required. Pope Paul recognized the need for reform in the Church and laid the foundation for what became known as the Catholic Reformation (sometimes, inappropriately, referred to as the “Counter-Reformation”).

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He saw the program in three stages; reform of the papal curia, calling an ecumenical council, and implementation of reforms by the papacy. Paul focused his energies on calling an ecumenical council, which would consume most of his pontificate. Scheduling the great event and completing its work in such historically turbulent times would prove difficult, to say the least.

Paul III called for the council to be held in the northern Italian city of Mantua but his plan was thrown into chaos when war erupted between France and the Holy Roman Empire in the summer of 1536 over control of Milan. Additionally, the Duke of Mantua told the pope he could not guarantee the safety of the assembled bishops without thousands of troops stationed at papal expense.

Concerned the presence of armed soldiers in the city would lead to charges of coercion, Paul decided to postpone the council until he could find another location. Vicenza agreed to host the council in May 1538 and Paul called bishops to the city. When few bishops arrived, the pope, once more, postponed the council. Three years later, Pope Paul III and Emperor Charles V met in Italy to discuss the council, and the emperor suggested the imperial city of Trent as the location for the council. The pope agreed and issued a bull calling for the council to meet at Trent in November 1542. However, continued warfare in Europe prevented the arrival of a sufficient number of bishops and the council was once again suspended. Eventually, peace was achieved and the council commenced on December 13, 1545.

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The Council of Trent is one of the most important meetings in Church history. Called to define authentic Catholic doctrine in response to the Protestant revolution and usher in a period of authentic reform, the council’s sessions would span eighteen years (due to two lengthy suspensions). But the actual work of the council took four and a half years, encompassing three pontificates. The council produced more decrees and canons by volume than the entire legislation from the previous eighteen councils.

The first meeting occurred from 1545–1547 and principally focused on establishing the procedures to utilize for conducting conciliar business. It also passed decrees concerning Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the canon of Scripture (the seventy-three books contained in the Vulgate), Original Sin, and Justification. The bishops rejected the key Protestant doctrine of “faith alone” justification, declaring that faith must be accompanied by hope and love, and illustrated in life through good works. The council also began a doctrinal review of the Sacraments and defined Baptism and Confirmation. Reform decrees outlawed absenteeism (bishops not living in their diocese) and pluralism (one man as bishop of multiple dioceses). Unfortunately, the great work begun by the council was suspended when a papal army marching through Trent brought typhus, leaving several bishops ill and even killing one. The council fathers voted to move the meeting to Bologna and reconvene in forty days, but the proposed change in location so angered Charles V that Paul III suspended the council for another four years.

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When the council convened again, Pope Julius III (r. 1550–1555), who had been the senior papal legate at the first meeting of Trent, succeeded Paul III. At this second meeting, the bishops affirmed Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, specifically the doctrine of transubstantiation, as well as the sacraments of penance and extreme unction (anointing of the sick). Another conciliar suspension occurred in 1552 when a Protestant army conquered Innsbruck, only 110 miles from Trent, and Pope Julius feared an attack on the assembled bishops. An entire decade would pass before the council’s work resumed.

In the intervening decade, Pope Julius III died and was succeeded by Giovanni Angelo Medici, who took the name Pius IV (r. 1559–1565). Committed to reform, Pius IV called the world’s bishops to assemble once more in Trent for the third meeting of the council. This meeting was the most productive and well attended, with over 250 bishops. The conciliar fathers passed decrees concerning the hierarchical structure of the Church, the religious life, Purgatory, the veneration of relics, the intercession of the saints, and indulgences. The council also focused on the training and formation of clergy by mandating the establishment of a “seminary” in each diocese throughout the Church. The abuse of spiritual penalties, such as excommunication and interdict, for political purposes was addressed as bishops were reminded to use these penalties sparingly and for the proper purpose.

The council required bishops to live in their diocese and not be absent for more than three months and never during the seasons of Advent and Lent. Bishops were exhorted to visit all parishes in the diocese at least once a year, and to preach every Sunday. The unique ministry of the Roman Pontiff was highlighted in response to Protestant attacks against the papacy. In order to reinvigorate Catholic spirituality, the council fathers requested the revision and publication of the Roman Missal and the Breviary (Divine Office). The council fathers also demanded the creation of a universal Catechism that could be used to teach the Faith in order to combat the errors of Protestantism.

After three meetings over an eighteen-year period, Pope Pius IV closed the council on December 4, 1563 and promulgated its decrees. The Council of Trent fundamentally changed the Catholic Church, which became more vibrant, dedicated, and focused on evangelization. In the words of French historian Henri Daniel-Rops, “There was indeed, in 1563, a new Catholic Church, more sure of her dogma, more worthy to govern souls, more conscious of her function and her duties.””


Rorate Caeli

-by Br Damian Day, OP

“Advent is the season of longing. The purple vestments, the substance of the readings, and the tenor of the liturgies all express our yearning for the coming of our King who will remove the desolation of sin and invigorate our souls with his life. The entrance chant for the fourth Sunday of Advent, Rorate Caeli, encapsulates the great desire of this season with the haunting beauty of its pleading.

