Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

Like many statements about the Spanish Inquisition, that one’s not quite true.

Initially, at least, everyone expected the Spanish Inquisition. When the Inquisition rolled up on your city, the Inquisitor would publicly read out the Edict of Grace after Sunday mass, after which those who presented themselves within the next 30 to 40 days were able to reconcile with the state church without severe consequences.

So much for the cliché. Still, some people have a view of history that’s about as accurate as Michael Palin’s opening salvo from the famous Monty Python skit.

Stand to Reason’s blog quotes an atheist objection to the doctrine of salvation by grace. You’ll quickly see where the Inquisition comes in:
“If you believe that the threat of the death penalty is enough to dissuade people from breaking the law then you must acknowledge that the promise of unconditional forgiveness is enough to entice people to break the law. And this is exactly what happened during the scourges of the Inquisition and other atrocities committed by Christians.”
Ah yes, those “scourges” and “atrocities” committed by “Christians” again.

A Little Historical Perspective

Since we’re talking about the Spanish Inquisition, let’s add some historical perspective.

In his book The Irrational Atheist, Vox Day records how the Inquisition in Spain occurred in the context of the Reconquista, in which, over 760 years, “Christian” forces rolled back the conquests of Muslim invaders in the Spanish peninsula. Though conducted by the institutional church of the day, the Inquisition was actually instigated by the Spanish monarch because he was reluctant to undertake the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain. So King Ferdinand II decided to lessen the likelihood of treason or rebellion against the Spanish crown by attempting to distinguish between genuine Christians and pretenders.

The Inquisition was not designed to convert anyone to Christianity. It had no authority over professing Jews, Muslims or those outside the church. Its only concern was people who claimed to be “Christian” and weren’t, specifically those who might later undermine the state. Far from being an inter-religious period of persecution, it was a political housecleaning designed to protect the monarchy.

Assuming the current narrative remains intact, history will record that “Christian” President Barack Obama ordered attacks on thousands of Muslims in many different Arab countries in what, 300 years from now, may well be labeled a religious war. But those of us currently reading the news know how little Christian values have to do with the American side of the “War on Terror”. The Spanish Inquisition was every bit as political, and every bit as unrelated to the teaching of Jesus Christ.

“Scourges” and “Atrocities”

As to the level of atrocity involved, Wikipedia says:
“Although records are incomplete, estimates of the number of persons charged with crimes by the Inquisition range up to 150,000, with 2,000 to 5,000 people executed.”
The Spanish Inquisition commenced in 1478 and ended in 1834. Over 356 years, that averages out to between 6 and 14 deaths annually. That’s about 500 fewer deaths per year than the confirmed headcount from CIA drone strikes since 2002, three quarters of which have occurred on President Obama’s watch.

Just saying.

Those drone kills, by the way, do not include several thousand confirmed injuries among survivors.

Not to Minimize, But …

It would be disingenuous for Christians to simply wave away the consequences of historical actions taken in the name of Christ. It is equally disingenuous to conflate actions taken in defense of a nation with the beliefs of Christians today or the commands of Jesus Christ.

There were almost surely many innocent victims of the Spanish Inquisition. But a significant number of those executed were enemies of the Spanish state, a point rarely observed.

Now since many of the Inquisition’s victims were burned alive, that’s not something to minimize; the Lord Jesus gave no license to his followers to burn their enemies at the stake or anywhere else. But it does put the numbers in context. If 6-14 people a year constitutes a “scourge”, what will we call hundreds?

Perhaps we should dial back the hyperbole just a bit.

The Real Oddity

But the real oddity here is the attempt by atheists to introduce the Inquisition into a discussion of salvation by grace. If their point is that unconditional forgiveness is enough to entice people to break the law, there could not be a less relevant example than that of the Spanish Inquisition.

The Inquisition, you see, was a Catholic institution.

If there is a single group within Christendom more committed to works as a means of salvation than Catholicism, I cannot think of who it might be. The Catholic cannot now and could not then comprehend the notion of “unconditional forgiveness”. He believes that while Jesus Christ died for his sins, he must still perform numerous acts in order to secure his salvation.

The whole idea of the papacy rejoicing in the notion that by grace we have been saved through faith as “the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” is downright laughable. The idea that it is this doctrine that spurred on torture or heretic-burning is beyond ludicrous.

After all, folks, this is the faith tradition that invented the idea of purgatory!

