Paul McCain slams Purgatory – without reading Luther or Benedict XVI closely

Just a note to point out that on his blog “Cyberbrethren”, Pastor Paul McCain is having a slam at the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.

In the comments, Pastor Fraser Pearce points out that Pastor McCain may not actually have his theology of sanctification quite right according to Luther’s own writings in the Large Catechism.

Paul claims that Luther did not believe in any notion of purgatory at all. I left a comment there yesterday to the effect that Paul may not even have read Luther closely enough on the topic itself. That comment has not been “approved” by the blog owner. Perhaps he just hasn’t gotten around to doing any work on his blog, what with Sunday being a busy day and all.

Well, we have documented evidence that that Luther did hold a “notion” of purgatory. In his Confession on the Lord’s Supper (1528) Luther actually said that, while he rejects the doctrine as taught by the papists, he “knows of a purgatory”. Sadly for us, he doesn’t elaborate.

However, Pastor McCain should also have taken the time to read what Benedict has to say on the matter of Purgatory in Spe Salvi.

It is worthwhile reflecting that at the time of the Lutheran Reformation, many doctrines of the Catholic Church were not well defined, and were more a matter of custom and practice than clear teaching. So Luther’s tirades against Purgatory were against the idea of Purgatory as it was popularly understood at the time.

Even today, many people have mistaken ideas about what Purgatory is. Pope Benedict goes a long way to clarifying matters in his recent encyclical. I would challenge any Protestant to show how the doctrine as Benedict elucidates it is not completely faithful to the Gospel, faithful to scripture and, for that matter, completely faithful to the teaching of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

If one wants to quibble that scripture says nothing about “purgatory”, one can also quibble that it says nothing about “sacraments”. But we form our doctrine through reflection upon the scriptural witness in unity with the Church.

Most of the teachings about Purgatory that Luther rejected, I would reject too. His critique of purgatory as it was understood and practiced in his day is, in many ways, spot on.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a “purgatory”, which Luther (and other protestants such as C.S. Lewis) seemed to understand.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Paul McCain slams Purgatory – without reading Luther or Benedict XVI closely

  1. in partibus infidelium

    This sounds a bit like Newman saying in Tract 90 that the 39 Articles merely rejected popular Catholic teaching rather than that defined by the Council of Trent.

  2. Schütz

    Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say “merely”. Of course, popular Catholic teaching isn’t always wrong – on the contrary, it is often the popular (sensus fidelium) that keeps the theologians in check.

    But of course the Thirty-nine Articles were POST-Trent, and Luther and his comrades were PRE-Trent, so it would be anachronistic to say that Luther was rejecting the doctrines of Trent. His followers later did (but not entirely, see Martin Chemnitz’s great work on this), but we can’t say he did.