The chant is basically a meditation on Isaiah 45:8,

Rain down, you heavens, from above,
And let the skies pour down righteousness;
Let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation,
And let righteousness spring up together.
I, the Lord, have created it.

a text that appears in various Advent liturgies, including today’s morning prayer. These words form the moving refrain:

Roráte caéli désuper,
et núbes plúant jústum.

Heavens, drop dew from above,
and let the clouds rain forth justice.

The Church raises a plea to heaven that God might come down and refresh the desert dryness of our lives. We pine for the Lord “like a dry, weary land without water” (Ps 63:1). The structure of the chant itself reflects this movement.

With the first word of the Church’s pleading, the imperative Roráte, the notes move upward reaching the highest pitch on heavens (caéli). From heaven’s heights, the chant descends downward with the hoped for dewfall (désuper), rising slightly to the clouds (núbes) from which the notes rain forth with justice (plúant jústum).

Rorate Caeli is a prayer for the Incarnation. We pray for the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the clouds and the water of the dewfall, to descend upon the dry earth of our humanity in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. From her, watered by the rain of heavenly grace, the earth bursts forth in fruitfulness: “Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up!” (Isa 45:8).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, is the justice (jústum) that we pray will both rain down from heaven and spring up from the earth. He is the answer to the plight that characterizes the verses of the Rorate. In the first two stanzas, the voice of the Church sings of the desolation of humanity. Then, from the depths, the prayer rises up:

Víde Dómine afflictiónem pópuli túi,
et mítte quem missúrus es:
emítte Agnum dominatórem térræ

Behold, O Lord, the affliction of thy people,
and send forth him whom thou wilt send;
send forth the Lamb, the ruler of the earth

The Lamb, “the just one, shall justify the many, their iniquity he shall bear” (Isa 53:11). He is the only answer to the desert of desolation that sin causes in our souls. He washes away the grime of sin and waters the desiccated soil of our hearts when he pours himself out upon our thirsty earth.

In the last stanza of the chant, we hear God’s tender and sure response to these pleas:

Consolámini, consolámini, pópule méus:
cito véniet sálus túa:
quare mæróre consúmeris,
quia innovávit te dólor?
Salvábo te, nóli timére,
égo enim sum Dóminus Déus túus,
Sánctus Israël, Redémptor túus.

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people;
your salvation shall suddenly come:
why wilt thou waste away in sadness?
why hath sorrow seized thee?
Fear not, for I will save thee:
For I am the Lord thy God,
the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.

May we join the pleading of our hearts to the cry of the Church, straining forward to the day when the Just One will pour himself forth and quench our every thirst.”


Dec 4 – St John Damascene (of Damascus) (675-749 AD), Icons = The Eyes of God

Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious
house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have
ears to hear but do not hear.
—Ezek. 12:2

Jesus said to [the disciples] . . . “Do you have eyes, and
fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?”
—Mk 8:17–18

“Both Jesus and Ezekiel recognized the parallel between having ears to hear and eyes to see, but in the Protestant tradition of my childhood, the emphasis was always on having ears to hear (the words of the Bible) to the loss of eyes to see. My earliest spiritual formation focused on the hearing part and omitted what became apparent later as effective avenues for engaging the seeing part. Symbolic images within worship began to inform my spirituality only when I chose the Episcopal Church as a teenager. I do not know if an increasing awareness of symbolism was due to natural maturation or to the richness of symbolic images so available in Episcopal liturgy. However, I vividly remember saying at age seventeen that my reason for converting was, in part, because my previous church was just “so plain.” As with many other seekers, I had a hunger for something more tangible. There was the longing to see God and live…

…icons provide a vehicle for our participation in God’s redemptive work. Icons are no less than the “dynamic manifestations of man’s spiritual power to redeem creation through beauty and art.”

If this were a book about icons simply as religious art, it would not be worth writing, let alone publishing. If Orthodox Christianity did not claim icons are essential for seeing the holy, I would not be motivated to try to inform non-Orthodox Christians about icons. God embodied, in the human and historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth—who is, for all Christians, also the Christ—the mystery and doctrine on which salvation depends. But finding Jesus incarnate in today’s world is the struggle of faith for many, me included. The words and images I encounter every day need to be countered, challenged, and balanced against words and images whose purposes are edifying, redemptive, and healing. ”
-Green, Mary E., (2014), Introduction, Eyes to See: The Redemptive Purpose of Icons, Morehouse Publishing, New York

Icons, to the believer, and properly understood, are incarnational, just like Christmas.  Acheiropoieta, are icons not made by human hands.

In cinema involving Russian characters, you will see the Russian, typically, but it could be Greek, someone of Eastern Orthodox sentiment, cover any icon with a cloth just before performing some heinous act such as suicide. There is a reason for this.

Jesus Christ is the first eikon (alternative spelling, Greek for image) of God. Icons are a symbolic and allegorical composition of: “Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy.” (Ps 32:18). Christian tradition dating from the 8th century identifies Luke the Evangelist as the first icon painter. There is a Christian legend that Pilate made an image of Christ.