It may or may not be true that nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. But nobody with even a modicum of historical knowledge expects to use the Spanish Inquisition to successfully discredit the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace.

At least not with an audience old enough to read.


  1. Tom, I suggest that you should have some friendly interdenominational, ecumenical discussion groups specifically with Catholics to really learn about what they believe and how they conduct themselves in their public and private religious life. The one thing I notice about this site is that there is ingrained and unsubstantiated misinformation being disseminated concerning Catholics, especially in regard to their supposed attempt to buy their salvation through good works. This is patently absurd and calls for some self-examination on your part. As a Catholic I have always pointed out on this site that what you call good works are simply people's attempts to live a life pleasing to God as EVERYONE is called to do. In other words, I substitute daily and life long action and activity attempted in a noble and charitable manner as a synonym for what you call good works. Since human beings are ALWAYS active the performance of what you call good works is a continual, natural and desired process through continual GOOD action. There may be some who are deluded into thinking that they can purchase their salvation by that but, if you talk to Catholics you will find that that is not their motivation or thinking, at least for sensible people.

    It is also unjust to suggest that the Catholic Church's teaching, namely, that to strive to live a clean and honorable life is beneficial for the individual and society and is therefore also pleasing to God is an attempt to purchase salvation. It should be obvious here that no swapping of goods or favors is implied but that there is only a concern for the individual soul to present itself to God in a way that is most pleasing to him. As a matter of fact that type of philosophy and attitude it also encouraged by society at large to bring about a better world for all stripes of peoples, religious or not, isn't it? So please stop misrepresenting the Catholic's attempt at living a clean, charitable, and honorable life as an attempt to purchase something that they also know could never be purchased. Again, if you do not think they know that, please start talking to them.

  2. I agree, Q, that is would certainly be useful to have a friendly interdenominational chat about such issues, and I think that's what we're doing here. But I already recognize, and I think have made clear, that I believe there are redeemed men and women in all Christian denominations, and that there are significant differences within any denomination as to what each individual may believe.

    Accordingly, I try to rely on statements from those who claim to represent the denomination itself when I characterize what they believe here, rather than on the opinions of individuals from that denomination.

    The following excerpt is from the Council of Trent:

    "If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or by the teaching of the Law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema" (Session 6; can. 1).

    I agree with Session 6; can. 1, and of course I'm sure you do too. It's can. 9 that I find problematic:

    "If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema" (Session 6: can. 9).

    Here is where we differ, as has probably been mentioned before, in the words "in order to obtain the grace of justification". We both agree that Christians should do good works. Where we differ is that I am saying, along with most Protestants, that good works do not save. They merely prove salvation is real.

    So as far as I understand the Council of Trent's statement, it says that we are saved by a combination of faith and works. I believe this is precisely how I characterized it in this post:

    "[The Catholic] believes that while Jesus Christ died for his sins, he must still perform numerous acts in order to secure his salvation."

    Do you think I'm misunderstanding what the Council of Trent decided? I'm happy to be corrected if Catholic theology has changed on this front.

  3. Hi Tom, I think that I am beginning to figure out what is going on here.

    First, as you said, there is agreement on Canon 1 that you cannot purchase your salvation. So far so good.

    Second, it is not likely (for any documentation) that you put in statement A and then immediately contradict or retract it with statement D. That would make no sense. So, what is going on here? I think what is happening is that the notion of purgatory comes into play here.

    Evidently, both denominations believe that there are two end results for a person, you are saved or you are not saved. It is just that the Catholic church introduces what I called a grey zone, purgatory, for the saved at the time when that saving and damning decision is made. Of course, there is disagreement on purgatory but it has nothing to do with the saving part, which is independent of purgatory.

