Journal of Theological Studies 3 (1902) pp. 598-601


TERTULLIAN AND PURGATORY

IF I ask leave to reply to a critic of mine in the January number of the JOURNAL OF THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, it is because I should be sorry that the JOURNAL should seem to commit itself, by the hand of its reviewer, to what I consider an obscuration of the history of doctrine.

The reviewer suggests that I have not given sufficient weight to the evidence of the whole chapter of Tertullian de Anima (58) in which  the doctrine of Purgatory has been discerned. ‘Let the reader,’ he says, ‘study the whole chapter in Tertullian and see in the light of the context whether anything less will satisfy him as to Tertullian’s |p599 meaning.’ I would myself wish the reader to study, not that chapter only, but the whole book—especially chapters 7 and 35, and from chapter 53 onwards. He will then be fortified against that mischievous practice by which textbooks too often impose upon the unwary, by giving brief quotations, torn from their context. The chapter of Ter­tullian to which Mr. Gayford refers has too often been served in that fashion. Harnack, for instance, or his English translator (Hist. of Doctrine, II, p. 296, E. Tr.), quotes the words modicum dehictum illuc (sic) luendum, without the explanatory mora resurrectionis. The Swiss Protestant Grétillat (Exposé de Théol. Systématique, iv 544) innocently quotes Nemo dubitabit animam aliquid pensare penes inferos to show that Tertullian held the notion of Purgatory. Others quote other scraps.  Most of the textbooks content themselves with referring, as Mr. Gayford apparently would have them do, to the chapter in general. Even Schwane does so in his careful and excellent Dogmengeschichte (i  388).

Now that chapter in general has nothing to say about Purgatory. The doctrine of Purgatory is either contained in the one sentence which I quoted in my lectures, or it is found nowhere in the chapter, the pur­pose of which as a whole, in accordance with the philosophy of the book, is to insist that souls can suffer, as well as enjoy, during their abode among the dead. But the sufferings of which it speaks are the sufferings of those who are awaiting the condemnation of the Judgement Day. The classes that Tertullian names (except in the one sentence quoted) are not the perfect and the imperfect among the saved: they are the saved and the lost. Velis ac nolis, et supplicia iam illic (i. e. penes inferos) et refrigeria; habes pauperem et divitem. The opponents whom Tertulliam had in view were men who could not understand how there could be pains for any one in the intermediate state. He shows how this can be. Cur enim non putes animam et puniri et foueri in inferis interim sub expectatione utriusque iudicii in quadam usurpatione et candida eius? There is not a word about a suffering for the imperfectly good—a suffering that will end at or before the resurrection. Those who fouentur are those who will, be acquitted in the Judgement Day; those who puniuniur are those who will be condemned. The objection which Tertullian sees is that the Judgement ‘Day is thus forestalled. ‘Quia saluum debet esse,’ inquis, ‘in iudicio divino negotium, suum sine ulla praelibatione sententiae’: the objector thinks that no rewards or inflictions should take place until the flesh is restored to share in them—that flesh which had its share in deserving them. In the rest of the passage Tertullian argues against this view. The intermediate state, he says, is no sleep of the soul; it is no inaction. ‘It would be an iniquissimum otium, that of ‘hell,’ if the guilty were still in comfort and the innocent not yet in comfort. Souls there must be sure |p600 of their future. The body is not indispensable to the sorrows and joys of the soul. This position Tertullian illustrates and supports at some length, and then proceeds to sum up in the sentence quoted in my lectures: In summa, cum carcerem ilium, quem euangelium demonstrat inferos intellegimus et nouissimum quadrantem modicum quoque delictum mora resurrectionis illic luendum interpretamur, nemo dubitabii animam aliquid pensare penes inferos salua resurrectionis plenitudine per car­nem quoque. This is positively the only sentence in which Tertullian speaks of a pain which is to end, and not to pass on into a worse one. The introduction of it is somewhat abrupt and perplexing for that reason; but it is Tertullian’s way of proving by the case of others that the lost suffer in the intermediate state. If those whose resurrection is delayed, because they have not yet paid the last farthing, are conscious of the restraints of their prison—if, in fact, it is any punishment to have the resurrection postponed—it cannot, he says, be doubted that the lost are already enduring some torments of the soul, though awaiting greater when the body shall rise to participate in them. This last is his main point—that the torments of the lost begin directly after death.

It is not, then, by ‘studying the whole chapter’ that the reader will be put in a position to understand it better than from the single sentence quoted. In order to understand the bearings of this one sentence—the only one which touches upon the sufferings of men who will ultimately be saved—the reader must go to the whole treatise, and to the doctrine of Tertullian in general. He will then find that Tertullian considered the inferi,the ‘hell,’ in which all the dead, good and bad, are confined, with the partial exception of the martyrs, to be in itself a state of restriction and privation, however tempered and alleviated by the refrigeria which are given there; and that he laid great stress upon the doctrine of a first and a second resurrection, separated by the interval of the millennium. Those who yet had restitution to make, whose last farthing was not yet paid, could not have part in the first resurrection—they were obliged to wait to the second. The prayers and oblations of the Church on behalf of the departed were largely directed to this end—to obtain for them a share in the first resurrection (de Monog. 10: pro anima eius orat, et refrigerium interim adpostulat ei, et in prima resurrectione consortium). That Tertullian may have conceived of them as undergoing some retributive, rather than purgatorial, pain in the course of this delay, is far from improbable; but there is nothing in the immediate context, or elsewhere in his works, to suggest it—unless it be that he shows, in the chapter at large, that souls in the intermediate state are capable of suffering. Earlier in the treatise, as here, he shows that he knows of no other punishment |p601 than that of waiting for the second resurrection :—unde non dimittaris, nisi modico quoque delicto mora resurrectionis expenso (35). The same is seen in the de Res. Carnis 42, where Tertullian assumes that the state of death is for all the saved a payment of the last farthing of their debt :—Quis enim non desiderabit dum in carne est superinduere immortalitatem et continuare uitam, lucrifacta morte per uicariam demutationem, ne inferos experiatur usque nouissimum quadrantem exacturos ? Even the Roman Catholic, Bautz, in his Fegfeuer (p. 54), renounces all attempt to find purgatory in any other part of De Anima 58 than in that one sentence. ‘Was nämlich die Stelle in der Schrift de Anima betrifft,’ he says, ‘so gehört dieselbe zum Theile gar nicht hierher.’

A J. MASON.


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