In the icons of Eastern Orthodoxy, and of the Early Medieval West, very little room is made for artistic license. Almost everything within the image has a symbolic aspect. Christ, the saints, and the angels all have halos. Angels (and often John the Baptist) have wings because they are messengers. Figures have consistent facial appearances, hold attributes personal to them, and use a few conventional poses.

Color plays an important role as well. Gold represents the radiance of Heaven; red, divine life. Blue is the color of human life, white is the Uncreated Light of God, only used for resurrection and transfiguration of Christ. If you look at icons of Jesus and Mary: Jesus wears red undergarment with a blue outer garment (God become Human) and Mary wears a blue undergarment with a red overgarment (human was granted gifts by God), thus the doctrine of deification is conveyed by icons. Letters are symbols too. Most icons incorporate some calligraphic text naming the person or event depicted. Even this is often presented in a stylized manner.

In the Eastern Orthodoxy, there are reports of particular, Wonderworking icons that exude myrrh (fragrant, healing oil), or perform miracles upon petition by believers. When such reports are verified by the Orthodox hierarchy, they are understood as miracles performed by God through the prayers of the saint, rather than being magical properties of the painted wood itself. Theologically, all icons are considered to be sacred, and are miraculous by nature, being a means of spiritual communion between the heavenly and earthly realms. However, it is not uncommon for specific icons to be characterized as “miracle-working”, meaning that God has chosen to glorify them by working miracles through them. Such icons are often given particular names (especially those of the Virgin Mary), and even taken from city to city where believers gather to venerate them and pray before them.

In the Book of Numbers it is written that God told Moses to make a bronze serpent, Nehushtan, and hold it up, so that anyone looking at the snake would be healed of their snakebites. In John 3, Jesus refers to the same serpent, saying that He must be lifted up in the same way that the serpent was. John of Damascus also regarded the brazen serpent as an icon. Further, Jesus Christ himself is called the “image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1:15, and is therefore in one sense an icon. As people are also made in God’s images, people are also considered to be living icons, and are therefore “censed” along with painted icons during Orthodox prayer services.

According to John of Damascus, anyone who tries to destroy icons “is the enemy of Christ, the Holy Mother of God and the saints, and is the defender of the Devil and his demons.” This is because the theology behind icons is closely tied to the Incarnational theology of the humanity and divinity of Jesus, so that attacks on icons typically have the effect of undermining or attacking the Incarnation of Jesus himself as elucidated in the Ecumenical Councils.

Thus to kiss an icon of Christ, in the Eastern Orthodox view, is to show love towards Christ Jesus Himself, not mere wood and paint making up the physical substance of the icon. Worship of the icon as somehow entirely separate from its prototype is expressly forbidden by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Catholics traditionally have also favored images in the form of three-dimensional statuary, whereas in the East, statuary is much less widely employed.

Icons are often illuminated with a candle or jar of oil with a wick. (Beeswax for candles and olive oil for oil lamps are preferred because they burn very cleanly, although other materials are sometimes used.) The illumination of religious images with lamps or candles is an ancient practice pre-dating Christianity.

Windows to Heaven

Icons look different to us because they are meant to be heaven looking at us, not us at heaven, hence the Eastern Orthodox covering the icon before some unholy act, which the character does not want Heaven to see.

The eyes of an icon are meant to look into the viewer — with what has been called inverse perspective. Most Western artwork has a vanishing perspective point that draws the viewer into the painting. With an icon, the icon seems to move toward the viewer, bringing Heaven close. If you pray with an icon properly, it will seem as if heaven were drawing into you. As Franciscan Fr. Michael Scanlon wrote, “For Eastern Christians, the icon is a representation of the living God, and by coming into its presence it becomes a personal encounter with the sacred, through the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

An icon, which we would most likely refer to as a painting, the correct verb for creation is “writing an icon”. An iconographer must be prepared for this work and receive permission from the bishop or abbot to begin an icon. He or she must spiritually prepare to write an icon with prayer and fasting. As the great modern Byzantine iconographer Photios Kontoglou wrote, “The art of the icon painter is above all a sacred activity…Its style is entirely different from that of all the schools of secular painting. It does not have its aim to reproduce a saint or an incident from the Gospels, but to express them mystically, to impart to them a spiritual character…to represent the saint as he is in the heavenly kingdom, as he is in eternity.”

-by Br Cornelius Avaritt, OP

“Icons are a gift of the Church. They are beautiful images that represent Christ and the mysteries of his life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following regarding icons:

The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the son of God has ushered in a new “economy” of images. Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words. Image and word illuminate each other. All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. (CCC 1159-1161)

Praying with icons allows us to behold the face of Christ, and to catch a glimpse of his love for the world while meditating on his humanity. The representation of Christ’s humanity through an image allows us to understand more fully the gospel message and to grow in knowledge of him. Just as the sacred words of Scripture signify the events of Christ’s life, so do the images reveal a glimpse of God’s plan of salvation for the world through depictions of the life of Christ. Because the Son of God was made incarnate, he became depictable. Icons depict his humanity, and we can pray with icons to deepen our love for Christ.