    Now, it is my conclusion that a different type of grey zone also exists, a zone of uncertainty if you will, that really exists for any human being. And that is the one addressed in canon 9. Look at it this way. Since the Protestant individual also beliefs they could be damned they, like all of us, do not know where the cut off point for that judgment is in God's mind. Therefore there is always a zone of uncertainty for a believer as to what their status is with God. And that is true for anyone. You can make (possibly wrong or right) assumptions but you do not know for sure, even if you profess faith or your detractors will accuse you that faith is used to support an attitude that anything goes. (Note as an aside that the Catholic church has therefore tried to address that by suggesting and enumerating menial and mortal types of sins for their members). Now, it is clear to me that God also desires for us to be presentable to him so that we do not run the danger of even coming close to that cut off point. And that is achieved by how the person has acted and conducted themselves in their life, shaping their character by good action, which you elect to call works. Therefore, l think that your definition of works is misapplied because no one sees it as a kind of currency to purchase salvation but rather as an ongoing, natural, and smart process to be presentable to God and to be on the safe side. The exception would be a Calvinist of course. That is the reason why I do not see a contradiction between canon 1 and canon 9 since the former addresses the fact that you are saved by faith and the latter addresses that zone of uncertainty because only God really knows what your faith really means.

    1. Q, if I may sum up where I think we agree:

      1) Works cannot save (Eph 2:8-9, Rom 4:6-7, Rom 5:17, etc. and also your Canon 1).

      2) Works are the evidence of faith (James 2:18) and follow wherever faith is genuine.

      3) The only time you find faith without works is when there is no opportunity for works to occur (as in the thief on the cross).

      I think we’re on the same page with these three statements.

      But reading your last post, I’m curious whether you see salvation for the believer as a present reality or as something that follows our exit from this world. The “zone of uncertainty” you describe in your last paragraph is not my experience, and I do not think the New Testament gives me cause to be perpetually unsure about my status with God. For instance, John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13), and Hebrews says, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:22).

      So my confidence is not based on my ability to keep doing things that please God, but on God’s own word about what he is already doing in me (Phil 1:6) and his assurance that he will not fail in that (John 10:28).

      But the issue of my personal confidence aside, the one area I have difficulty with is your interpretation of Canon 9, specifically the words “in order to obtain the grace of justification”. I do not believe the scripture teaches that any work or combination of works that I may do can ever contribute even slightly to my justification.

      According to Hebrews 10:14, my justification (and therefore my relationship with God) depends solely on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”).

      This is the heart of the matter, I think.

    2. Well, no, Tom, it is not the heart of the matter. Obviously the heart of the matter is twofold, namely in the type of faith expected from a Catholic and that Catholics believe in purgatory (while (some?) Protestants do not). As a Catholic I (we) just as strongly recognize the importance of faith and how it is needed as part of your salvation. After all, it is (or should be) the basis of all Christianity. It is obvious to me though that regardless of the individual's proclamation of faith, some (many?) will still not be saved, be they Catholic or Protestant. You can't assume that there are no Protestant believers (believers to you) that are not saved or there would possibly be no Protestants in hell. As I said previously, saving is therefore not simply achieved by your proclamation of faith but the genuineness of your proclamation and that is only tested and verifiable by how the person has acted on their proclamation of faith and hence by their conduct, which is the definition of works. (The latter is definitely the reason why I would/could not ever assume I am guaranteed heaven, even though I might be proclaiming my faith on this blog and from all rooftops).

      A Catholic therefore has to labor under those restrictions (and a Protestant also, whether they want to realize it or not). The Catholic also adds another layer to it in the hereafter by way of purgatory in that he/she assumes they are saved by faith, just as the protestant thinks, but that the Catholic's faith MUST be active. Additionally, or traditionally, the Catholic also believes that some or many of our actions AND inactions have potentially tainted our character to the point that God thinks it fit to save us but also to first give us a scrubbing (and, as a logical being, I would consider it to be an injustice to a benevolent and caring God to misrepresent that as torture). But again, the Catholic can delude himself just as the Protestant that a mere proclamation of faith may be sufficient to assure entry into heaven, which may not be the case for either. So the best anyone can do, the better guarantee, is to always try to put your best foot forward not simply by proclaiming or assuming but by acting, by works. This is completely logical to me and if that will continue to separate Catholic and Protestant brethren then only God himself can change that.

    3. Hi Q,

      I agree the matter is twofold. I think Paul sets it out well here:

      "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9)

      "Confess" would be the first component; what you refer to as a "proclamation of faith". The second component is "believe in your heart".

      That takes it right down to the inner man. If you "believe in your heart", there is no issue with works. They will follow, of course, if your faith is genuine. If you do not "believe in your heart", there will be no real life change and no works attributable to salvation from God's perspective.

      As for purgatory, I haven't brought up the subject to the best of my knowledge. Have you had a chance yet to look into what the Bible says about it?