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of St. John of Damascus, a monk and Doctor of the Church, who was a strong proponent for the use of icons. He says the following in favor of the practice of venerating icons:

“We use all our senses to produce worthy images of Him, and we sanctify the noblest of the senses, which is that of sight. For just as words edify the ear, so also the image stimulates the eye. What the book is to the literate, the image is to the illiterate. Just as the words speak to the ear, so the image speaks to the sight; it brings us understanding.” (On the Divine Images,1, 17)

Icons captivate the eye, but they are not merely pieces of art that hang on walls. They bring “understanding.” The image “written” on an icon is meant to draw us into the mystery of Christ’s humanity, to engage our senses in prayer, to help us catch a glimpse of Christ’s face and through that prayer come to know him more. One feature of sacred images that helps bring such understanding is their rich symbolism depicted in the choice of colors of the scene. Gold often represents Christ. White represents purity and divinity. Red represents the humanity of Christ, while green represents earth and temporality. Purple is used to represent nobility. The different colors engage the eye, as to draw one into a meditation of the mystery that is depicted. Because of this, our prayer is made more fruitful and we come to recognize more fully the love Christ has for us.

Advent is a great time to grow in knowledge and understanding of our Lord. The use of icons for prayer during Advent is one way to grow in this knowledge and understanding. Icons helps us to catch a glimpse of salvation, and aid our belief in Jesus Christ. So, during this Advent season, as you are awaiting the arrival of our Lord, consider spending time in prayer with an icon, meditate on the mystery depicted in the scene, and may you come to know Christ’s love for you.”


Dec 3 – St Francis Xavier, SJ (1506-1552), Priest, Missionary, Co-founder Society of Jesus, “Simple Ain’t Easy”

-by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“Sometimes God works in mysterious ways that we can’t understand. We may not be sure what exactly it is God wants us to do. At other times God’s will for us can be painfully simple. I say simple because what God wants us to do can often be quite obvious. I say painfully because that obvious task is not necessarily easy. Sometimes, we would rather have God’s will for us be mysterious rather than pay the cost that the obvious task demands of us.

Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first members of the Jesuits, provides an excellent example of someone who followed God’s will for him when it was simple and straightforward. He did this despite the pains he would have to undergo. At the direction of St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier left Europe to accompany the Portuguese explorers and preach throughout India and eventually even Japan. It was not a complicated task to do as he was told. Saint Francis Xavier simply had to go to those people who had never heard the Gospel and preach to them. St. Ignatius’s instructions were nothing more than a reissuing of the Great Commission which Jesus gave to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). The task could hardly be simpler: preach the Gospel to those who have not heard it.

Yet, this was not an easy task even if St. Francis Xavier knew what he had to do to accomplish it. He had to learn multiple languages in order to translate the Creed and other basic prayers, which he would use to catechize these foreign peoples. He traveled far and frequently. He was often on his own during these travels. The trials were even physically demanding. We can see this from one letter he sent back to the Jesuits in Rome:

“As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms.” (quoted in The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier by Henry James Coleridge, S.J., 153)

Saint Francis Xavier, SJ, exemplifies the heroic virtue that allowed him to carry out day in and day out the simple, repetitive, sometimes even monotonous tasks to which God called him. Tasks that cost him a great deal of suffering. Sometimes, this is precisely the reminder that we need. God has called each and every one of us to do certain, simple tasks, most of which are not glamorous. These tasks are, nonetheless, the foundation of the Kingdom of God. The pain of these tasks for us may not be physical, it may be the pain of stepping out of our comfort zone or doing the job no one else wants to do. By being faithful in the obvious, repetitive, and sometimes distasteful tasks given to us, we can spread God’s love to the world one person at a time.

Eventually, St. Francis Xavier would die at the age of 46 from a fever while waiting for a boat to take him to China. This seems like a rather prosaic death for a saint who had served God so fervently. He did not die a martyr’s death. Instead, he bore witness to God by his arduous labor at a task he could never hope to complete in his lifetime. It was a task that wore him to the bone and ate away at his health, but he embraced it joyfully.

Most of those he preached to were eager to receive the Gospel and only needed someone to preach it to them. Likewise, there are many people in our lives who are ready to hear the Gospel if they only had someone to bring it to them. What will preaching the Gospel cost us?Are we, like St. Francis Xavier, willing to embrace the attendant hardships with joy? Can we be like Jesus who “for the sake of the joy that lay before him . . . endured the cross”(Heb 12:2)?

-Pilgrims pray by and view the body of St Francis Xavier during an exposition of the saint in December 2004.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

-missionary journeys of St Francis Xavier, SJ, (1541-1552).  Please click on the image for greater detail.


Soulless things…”wherever your treasure lies…” -Mt 6:21

-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

“Money is a soulless thing. It has no life of its own. Here and now, we use money to meet our needs, to support our families, to help the poor, to serve the Church. Soulless things serve things with souls. Money serves its purpose in this life and has no purpose in the next.

Money takes its meaning from human life. It also, in some small way, reveals the shape of our lives to us. Someone could probably put together a decent picture of our interests, our concerns—our life—by looking at all the purchases we have made over the past decade. If we consider how we spend money, we have some insight into our hearts: “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:21). Our hearts go out to the things they treasure. How we spend money shows, in part, how we spend ourselves.

We can only spend what we have. In order to spend money, we have to have money. In order to spend ourselves, we have to possess ourselves. If we are slaves “to impurity and to lawlessness for lawlessness” (Rm 6:19), we do not possess ourselves. If we are governed by the many wayward desires, great and small, that course through our body and soul everyday, we do not possess ourselves. And if we do not possess ourselves, we cannot truly spend ourselves.

But we have been “purchased at a price” (1 Cor 6:20) from our slavery in order that we might be free: “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 1:5). We have been freed from the reign of death, from the worship of mammon, in order that we might live a new life of freedom. We still feel the mark of the bonds; we still feel the inclination to obey our old masters. But we are free. We can say no to them. If we fail, we can begin again in our new way. The price has been paid. We claim the freedom won on our behalf.

This new life does not stockpile graces. Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that he will “most gladly spend and be spent for [their] souls” (2 Cor 12:15 ESV). To spend and be spent: this is the joy of the disciple. One whose possession of his own life does not spill over into the lives of others is “one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God” (Lk 12:21). The disciple spends himself, not for the soulless things of this world, but for others’ souls. Souls are what matter to God. We rejoice when we are “poured out as a libation” (Phil 2:17), for then we share in the self-spending of our Savior.

We have been purchased that we may be free. We are free that we may spend ourselves. How we spend ourselves and our money says something about who we are. We possess soulless things of this world in order to serve the things that have souls. The order in the world is clear and true and worth living by. After all, “what profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life” (Mk 8:36)?”

Love & joy,

Jesus taught Purgatory

-Florence Italy’s cathedral (Duomo) stands tall over the city with its magnificent Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The cathedral named in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore is a vast Gothic structure built on the site of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata, the remains of which can be seen in the crypt. The biggest artwork within the cathedral is Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9): they were designed by Vasari but painted mostly by his less-talented student Frederico Zuccari by 1579.

-by Karlo Broussard

“The [main charter] for all Christian evangelists is Christ’s great commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Notice Christ’s command restricts the Christian evangelist to teaching only what Christ revealed and not his own opinions.

Many Protestants think the Catholic Church fails in this regard. Purgatory is one Catholic dogma they don’t think came from our Lord. It’s asserted that this is one of the many made-up dogmas the Catholic Church binds its members to believe.

It’s true all members of the Catholic Church are bound to believe in the dogma of purgatory. But it’s not true that it’s made up.

In answering this claim, the Catholic apologist could turn to St. Paul’s classic text in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 wherein he explains how the soul suffers loss through a purgation of fire on the day of judgment but yet is saved.

However, the question I want to consider in is, “Is there any evidence that Jesus taught such a place exists?” If so, then the Church’s usage of 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 for purgatory would be more persuasive.

There are two Bible passages where Jesus taught the reality of purgatory: Matthew 5:25-26 and Matthew 12:32.

Forgiveness in the age to come

Let’s consider Matthew 12:32 first:

“And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Putting aside the question of what the unforgivable sin is, notice Jesus’ implication: there are some sins that can be forgiven in the age to come, whatever that age may be. Pope St. Gregory the Great says: “From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come” (Dial. 4, 39).

I would argue that the “age” (or “world,” as the Douay Rheims translates it) that Jesus refers to in this passage is the afterlife. First, the Greek word for “age,” aion, is used in reference to life after death in Mark 10:30, when Jesus speaks of eternal life as a reward in the “age to come” for those who give up temporal things for His sake. This doesn’t mean Jesus is teaching purgatory is eternal, since He teaches souls who are there can get out by having their sins forgiven, but He is asserting this state of being exists in the afterlife.

Aion can be used to refer to a distinct period of time in this life, as in Matthew 28:20 when Jesus says He’ll be with His apostles until the end of the “age.” But I think the context suggests it’s being used for the afterlife. Just a few verses later (v. 36) Jesus speaks of the “day of judgment,” which, according to Hebrews 9:27, comes after death.

So what do we have? We have a state of existence after death wherein the soul is being forgiven of sins, which in light of the Old Testament tradition (Psalms 66:10-12; Isaiah 6:6-7; 4:4) and Paul’s writings (1 Corinthians 3:11-15) means the soul is being purged or purified.

This state can’t be heaven, since there are no sins in heaven. It can’t be hell, since no souls in hell can have their sins forgiven and be saved. What is it? It’s purgatory.

Paying your dues

The second Bible passage where Jesus teaches the reality of purgatory is Matthew 5:25-26:

“Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.”

Jesus makes it clear that the offender has to pay for his sins. But the question is, “Is Jesus referring to a place of repayment in this life or the next?” I argue the next.

The first clue is the Greek word for “prison,” which is phulake. St. Peter uses this Greek word in 1 Peter 3:19 when he describes the prison in which the Old Testament righteous souls were kept before Jesus’ ascension and that which Jesus visited during the separation of his soul and body in death. Since phulake was used for a holding place in the afterlife in the Christian tradition, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that’s how Matthew is using it in Matthew 5:25, especially when one considers the context, which constitutes our second clue.