  4. With regard to purgatory, that discussion came up before. Not being a theologian, I do rely on looking things up on the internet and therefore have the same information available as anyone else could have. I certainly do not have anything new or different to add to the Catholic position and am aware of the Protestant one. So, I am resorting to my insight, also discussed previously, that everyone must assign likelihoods (probability) to available information since most of what we know is passed on to us. I also mentioned previously that that can nevertheless be a flawed process since it is dependent on the ability, earnestness, and honesty of the person making such assignments. And that naturally can produce very divergent probabilities. In any case, based on that process, I have assigned a greater probability to the Catholic position that there is such a thing as purgatory. Many of my reasons for that were provided in previous comments. Also, since even professional theologians differ, then my conclusions would hardly have an effect on that topic except for myself.

  5. Fair enough. I think IC probably just wanted you to go through the process of actually looking in order to discover for yourself that Purgatory is never mentioned once in the Bible, nor is there anything mentioned that might be taken to be its equivalent. It is entirely an invention of Catholicism.

    As a Catholic, that may not matter to you. You may be content to trust in what your church tells you, and if that is the case, so be it. For myself, I have enough experience with human beings to know that the words of scripture itself are the only thing in which I can truly have confidence.

    They are an entirely different level of authority from that of human wisdom, and the only one I accept.

    1. Hi again, Qman.

      Tom's right about my intention: not to annoy but to encourage you to reflect on the commitments that perhaps have led you to the belief. I imagine your comments are targeted at a similar goal for me. That's a friendly goal. We all get smarter when we share ideas, right?

      Can I take another note now, one not directly related to Purgatory? I'm interested in your comment about probability. You are quite right, I believe: all empirical knowledge, including all scientific knowledge, is inductive. That's a fact that no informed person or philosopher of science would deny. And that something of the character of the investigator is involved in the findings, that too I would affirm. So we're in total agreement there. But may I ask, does it follow that these facts warrant belief that there are "divergent probabilities"?

      Actually, if you reflect carefully on the matter, I think you'll realize it does not. For it has to be clear when we reflect on the matter that "probability" means "probability of being true" or "probability of being the right answer." If we did not believe a final truth existed, we would not be able to speak of "probability" at all, since it would not refer to any actual feature of our knowing process or of the world we know.

      If "probable," then, means "plausibly true" or "likely-to-be-right," then it needs "true" and "right" as referents. And the fact that some people come from an attitude more likely to arrive at the truth or less likely to do so is a complaint about the people -- not about the existence of truth. "Ability, earnestness and honesty" increase the chances of a person finding the truth -- but they also presume the existence of a truth, for they express epistemic virtues that are more conducive to the finding of that truth than are, say, "stupidity, insincerity and dishonesty," which we might identify as their opposites.

      The upshot of this is that the assigning of a probability value to a belief has to be based on something...it's likelihood of being true...which is not at all a feature of our belief process, but rather is the thing at which our belief process aims. If we are rational, we do not assign probability arbitrarily, but rather calculate it based on the best data or facts we happen to have. And it seems to me that this is where your conception of "assigning probability" stumbles at bit: you appear to understand it as an *arbitrary* process, one a knower undertakes on a whim rather than on the basis of its reference to truth. (If I'm wrong about that, please feel free to inform me of the truth -- but of course, when you do, you'll be affirming the same principle -- namely, that my "probable" guess about your view was insufficiently related to the objective truth about the view you actually hold. Ironic, no?)

      Back to Purgatory, then: to assign a probability value to its existence, we have to refer to some facts or data to support that -- some indication of its proximity to truth. Tom is pointing out that Biblical data (if I can assume God knows what He's talking about) is contrary to the idea of Purgatory. Assuming you understand that "probability" refers to data or facts, you have affirmed, in response, that you regard that doctrine's inclusion in Catholicism as increasing Purgatory's probability value.

      So perhaps to clarify for others, if not just for us, could you explain what property of Catholicism seems to you to increase the probability value of Purgatory beyond that of the Bible?

  6. Hi IC. Definitely always the skilled philosopher :). And, I appreciate that because I am certainly learning from it and being able to reason things through is always badly needed in this world and especially in today's times with the nuclear option available. First, I think there are two types of probability assessments, one dealing with actual data for the scientific experimenter (and that can include non-physical science) to which standard techniques are applied to derive probability estimates. This may include non-sparse historical data presumed to be reliable. And second, the type of data that the ordinary person muddles through every day based on experience, hearsay, self study and so on. The latter result in subjective probability estimates as you point out influenced by a person's character, predilection, intellectual ability, training, and personal inclinations and preferences. Naturally, if there is relatively sparse data, as can be said for religion, this subjective colorization of probability estimates is made worse and, hence, all this disagreement and back and forth occurs. I see no humanly achievable solution to that problem. The solution must therefore be the supernatural one as taught by the bible, especially Christ's teaching. That solution provides a concise, intelligent and self-evident roadmap for human conduct that is unique and cannot be replaced by anything else, ever. I would summarize it this way - it is perfectly clear that if each individual were to adopt Christ's teaching and live by it on a lifelong, daily basis, there would be heaven on earth and all human created problems would disappear, and all non-human problems and disasters would be coped with in a charitable way.

    With regard to purgatory I can only repeat that I have no other new information as is available already. In previous comments I did mention that my probability estimates are influenced by the Catholic reasoning (available on the net), especially prayers for the dead, etc.. On a more personal level I mentioned that I see a need for continuity in our existence with the next one and therefore that our judicial system of staged punishment is far more likely then a light switch on off situation between two extremes. I think the latter is actually a really faulty conclusion especially since that would suggest that human applied justice is more practical and possibly more beneficent than divine justice since it allows for rehabilitation. I think that the Protestant proposed binary proposal to salvation and step function rehabilitation of character is unrealistic and does not agree with human psychology and frailty which, in my opinion, God would never ignore or try to overpower. It is irrelevant to me that that is not direct verbiage in the bible as other things are also not directly in the bible but are left for us to figure out (e.g., sins you bind are bound, those you forgive are forgiven, no specifics given as to what sins). I also deduce and believe that personal revelation and miracles have not stopped with Christ's death and will forever continue. Their stated purpose is clear as always to serve as an aid to those who need convincing, and as affirmation to those who already believe in God. Thus, in my opinion, there has (historically) been too much smoke by way of miraculous and personal revelation concerning the fire of purgatory to not allow for its actual existence. The Catholic Church history, tradition and teaching with regard to saints who are often also mystics and obtained information regarding purgatory is very relevant here and, in my opinion, is believable.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, Qman. But now, two responses, if I may.

      Firstly, I would suggest that probability assessments are not of two types, but rather are of one type, but slide along a scale from, say, 50-50 to 99.9999-.0001 or something like that. This means that they are not qualitatively but quantitatively distinct, the real variable being only the strength of the evidence we have in hand.

      The key with this sort of inductive judgment is to figure out how to rank evidence, how to know just how "sparse" or rich it might actually be. And this has nothing to do with whether or not a judgment is "scientific" or "religious." A person who was doing speculation on one of the ten potential quantum paradigms available in science today is operating on extremely sparse data, and his likelihood of being right is almost nil. In contrast, a person who has, say, actually witnessed a miracle or a person who actually knows God personally stands in possession of extremely rich data -- far better data than the alleged scientist studying quantum mechanics!

      So it's not about whether or not the judgment is religious. It's about how good the data are.

      Secondly, the Protestant program is not as you say, "salvation and step function rehabilitation" -- but is rather a single paradigm shift away from the legalistic idea of saving oneself by trying harder, and a move to looking to the real forgiveness of God through Christ and the actual dynamics of the working of God's Spirit. The big message is not "try harder," or even "increase your efforts to make yourself good," but rather, it's this: realize you can NEVER make yourself good, and all your efforts to do so will merely puff your pride and leave you every bit as much a son of Hell as you've always been. Instead, admit what you are, cry out to God to save you because of His Son's loving sacrifice for you, and then be transformed by the renewing of your mind through the regeneration of His indwelling Spirit.

      Now to Purgatory. I asked what property of Catholicism increased its probability value beyond that of the Bible. Your answer is this: "there has been too much smoke by way of personal revelation...not to allow for its actual existence..." In other words, it seems to me you're saying that the answer is "other people's [claimed] experiences."

      Yet you have already noted in an earlier message, many people are deficient in areas like humility, sincerity, truthfulness and so on. And if so, to abandon your own judgment in favour of theirs seems perilous to me; but to abandon the Biblical for this sort of corruptible and inconsistent self-reporting?