The verses before and after the passage under consideration include Jesus’ teachings about things that pertain to the afterlife and our eternal salvation. For example:

  • Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven as our ultimate goal in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).
  • Jesus teaches that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees if we want to go to heaven (Matthew 5:20).
  • Jesus speaks of going to hell for being angry at your brother (Matthew 5:22).
  • Jesus teaches that lusting after a woman incurs the guilt of adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), which of course would merit hell if not repented of.
  • Jesus teaches about the rewards of heaven for acts of piety (Matthew 6:1).

It would be odd for Jesus to give teachings about the afterlife immediately before and after Matthew 5:25 but have Matthew 5:25 refer only to this life. Therefore, I think it’s reasonable to conclude Jesus is not referring to a place of repayment for sin in this life but of one in the afterlife.

A temporary prison

“But,” you say, “just because it’s a place of repayment after death doesn’t mean it is purgatory. It could be hell, right?” There are two clues that suggest this “prison” is not hell.

First, the “prison” in 1 Peter 3:19 was a temporary holding place. If Matthew is using phulake in the same sense in Matthew 5:25, then it would follow that the prison Jesus speaks of is a temporary holding place as well.

Second, Jesus says the individual must pay the last “penny.” The Greek word for “penny” is kondrantes, which was worth less than two percent of a day’s wage for a first-century agricultural laborer. This suggests the debt for the offense is payable, and thus a temporary punishment.

St. Jerome makes the same connection: “A farthing [penny] is a coin containing two mites. What he says then is, ‘Thou shalt not go forth thence till thou hast paid for the smallest sins” (Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels: Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew; emphasis added).

Contrast this with the debt owed by the wicked servant in Matthew 18:23-35. The servant in the parable owed the king “ten thousand talents” (v. 24). A talent is the largest monetary unit, worth 6,000 denarii. A denarius typically is worth a day’s wage.

So a single talent is worth about 16.4 years of daily wages. If the servant in the parable owed 10,000 talents, then he owed about 60 million denarii, which is equivalent to almost 165,000 years of daily wages. In other words, he owed a debt he could never pay.

According to the narrative, the king forgave the servant’s debt. But because he didn’t show the same mercy to those who owed him, the king handed the wicked servant over to the jailers “till he should pay all his debt” (Matt. 18:34). Given the overwhelming amount of the servant’s debt, it’s reasonable to conclude Jesus was referring to the eternal punishment of hell.

The “penny” of Matthew 5:26 stands in stark contrast to ten thousand talents. Thus, it’s reasonable to suggest Jesus is referring to a temporary prison in Matthew 5.

Let’s take stock of what we have so far. First, Jesus is speaking about matters of eternal importance within the context. Second, He uses the word “prison” which in the Christian tradition is used in reference to a state of existence in the afterlife that is neither heaven nor hell. And third, this prison is a temporary state of existence in which one makes satisfaction for his offenses.

So what is this “prison?” It can’t be heaven, since heaven implies all past sins are forgiven and made up for. It can’t be hell, because the prison of hell is everlasting—there is no getting out. It seems that the only interpretative option is purgatory.

The early Christian writer Tertullian (155-220 AD) believed the same thing:

“[I]nasmuch as we understand “the prison” pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades, and as we also interpret “the uttermost farthing”to mean the very smallest offence which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection, when the recompense will be administered through the flesh besides (A Treatise on the Soul, ch. 58).”

A Maccabean milieu

The purgatorial twist on these texts becomes even more persuasive when we consider the Jewish theological milieu in which Jesus gave these teachings. It is evident from 2 Maccabees 12:38-45 that the Jews believed in a state of existence after death that was neither heaven nor hell, a place in which the soul could be forgiven of sins.

Whether you accept 2 Maccabees as inspired or not, it does give historical warrant for this Jewish belief. And it was that Jewish belief that Jesus’ audience would have brought to His teachings about the forgiveness of sins in the age to come and a prison in the afterlife where an offender pays off his debt.

If Jesus were not referring to purgatory in these texts, He would have needed to give some clarification for his Jewish audience. Just like a Catholic would immediately think of purgatory upon first hearing these teachings, so Jesus’ Jewish audience would have immediately thought of that state of existence after death that Judas Maccabees’s soldiers experienced.

But Jesus didn’t give any sort of clarification. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that the age to come in Matthew 12:32 and the prison in Matthew 5:25-26 refer to purgatory.


Contrary to what many Protestants think, the Catholic Church didn’t make up the dogma of purgatory. It’s a belief that comes from our Lord Himself as found in Sacred Scripture. Therefore, the Catholic Church can say in good conscience that it has been faithful to the great commission to teach all that the Lord has commanded.”

Love & truth,

God always wins

-by Br Isaiah Beiter, OP

What king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. (Lk 14:31–32)

The King is coming. And He will give you peace—if you call for it. This is a parable. But it is also a lightly-veiled description of the situation between us and Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. He is coming, and he will not fail to conquer all.

The fact is: God has enemies. Or at least, there are people who make themselves enemies of God. Saint Paul speaks of a time when we were all enemies—before we received Christ’s mercy (Rm 5:10). He tells us what it is to be an enemy of God: to set your mind on the things of the flesh. That mind is unable to submit to God’s law, unable to please God, and receives no reward but death (Rm 8:6–8; 6:23). The King in another parable has hard words for them:

As for these enemies of Mine, who did not want Me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before Me. (Lk 19:27)

The enemies will not withstand the attack. Christ’s victory is already announced, and really, already achieved: “I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33), Jesus says to His disciples, even though “we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him” (Heb 2:8).

Usually, when a king advances against his enemies, the whole situation is bad news for these enemies. And this is the difference between every other king and Jesus, the King of the Universe. His coming is good news to His enemies. He came to make friends out of His enemies.

While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. (Rm 5:10)

No man has greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13)

And if we receive Him—if we become friends of the King Who comes to conquer, we become conquerors, too. “Who is it that conquers the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the son of God?” (1 Jn 5:5). In the Revelation given to John, Jesus makes many promises to “the one who is victorious” such as these:

I will give him to eat of the tree of life. (2:7)

He will not be harmed by the second death. (2:11)

I will give him authority over the nations. (2:26)

I will give him to sit with Me on My throne, as I Myself conquered, and I sat down with My Father on His throne. (3:21)

The fact is: Jesus is the King of the Universe, and He has enemies. The enemies have a choice. If they reject Him, they will face defeat and death [Ed. and already do/have]. If they seek peace, they will be His friends and reign with Him.

The King stands before His enemies, ready to give them peace. He is only waiting to be asked.”

The wicked mob screams out:
“We don’t want Christ as king!,”
While we, with shouts of joy, hail
Thee as the world’s supreme king.

May the rulers of the world publicly honor and extol Thee;
May teachers and judges reverence Thee;
May the laws express Thine order
And the arts reflect Thy beauty.

May kings find renown
In their submission and dedication to Thee.
Bring under Thy gentle rule
Our country and our homes.

Glory be to Thee, O Jesus,
Supreme over all secular authorities;
And glory be to the Father and the loving Spirit
Through endless ages. Amen.
-traditional hymn for First Vespers

Love, & Hail!! King of the Universe!!,

The Kingdom of God & Grace

-by Br Dominic Koester, OP

“A meritocracy is a political system in which political power and economic goods are bestowed upon citizens based on their achievements rather than social standing or wealth. In short, people get what they deserve. We Americans tend to like this idea: people should not be rewarded just because they were born into the right family, but because they truly earned it! Many a medieval king gave wealth or choice property to friends; they bestowed important government positions to family. We look askance on this unenlightened political system. Rather, we assert that wealth ought to be a reward for hard work, not for friendship; government roles ought to be bestowed based on one’s competency, not one’s family ties!

Christ is a king, and like any king, He has a kingdom: the “Kingdom of God.” Is this Kingdom of God a meritocracy? One could be inclined to think so. Not just anyone gets into the Kingdom of God, but only those who live good and upright lives! The kingdom has laws one must follow if he is to be a citizen: give alms to the poor, know the faith well, don’t bury your talents, go to Mass on Sundays, do not eat meat on Fridays of Lent, etc. If you want to be saved, it’s not enough to be born into a Christian family or to inherit a Christian culture. No, you have to earn salvation yourself, right?

No, of course not. Salvation is a free gift. It is impossible for man to earn it. As St. Paul writes, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Here we have a classic case of trying to fit God into our human categories. A human king can bestow favors in response to the good works of his subjects, but he lacks the power to enable his subjects to do these good works. God, on the other hand, not only bestows favors after our good works, but also gives us the ability to do the good work in the first place so as to deserve the reward. Thus, in a certain sense, God’s kingdom is a meritocracy, for we do truly merit rewards from him on account of our good, free actions. However, at its core, God’s kingdom is not a meritocracy, for all our merits are principally God’s gifts. They stem from the grace He gives. The king Himself says to us, “without Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

For God, human categories break down. On the one hand, having status in His kingdom is about being in the right family. In making us His subjects, He adopts us into His own family without our deserving this gift. On the other hand, God is not guilty of nepotism, for He also transforms us in such a way that we are truly subjects worthy of our places in the kingdom. God does not want us to try to earn His love. Christian life in the kingdom is not principally about what we accomplish for God. Both our adoption and our merit follow upon the free gift of God’s grace. In response to His grace, more than anything else the Lord wants us to do simply this: rest and rejoice in His love for us.”

“Almighty and everlasting God,
Who in Thy beloved Son,
the King of the whole world,
hast willed to restore all things,
mercifully grant that all the families of nations
now kept apart by the wound of sin,
may be brought under the sweet yoke of His rule.”
– traditional Collect for the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Love, & His love,

The Second Deadly Sin: Lust

-in Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks around with flames to purge themselves of lustful thoughts.

-by Br Jordan Zajac OP

“We tend to equate lust with physicality—with the flesh. But it’s actually mental as well. That is, sexual vice harms the intellect. After all, humans are composite creatures: an irreducible unity of body and soul. Therefore the bad choices we make will damage them both.