      Those who rely on mystical reports, it seems to me, are relying on an extremely uncertain and contradictory pool of 'data,' and thus indeed are operating at a very low level of probability that any of it is true. Now, were the subject of their self-reporting non-religious in name, I'm certain you'd agree with me entirely on that, as nobody who is behaving in a rational way takes other people's reports of dreams and imaginings as informative, even when they employ real-world elements in their retelling. How much less should we trust the reports of those who speak of private experiences of dreaming or imagining such things as none of us have ever seen -- things indeed which are quite contrary to the Word of God?

      I submit to you therefore that you must be trusting something other than probability; for on a straight probability calculation, the belief in Purgatory clearly cannot make the first cut.

  7. IC, let me clarify my distinction between probability assessments. Technically you are correct that the technique should be an established and uniform one, although it is also possible to differentiate between formal approaches as is done with, eg., standard distributional approaches involving Gaussian and Weibull distributions vs a Bayesian approach. I am not referring to that though but am rather grouping by intentional or unintentional bias introduced into the assessment process with the majority of that due to inexperience and a minority due to ill intent. For example, if an engineer at Consumer Report evaluates cars but is sloppy, ill prepared, incompetent or has a build-in bias against VWs, then that can be lumped into a separate grouping of probability estimation. A similar chance for such grouping differences exists for the general population as well. Certainly it is the case that a probability percentage scale always exists within all groupings but the grouping I am referring to concerns the magnitude of the percentages and their systematic differences due to the mentioned causes.

    Also, accuracy of probability estimation, as with most scientific data, is of course improved with more data available and one should expect that sparse data can be problematic. Hence, data being sparse for religious topics (a complaint of the agnostic, atheist, btw) therefore implies a problem for studying and estimating probabilities in the religious sphere. A single religious experience can be significant, depending on by whom and on how, but multiple ones are obviously more beneficial. So, that being the case, religious information is tougher to deal with even though it may be good on a case by case basis.

    For purgatory, I have to reiterate my argument concerning continuity in our existence and experience and its continuation, in my opinion, in the afterlife. The expectation in our penal code and also in the bible is that people will improve their life in a more or less gradual manner after learning about Christ and accepting him and his teaching. I consider that gradualism to be the natural order of things. Once more, I agree with the extrapolated concept that purgatory is simply a natural continuation of that process in the hereafter. One should not assume that such a natural process implies a transaction where individuals are attempting to purchase their salvation from God. Clearly, if you suggested to anyone that that is their intent, they will deny it. I am a little perplexed because I did state that I accept the Catholic argument, combined with my conclusion above, for purgatory but am not inclined to be its defender here. Once more, that is an old argument and is available on the internet. Also, I thought it was implied by my previous comments that an individual's probability estimates concerning religious faith are based on various inputs where "mystical" reports are just one ingredient. The overall estimate will put you on more solid ground.

    Interestingly, if one puts their faith in what is written in the bible one must really trust in the veracity of those who reported all this 2000 years ago, including their mystical experiences. Curiously, at the same time one is inclined not to trust in much more recent testimonials by very often highly competent individuals, including saints in the Catholic church. Take for example the NDE experience of the Protestant Dr. Mary Neal where she met Christ and which I mentioned before. Below is a link to her FAQ site. Note how she frames the denominational problem or situation based on her experience. To me, such reliable witnesses definitely influence my probability estimates. They have to or how could I justify accepting 2000 year old testimonials? If someone does that, I would not be able to buy into their rationale.


    1. The problem with Purgaotory, Q, is that it inevitably returns to the expectation that human works -- or if you prefer, sufficient suffering in sulphurous flames -- will pay off one's debt and earn salvation. It might happen in this life, or in an imaginary Purgatory after a thousand years of misery, but the upshot is precisely the same: the idea that we don't need salvation, just enough time and effort, and we ourselves merit God's forgiveness.

      But the Bible says, "...by the deeds of the law, no one will be justified in God's sight," and "not by works which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy He has saved us." It says, "for by grace you are saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not of works, so that no man can boast." See for yourself.

      It is this postulate that somehow we can merit our own salvation that the Scriptures deny. Now, the Scriptures are, in all Christian theology, affirmed as the Word of God. So if you accuse me of taking the word of God against the word of Catholic mystics or Mary Neal, then you're quite right: I do. So will anyone whose loyalties are to God, rather than to the fancies of the human heart.

      Meanwhile, anyone who reads it at all knows Bible is far more than a collection of mystical testimonials. In it is the only record we have of the life and work of Jesus Christ, the only source of direct teaching from His apostles, and the only reliable guide for the Christian faith. "Mystical experiences" actually occupy very little of this text, and whatever might be interpreted as that has to conform to the teaching of the Scriptures as a whole.

      And that's the problem with the mystical imaginings of the people you mention, whether Mary Neal or the Bosnians. For you have already affirmed, in regard to probability, that the mental disposition of ordinary people is not to be trusted naively. And I agree. Only that which conforms to the revelation of God Himself as given in the Bible can confirm -- or completely refute -- the pronouncements of religious mystics on the afterlife. In the end, only God knows what God is doing. And only He can tell us.

      The Bible denies the existence of Purgatory. The Bosnians say there is a Purgatory. I know which side I'm going to pick, because Purgatory is incompatible with the revealed word of God in Scripture. I'm going with the word of God: where will you line yourself up?

    2. I think we have come to a standstill here, IC. I am not quite sure why you persist in suggesting "... Purgatory ... inevitably returns (you) to the expectation that human works ... will pay off one's debt and earn salvation." As I had pointed out previously that is quite incorrect because for the Catholic to be in purgatory by definition means he/she HAS BEEN saved by Christ's ransom or the soul would not be in purgatory. To the Catholic purgatory is a place to achieve perfection, not salvation, which is a done deal and no payment is being made for salvation. True, payment is made to achieve perfection but that is a truism in this life as well, is it not? I hope that I can get that finally clarified. And this is where my argument for continuity in the human condition between this world and the hereafter applies. Because God is involved, the process of perfection must, in my opinion, be one that respects human experience, expectations and psychological frailty and is therefore a gradual one. This makes more sense to me than the step function process suggested by Protestant doctrine.

      However this may be, my personal opinion is that this makes little difference to me since it is a win/win situation. If purgatory is real, I get to heaven, if not and you are right I also get to heaven (assuming in either case that I managed to avoid damnation).

      Again, your sulphurous flame concept to me is a bit silly (sorry ;) since I suspect God is not a pyromaniac and does not start or maintain sulphur fires in, or near, his kingdom. Soo, could it be a scare tactic on your part :-( ?

      I assume you did not read the Dr. Neal FAQ section, so let me provide the answer she gave to one particular question (excerpted from link in my previous comment).

      Question to Dr. Mary Neal:

      Q: Do you belong to a church?

      "I regularly attend church services and have served on the board of elders, but I believe that loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength is of the greatest importance. I live in a beautiful and mountainous area, and many people claim the mountains as their church and believe they can worship God there instead of within a church. That can certainly be true, but the question - as is often posed by my pastor - is not can a person worship God while in the mountains, but will that person worship God while in the mountains.

      Regardless of the harm that some individuals have done throughout the years in the name of God or while hiding behind the doors of the church, I believe the institution is greater than the individuals within it. Churches provide a place of gathering for people who share common beliefs, supporting and encouraging each other in faith, offer place to find insight into and teaching about God’s Word, and provide a time and place where people can leave the world behind and focus only on their spiritual life. Just as God can meet us wherever we are, the variety of denominations allows for accommodation of people in all stages of spiritual growth."

      Dr. Neal's is one mystic's experience and insight I can wholeheartedly and without reservations agree with.

    3. It's really quite simple, Q

      Either Christ paid the price for our sins, or we do, in Purgatory.

      Either Christ perfects us, or we do, by suffering long enough in Purgatory.

      Either Christ brings us to God complete, or we complete our acceptability to God by spending long enough in Purgatory.

      Either Christ saves us completely, or He only buys us passage to suffering.

      You cannot have Christ and Purgatory, because they are claimed to perform the same functions. The Bible clearly states Christ does all the saving, perfecting and bringing to God, and puts an end to our sins "as far as the East is from the West," says the Word of God. And again, Jesus says, "He who hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has [i.e "now" Gk.] eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but [lit.] IS [ie. "now"] passed from death unto life." (John 5:24). But the Purgatory doctrine says that the one who believes in Christ is not free from judgment, does not yet have that life, and must come into judgment and suffer a thousand years in the flames.

      It's either or...not both. And the one who trusts in Purgatory does not, by definition actually know what it means to trust Christ: for he/she is not trusting Christ to do what Christ said...that is, he/she is not doing the essential thing Christ asked...that we believe Him.

      Now, on the matter of "sulphurous flames," I was not trying to make your view ridiculous. I was simply reflecting exactly what Catholic writers say you have to look forward to, if Purgatory were to exist. Indeed, I was repeating a writers you probably would accept as authoritative: Shakespeare, Samuel Edgar and Pope Gregory, to name just three. All three specifically refer to the flames of Purgatory as possessing a sulphurous quality. So please understand it was not my attempt to ridicule but to represent rightly what your own tradition claims. I will desist from using the expression if you like.

      The important point is this: not to debate the putative qualities of Purgatory, but that Purgatory is antithetical to salvation. It is a replacement for trust in Christ, not any kind of logical extension of belief in Him, and it is contrary to Scripture, not a supplementary mystical expansion on the Bible. It actually argues for a totally different view of what God is doing and what He calls us to do.

      So we need to pick our horse and ride it. We cannot have both.

  8. I disagree with your analysis, IC. There is no either or (either Christ perfects or we perfect ourselves) because Christ is in charge and only he is capable of perfecting us - just that he chooses to do it by means of purgatory. After all he is the physician and hence the provider of all that is required for healing and improvement. And if, in his wisdom, he uses purgatory as a means than who can argue with that? So, we are back to square one, does purgatory exist? I am coming down on the side of the Catholic church on that question.

    1. May I ask you a question, Q?

      How much did you pay for the last gift someone gave you?

      The answer, of course, is nothing: by definition, a gift is free. If it's bought by the recipient, it's not a gift at all.

      If salvation is a free gift of God (which it surely is: see Eph. 2:9), then how much is left for us to pay on that?

      Or again, if Christ is the Redeemer who has bought us back to God (Gal. 3:13), how much of that debt do you suppose we might still owe?

      The answer, of course, is none.

      That is why Christ does not, as you suggest "use Purgatory" to cleanse us. For all the cleansing we will ever need He has already done, by His blood (1 John 1:7).

      And that is the verdict of the Judge Himself. (Rom. 8:1) In fact, if God were to demand more that the blood of His Son for our salvation, it would actually be an insult; for it would imply that that blood lacked sufficient value to purchase that for which it was offered. (Rom. 8:32-39) Are we to suppose that's what God does? Surely not.

      Now, for my part, I am quite certain that I am not more valuable than the blood of Christ, and my sins are not greater than his graciousness in giving me salvation.

      Of course, if the Word of God does not convince you of that, I certainly can't. But you'll have to forgive me if I don't join you on the side you now stand.

    2. IC, actually I have received many types of gifts in my life. Of course, the suggested answer is that gifts are free, but I have also received gifts of items or services where part
      of it was gifted and I kicked in the rest. There was usually a good reason for that. But putting this trivial case aside more important and very relevant to this discussion is this type of gift that I also received. I am an immigrant and had very little money when I came to the USA living on minimum wage that was $50/week in those days. I got a terrible toothache one day and went to a dentist that had a practice in the same apartment building I was renting a room in (Manhattan, NY). He did his diagnosis and told me that I had an exorbitant number of cavities that needed to be fixed. He explained that, in his professional judgement, that was a result of my now partaking of the American diet with its extreme amount of sugar compared to the standard European diet. He was fully aware of my situation, having no money and certainly no dental insurance. As I was ready to leave he told me that he would fix my teeth at no charge and he started the first, painful, treatment right then and there. He followed through over several months fixing numerous cavities, which was often a painful process, until I was whole again. To this day I remember his face and his name and will not forget him. You probably get where I am going with this. There are many occasions and situations where I and many of our contemporaries receive gifted help, saving grace, restitution, by processes that can inherently be painful and involve sometimes serious and prolonged suffering but are never gratuitously instantaneous. It is my opinion that that is also how Christ deals with us as well because he knows what is best and appropriate for human nature and that as part of making restitution, and the saints are called upon to do so for others, we share in his suffering. And he is nevertheless still gifting also with purgatory where our final restitution and healing is achieved.

    3. I can only say, on the testimony of Scripture, that anyone who hopes to help out Christ in the matter of salvation would surely be even less wise (and considerably less successful) than someone who decided to "help out" his dentist by performing some of his root canal work himself.

      You're better to take the gift from the one who knows how to do the work.