The impact of lust upon the mind is something Shakespeare captures with typical genius in a poem known as “Sonnet 129.” What the speaker of this poem offers is a sustained reflection on the experience of submitting to unruly sexual passion:

Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe,
Before, a joy proposed, behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Essentially the speaker here is contrasting the anticipated pleasure of lustful desire, which compels him to pursue it, with the emotional and moral havoc it wreaks. As soon as it is enjoyed, it is despised.

Depictions of this dynamic can be found in plenty of other literary works. But in this poem there is something more going on. Shakespeare just gets it. For he is showing how lust is actually all about irrationality. Lust is “past reason.” That is, lustful deeds are,

Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated…

There’s the desire before and the dejection afterwards, all because one allows passion to overrule one’s better rational judgment. Lust is frustrating and demoralizing because it robs your reason of its proper role in ordering the passions. Passion wins, and therefore I lose. It’s a flummoxing paradox. Having enjoyed what you thought you wanted so badly, you just sit there, befuddled intellectually and feeling empty emotionally. Why did I do that? It’s supremely regrettable to succumb to passion in this way. As an ancient Latin maxim puts it: “Post coitum omne animalium triste est”—After sex, all animals are sad. If it’s not real sex—that is, virtuous sex—then yes.

Lust makes one sad. Until it doesn’t anymore.

Indulged in long enough, lust instead leaves one stupid, as the philosopher Edward Feser puts it. Recall what reason does for us: it affords us the power to understand reality. To understand truth and goodness. Drawing on Aquinas, Feser explains that if you take pleasure in something that’s actually unhealthy or a false good (“Past reason hunted”), this dulls the mind’s capacity to recognize what is authentically good and true. To habitually indulge one’s lustful appetite, Feser explains, “will tend to make it harder and harder for one to see that [this indulgence is] disordered.” Lust makes you impervious to what’s really going on. You’re absorbed in a false good (one that delivers intense pleasure), refusing to admit any problem, blind to reality.

Lust has the power, in other words, to stop making you feel sad. So it is no longer “past reason hated.” It’s not hated but rather embraced, wholeheartedly and unthinkingly.

The speaker in “Sonnet 129” claims “the world knows well” the phenomenon he’s describing (even if people still struggle to resist lustful urges). But does that seem accurate for us today? It would seem that plenty of people don’t know what Shakespeare is describing. Many are self-satisfied slaves to lust. Hey, do whatever feels right!

The situation was more or less the same in Shakespeare’s time. (You don’t need to read a whole lot from the English Renaissance before realizing that.) And that phenomenon of shamelessly embracing lust is in fact at the heart of Shakespeare’s moral project in “Sonnet 129.” This poem gives marvelous voice to the sense of shame that ought to be there. It is seeking to make lust identifiable and intelligible as such. It is a light cast on lustful blindness of mind. The reader finds himself going along with the self-admonishment and disgust right from the first line of the poem.

A crucial step in the process of developing the virtue of chastity is developing a revulsion to the idea of enjoying false sexual pleasure, since you begin to see it for what it really is. When you realize how stupid you’ve been, you’re already getting smarter, Shakespeare is saying.”

Love & continence,

Catholic priests invented the concordance & search engine

-by Br Ephrem Maria Reese, OP

“Dominicans invented the Bible concordance. It was Hugh of St. Cher, one of the great academics of the early friars preachers, who first accomplished the feat, and his students developed the concordance over subsequent generations. A concordance is an index of words found in the Bible, and indicates where they are located by chapter and verse. This tool has become an indispensable part of the study of Sacred Scripture, and Dominicans are happy to claim it.

But Dominicans didn’t invent the search engine. Father Roberto Busa, a Jesuit, deserves the credit for that innovation. And I admit that I use search engines much more than I use concordances in my studies.

Histories of the search engine may begin at a more advanced stage of computing, but it seems right to me, and downright charming, to begin with Fr. Busa. In 1946, the Italian Jesuit submitted his dissertation on Saint Thomas Aquinas’ use of the word “in” when describing the presence of God. To aid his work, he created a concordance of Aquinas (not the Bible), which consisted of handwritten note cards. But he needed more power, so he went to the Americans.

In a 1949 meeting with IBM in New York, the priest requisitioned an inspirational poster off the wall and cited its hyperbolic claim to innovation in order to convince the company’s founder, Thomas J. Watson, to help devise a machine-assisted concordance of Aquinas’s works. This concordance eventually became the Index Thomisticus. Today many scholars refer to an online resource, the Corpus Thomisticum, which provides a searchable version of Busa’s Index, among other tools.

This application of business technology to sacred study is almost a parable. The technical world is capturing the strongholds of the human spirit. Dorothy Day, among those suspicious of this infestation, said that “he who lives by the sword will fall by the sword and he who lives by the machine will fall by the machine.” Christians live instead by the light of Christ. But by a divine instinct, it is sometimes possible to seize the divine purpose of the machine. God’s design quietly supervenes in the devisings of man. Roberto Busa listened to the Spirit, crossed the world, and made it possible for Thomists to mine every “in” found within the sparkling caves of one of the Spirit’s most eloquent spokesmen.”

Love & truth,

Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine